Rivers Cuomo, the leader of Weezer, turns 45 on Saturday. It’s a birthday that will be celebrated by a lot of people who also kind of despise him. Weezer is a weird band, in that most of the people who consider themselves fans outright dismiss more than half of their discography. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a fan who will concede that The Green Album and Maladroit are alright. Maladroit came out in 2002, which means we’ve seen 13 years, and five albums, greeted by Weezer fans with caustic apathy at best.
However, is it really as bad as all that? Can Weezer’s later output be as lousy as its reputation indicates? After a thorough listening to the five post-Maladroit studio albums — Make Believe, The Red Album, Raditude, Hurley, and Everything Will be Alright in the End — what is the verdict? Is there any quality in these albums? Will there ever be a rainbow?
There are five good songs on these albums. (This number was determined entirely scientifically, obviously.) That’s one song per album, although not literally. Be assured, this was a sincere venture. We did not enter into this looking to kick Weezer when they are down. This whole experience provides illustration as to where things have all gone wrong for Cuomo and company.
Make Believe – “Peace”
“Peace” is not one of the singles on this album, all of which are pretty bad. One of them “Perfect Situation,” starts off pretty well, with a nice guitar lick, but as soon as Cuomo sings about a woman belonging to him, it’s time to abandon ship. “Peace,” though, is a strong song. The guitar work is en pointe, and the vocals are some of Cuomo’s strongest. It has a nice “whoa-oh-oh-oh” part, too. “Peace” is a big, anthemic rock song done well. It’s then followed by “We Are All On Drugs,” which is awful, and therefore kills the mood.
The Red Album – N/A
“The Red Album,” one of three self-titled Weezer albums that are known colloquially by their cover color, is Weezer at its nadir. The lyrics are profoundly dumb, and even musically, where Weezer usually could always be relied upon, the band struggles. This is the album that has “Pork and Beans” on it. It’s a rough thing to get through.
Raditude – “Put Me Back Together”
Raditude has a song with Lil Wayne on it, which is as awkward as you imagine, and that’s even before you get to Wayne’s actual appearance on the song. However, it also has “Put Me Back Together,” probably the best song from this batch. It’s a real power ballad. There’s an energy and emotion in “Put Me Back Together” that you don’t necessarily get in most Weezer songs, even the ones that Cuomo wants to be energetic and emotional. This song was co-written by Tyson Ritter and Nick Wheeler from The All-American Rejects. Not that those two are Carole King, but perhaps their presence helped tamp down Cuomo’s less fortunate predilections.
Hurley – “Run Away”
Hurley is the album that has a picture of the dude who played Hurley on Lost as its cover image. It also has “Run Away,” a less bombastic, more contemplative song than Weezer is typically known for. The first handful of seconds are even a straight piano ballad, before the guitar kicks in and it sounds a lot more like Weezer. It was co-written by Ryan Adams, which makes sense when you hear it — it sounds like a Ryan Adams song. Cuomo tries to get away with rhyming “road” with “rock,” but the song manages to overcome that. It’s far from the greatest lyrical sin that Cuomo has ever committed.
Everything Will Be Alright In The End – “The Waste Land,” “The British Are Coming”
Everything Will Be Alright in the End, Weezer’s most recent album, is the best-received of this group and was even hailed as the possible beginning of Weezer’s redemption. Its two highlights: “The Waste Land,” an instrumental (technically, it’s called “The Futurescope Trilogy: I. The Waste Land,” but let’s not let that ruin things for us) with some funky guitar licks, and “The British Are Coming.” It’s the second best song about the American Revolution, behind Pavement’s version of “No More Kings.”
However, the most notable (not best) song on this album is “Go Away.” What the song does is serve as almost a Rosetta Stone for Weezer, for Cuomo, and for why their music has left people cold in recent years.
Here’s the thing about Cuomo: At his core; he’s always been an awful lyricist. We’re talking from the beginning here, including The Blue Album and Pinkerton. His jokes fall flat and his propensity to write lyrics that are uncomfortably juvenile in the Jonathan Richman vein has always been an issue. More pressingly has been the way he’s treated women since the very beginning. This is a guy who wrote a song called “Smart Girls” for Hurley and still managed to make it chauvinistic. The quality of the better Weezer songs is based primarily around the musicianship of the band. Cuomo struggles with lyrics, but he can shred the ol’ guitar. As time went on, Cuomo’s lyricism came even further untethered, and the band stopped rocking as hard, and that’s how we got to now.
How is this relevant to “Go Away?” When you take the time to listen to five Weezer albums, you find yourself with time to think. You start thinking about how you’re a fan of Best Coast, even though Bethany Cosentino’s lyrics are as exceedingly simple as Cuomo’s. Can you reconcile this fact with your general disdain for Weezer’s later work?
It feels perfectly apt for Cosentino to be on a Weezer song; it would not be surprising to find out she grew up listening to Weezer. It also feels encouraging that Cuomo is actually giving voice to a woman in his songs for once. Then, Cuomo sings “I learnt my lesson, I’ll stop acting like a kid.” In one line, Cuomo synthesizes everything that’s been wrong with his music. He’s never stopped acting like a kid. Somebody like Cosentino makes simple songs (and she has a very good voice, which one likely wouldn’t say about Cuomo), but they lack the clumsiness and immaturity of Weezer’s lesser efforts. Even on Everything Will Be Alright in the End, despite his assertions on “Go Away,” Cuomo has not matured all that much. He’s a 45-year-old man who has remained too in touch with his 15-year-old self. It’s held him, and Weezer, back, and he’s never learned the lesson.
There’s still hope, though. Maybe Cuomo will stop acting like a kid. It’s not too late. Maybe everything will, in fact, be alright in the end.