Although songwriting savant Rivers Cuomo has generally been good for one or two decent-to-great pop songs per album throughout Weezer’s last 15 years of output, their first two LPs reached legendary status by becoming the defining life soundtrack of a generation that wasn’t quite cool enough for the detached anguish of Nirvana and their grunge revolution contemporaries but a little too sensitive for the juvenile antics of Green Day or Offspring.
Countless fans experienced their first drunken house party singalong to The Blue Album and learned to work through their feelings of heartbreak, loneliness, and despair when Pinkerton came out a few years later and it was appropriate for them to learn about such things (though some of the lyrics are troubling in hindsight). Cuomo’s ensuing breakdown/creative hiatus only added to the legendary status of the two albums as the years passed and it looked increasingly like the band had gone away forever.
Until one day, they hadn’t. But by this point, Weezer had become much more than a band. For millions of people they were now an essential part of their identities. How can you possibly live up to those kind of expectations? You can’t.
But that hasn’t stopped Cuomo from trying. He’s gone back to basics with straight-ahead pop. He’s tried to recreate the more inventive songwriting and tortured, introspective lyrics that made him a hero to legions of socially awkward nerds. He’s reunited with Blue Album producer Ric Ocasek a few times, worked with enigmatic, reclusive genius Rick Rubin, accused hitmaker Dr. Luke, and dozens of other writers, producers and collaborators both known and unknown. There have been albums with less guitar shredding, more guitar shredding, and slightly more guitar shredding.
Somewhere along the way, the nerdy-white-guy-lamely-using-hip-hop-slang persona that once seemed charming began to feel more like a shtick. Which is, essentially, the problem most longtime fans have with modern Weezer. What once felt authentic now felt calculated. Cynical, even. Some fans and critics have talked themselves into believing that the band had successfully recaptured the magic of their first releases. “The Weezer you used to love is back” is a common refrain you’ll hear upon pretty much every new album they release, including their latest self-titled record, (somewhat daringly) referred to as The White Album.
But this is never unanimous, and at the very best you’d have to refer to the reception to each of their modern releases as “divisive.” Of course, it’s unrealistic and unfair to expect Weezer to achieve the impossible highs they reached in those first few years. Nevertheless, their various attempts to do so, like all albums, must be ranked and organized into list form. We didn’t make the rules.
8. Make Believe
Make Believe was the moment that diehard Weezer fans, who had tentatively embraced their previous two LPs partially on leftover ’90s goodwill, finally revolted. Part of this may have been because first single “Beverly Hills” went on to become, shockingly, the band’s highest charting track ever. There could possibly be some “I knew them before they were cool” hipsterish angst that drove some of the backlash the song and album received, but a good counterpoint to this is that it is an objectively terrible song.
There are some high points on the Rubin-produced album, and “This is Such a Pity” is one of the band’s very best songs, but Make Believe will always and forever be the worst Weezer record just for the way it crassly violated seemingly everything people loved about the band and was then rewarded for it.
Hurley is definitely an appropriate album title, as for a time there, being a fan of Weezer was a lot like being a fan of LOST – the thing you once loved unconditionally had strayed so far into mediocrity that you were forced to go back and take a tough look at whether it was ever any good to begin with. If you were a fan of both, the late 2000s were a rough time.
Again, Cuomo is a wonderful pop songwriter and there are some hummable tunes on this album, as there are on every Weezer album. But nothing is particularly memorable, let alone essential, and not even cover image subject Jorge Garcia’s immeasurable charm could carry Hurley to any sort of impact, much as he could not improve the horrifically terrible LOST finale (is it obvious we’re still not over that?)
6. The Red Album
This album felt like a bit of a bait and switch for Weezer diehards that were aching for the band to return to form. Preceded by the release of single “Pork and Beans” which really did sound like vintage Weezer (albeit in uncomfortably on the nose fashion), the actual album was a somewhat perplexing, uneven effort that never really came together in a meaningful way.
Being the only Weezer album that featured the other members on lead vocals makes it feel more like a collection of ideas and sketches, and is ultimately an experiment that probably should have died on the drawing board. Even Cuomo, inexplicably dressed as a cowboy on the front cover, didn’t really seem to be taking the whole thing very seriously.
There are some pretty good songs on Raditude. “I’m Your Daddy” in particular, co-penned by Dr. Luke, seems like it was designed in a laboratory to create a hit single that sounded like Weezer but could easily cross over and find success with a mainstream pop audience, which it essentially was. (Though it should be noted that in light of its lyrical content and the recent allegations made against Dr. Luke, it has aged poorly, to say the least.)
In any case, this also sums up the issues with Raditude, which is that it sounds like it was created by some kind of AI Weezer algorithm, as opposed to actual human beings with feelings and emotions.
4. The Green Album
Cuomo had a famously terrible reaction to Pinkerton’s initial critical and commercial underperformance, taking several years off of making music and essentially disavowing the album’s material entirely. As such, it’s no surprise that upon the band’s return to the charts in 2001, he wanted to go back to what got him there in the first place, recruiting The Cars’ Ric Ocasek for a return to their signature early-60s-pop-with-distortion sound.
The end result was a capable, if underwhelming 35 minutes of power-pop, which felt more like a soulless photocopy of their first album rather than a standalone classic (“Island in the Sun” notwithstanding, which deservedly found its way into the Weezer pantheon).
As much as The Green Album felt like a somewhat desperate attempt to return to what made The Blue Album so special, Maladroit felt a lot like Cuomo and Weezer trying to go back to the weirder, noisier sound they achieved with Pinkerton, which by this point had transcended its initially tepid response and become known as a classic of ’90s rock.
Once again, Weezer chose to eschew a hitmaking producer and self-produce Maladroit. Fans that were still nursing disappointment with their previous release embraced it as a return to form, and though it never really reaches Pinkerton’s sonic or emotional highs, it balances their more interesting sonic experimentations (“Burndt Jam”, “Death and Destruction”) with solid singles (“Dope Nose,” “Keep Fishin’”) to become one of the better albums in their non-Blue/Pinkerton discohraphy.
2. The White Album
Weezer’s most recent effort does a pretty admirable job drawing on influences from the band’s mid-90s heyday, as they do expertly on leadoff track “California Kids,” and expanding into new-ish sonic territory on songs like the McCartney-meets-The-Cars “(Girl We Got a) Good Thing,” while generally holding your attention for its entire running time.
Though it does occasionally devolve into the generic fist-pumping dudebro party rock that has dragged down most modern Weezer output (“Thank God for Girls” should have been left on the cutting room floor), it still deserves to be ranked among one of their better modern records.
1. Everything Will Be Alright in the End
The band’s 2014 LP, once again produced by Ocasek, is probably the closest they’ve come to recapturing the lightning in a bottle of their first releases in a way that actually felt organic instead of forced.
“Lonely Girl” is one of very few modern Weezer tracks that could genuinely have been a cut from The Blue Album, “Da Vinci” takes the exact structure of “Pork and Beans” but turns into something that not only sounds, but feels like Weezer, and Cuomo’s duet with Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino on “Go Away” is one of the best examples of their grunge-sockhop aesthetic in Weezer’s entire catalogue.
Ending on some sonically interesting experimentation with the trilogy of instrumental tracks that close out the record, there’s a little something for everyone on this one, and ultimately Everything Will Be Alright in the End helped reassure longtime fans that… well, it’s right there in the title.