Say It Ain’t So: Does Weezer Still Matter?

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Last Friday, April Fools’ Day, Weezer released their 10th studio album, a self-titled record also known as The White Album. Some consider it a return to form that recalls the band’s legendary early years, while others think it’s just a middling entry for a group unfortunately past its peak. With debates all the rage these days, Uproxx Music decided to have John Hugar, who’s pro-White Album, and Josh Kurp, who’s not so much, duke it out.

JOHN: Okay it’s been a rough road for Weezer fans. I still remember hearing that stupid wah-wah pedal from “Beverly Hills,” and wondering what the f*ck was going on. Keep in mind this was as an extremely socially awkward high-school freshman; I needed Weezer more than ever, and they decided to become a parody of themselves. Admittedly, there were a few tunes on that one that hold up (“Perfect Situation,” “This Is Such a Pity”), but overall it was a massive disappointment. Things really didn’t get better with their next three albums, especially Raditude and Hurley. I pretty much thought they were done. Then, two years ago, “Back to the Shack” gave me some hope! It was funny and self-deprecating in a way that actually worked.

Then, Everything Will Be Alright In the End came out, and it was actually one of the worst songs on the record! The songwriting was honest again! It was easily the best thing they had done since Maladroit, maybe even Pinkerton. Naturally, I worried it was just a fluke, and they’d go right back into mediocrity, but they proved me wrong. The White Album is awesome! First of all, I think the summer/beach theme suits them well. The whole thing is Rivers Cuomo’s tribute to the Beach Boys, and it works perfectly. We’re at two consecutive Weezer albums that are actually worth listening to more than once! I think after slogging through all that dreck from 2005-2010, I finally have one of my favorite bands back. Well, time for you to rain on the parade.

JOSH: This is the part of the story where I’m supposed to give my history with Weezer, about how I listened to The Blue Album and Pinkerton at the right personality-defining age, and how The Green Album is better than you remember, and Maladroit is an underrated classic, and everything else, especially the Raditude/Hurley-era, has been a letdown. But I won’t do that, because everyone has the same Weezer story. That’s why we still convince ourselves that, no, really, this is going to be the album that returns them to the top, despite it being 14 years since Weezer put out something undisputedly great.

The White Album isn’t bad, I’ll admit, but imagine it was released anonymously, not by Weezer. It would leave no impression. Nostalgia is Weezer’s best friend, and worst enemy. Think of it in SNL terms: Your favorite cast is probably the one that was on when you were a teenager. You might enjoy Will Ferrell and Chris Parnell, but no one will convince you they’re better than Chris Farley and Adam Sandler. More than any other still-popular band, Weezer is defined by when you first listened to them. A younger generation might prefer Everything Will Be Alright In the End to Pinkerton, just as they might like Attack of the Clones more than The Empire Strikes Back, because that’s what they grew up with. For me at least, I’m honestly not sure if any new Weezer album, no matter how great it is, could register the way The Blue Album did, and still does. I’m Weezer color-album-blind (sorry).

JOHN: Hey, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that Blue and Pinkerton are and always will be the two best Weezer albums, but I think you’re underselling the last two albums, which strike me as far more The Force Awakens than Attack of the Clones. To your point that White would leave no impression if an unknown band had released it, well, you can’t prove a negative, but I have my doubts about that. It’s a really strong power-pop record, with some moments that recall both early Weezer and the Beach Boys. Admittedly, it’s not a great record all the way through (I’m not too keen on “Thank God For Girls”), but there’s way more good than bad, and along with Everything Will Be Alright In the End, it confirms that Rivers is finally taking this sh*t seriously again instead of making one ironic joke after another. You may be right that no new Weezer album will register the way the first two did, but I would argue that’s an example of nostalgia hurting Weezer more than helping them. Really, the same goes for any artist. I mean, late-period Springsteen has some great stuff, but nothing is gonna register like Born to Run or Darkness on the Edge of Town for obvious reasons. I’m okay with Weezer never making another Pinkerton; I’m just glad they’re making music I actually like again.

JOSH: Maybe I’m overthinking things (we’re writing about Weezer in 2016, so we’re both for sure overthinking things), but Everything Will Be Alright In the End (I think I don’t like that album because it takes forever to spell out) and The White Album feel like Rivers’ mea culpas. As if he’s saying, “Yes, that song with B.o.B was awkward and embarrassing, but hey, our new stuff kind of sounds like our old stuff!” He’s not wrong: It does kind of sound like Weezer’s old stuff, the operative words being “kind of.” Much of the power chord-heavy on The White Album reminds me of a band raised on Weezer, not OG Weezer. (The album’s producer, Jake Sinclair, tellingly played in the Weezer cover group Wannabeezer.) It’s Hollister beach-rock. Some of it’s okay, bordering on pretty good! It’s certainly less offensive than the quarter-to-midlife crisis that is Hurley, but White is probably getting more credit than it deserves, because it’s not, well, Hurley. Weezer sunk so low that there’s nowhere to go but up. The band that gave us Pinkerton should be better than that. Here’s a question for you that I’m sure keeps Rivers up at night the way it does Billy Corgan: Does Weezer belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

JOHN: Okay, first of all the name “Wannabeezer” is hilarious for all the wrong reasons. Like, I love Weezer, but you want to spend your life in a Weezer cover band? And that’s what you want to call it? Yeesh.

I like The White Album more than you do, and I doubt we’ll reconcile that (I will say, “California Kids,” and “(Girl We Got A) Good Thing” strike me as way too good to ever associate with Hollister.) I actually don’t think it sounds too much like classic Weezer. “L.A. Girlz” is a bit Pinkerton-ish, but beyond that, I’m not hearing it. Gotta say, is it *that* power chord heavy? My favorite songs from it sound more like the Beach Boys than anything else, and I wouldn’t say it’s more guitar oriented than any other Weezer release. Regarding your claim that people like it because it’s not Hurley, maybe, but I’ll say this: eight years ago, I felt like people liked The Red Album (which I was not big on), just because it wasn’t Make Believe. In this case, I think people are just reacting to a strong album that reminded them why they loved Weezer in the first place. As for your rock hall question? Yeah, I’d put them in. Put it this way, out of 10 Weezer albums, there’s two all-timers (Blue, Pinkerton), and four really good ones (Green, Maladroit, EWBAITE, White). So, I’d say that overall, the good outweighs the bad, and the best was really good. Weezer have had a tumultuous career with some serious missteps, but they’ve done a lot of good, and for that, I’d put them in Cleveland.

JOSH: I take back something I said. My first post-college job was working the graveyard shift (10 p.m. to 5 a.m.) at the flagship Hollister in New York City. The worst Weezer song is much better than the poppy dreck they played while I mindlessly folded jeans. Anyway, despite my indifferent opinions for the last 10 years, I’d put Weezer in the Rock Hall, too, and — this is where I’ll meet you halfway — it’s because of the last two albums.

Neither are classics, but they’re occasional, although not consistent, reminders that Rivers Cuomo is one of the best at writing killer hooks. To return to the Star Wars comparisons: The Force Awakens, while good and a lot of fun, isn’t as strong as the original trilogy, but it wiped away the bad feelings left by the prequels. Everything Blah Blah Blah and The White Album nearly accomplish the same thing. I’ll never forget Hurley, but “L.A. Girlz,” despite being called “L.A. Girlz,” brings back fond memories of “No Other One.” To answer the question in the headline, yes, Weezer still matters, because they used to matter, and, for better or worse, always will.