So the good news: It’s not as bad as Make Believe. The bad news: It’s not The Blue Album. By now, rehashing Weezer’s history is old hat. The gist of it: The effortlessly endearing Blue Album and more introspective Pinkerton were perfect, often remembered as two of the defining albums of the 90s. Then something went seriously wrong. The new millennium ushered in three more Weezer records, all of which declined in degrees of quality, from mediocre (The Green Album) to pitiful (Make Believe). While the self-dubbed Red Album features some of the best melodies that Rivers Cuomo has written since the band’s glory days (‘Troublemaker’, ‘Dreamin’’), it ultimately leaves something to be desired — the band’s insouciant irony, self-deprecation and wounded-boy charm, the elements that made them a generation’s obsession, are missing yet again. The fact that Cuomo continues to stuff his records with meticulously studied, perfectly structured pop songs, but chooses to leave out every ounce of vulnerability and genuine personality seems to be the reason Weezer hasn’t released a great album since 1996. In ‘Heart Songs’, a Red Album low point, he rattles off a laundry list of prototype pop artists over easy breezy guitar noodling — everyone from Michael Jackson to Joan Baez gets a mention — referring to their hits as his “heart songs.” Given the fanatical lyrics and number of press interviews divulging his fixation with song structure, it seems safe to assume that his career goal is to have his music included alongside such “heart songs.” He wants nothing more than to crack the code to pop perfection.
And here the problem lies. There seems to be a glaring disconnect between what longtime fans want out of Weezer’s music and what Cuomo thinks we want out of Weezer’s music. We don’t want just empty hooks and harmonies, not when we know what these boys are actually capable of. Since the release of Make Believe, Cuomo has married; we want a song about the insecurities of falling in love. We want a song from the endearing, neurotic frontman from early Weezer, not from a man who’s spent the better part of a decade being a rock star. Given his retrospective freak-out after baring his soul on Pinkerton, it comes as no surprise that The Red Album shies away from tugging at heartstrings, but it sure would be a nice turn from songs about pork and beans. With such tracks overpowering the record, it seems that the band has shed the nuanced quirkiness of its early years and opted for intentional quirkiness instead. Look at that god-awful album cover. These over-the-top jokes and pop culture references are riddled throughout. Back in the Blue days, when Cuomo sang about construction sites and pulling the thread of his sweater, the jokes seemed like sincerity in disguise. With not having anything to conceal, now they exist just for the sake of it, and it’s no longer clever or even that funny.
As Weezer strives to be included in the modern rock canon, it’s odd that Cuomo doesn’t seem to realize they’re already a part of it. The code to pop precision has been cracked for quite some time now — by the two Weezer albums that everyone loves. Those are the songs he needs to go back and study.