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‘Green’ gold
The return of Weezer


INDIO, CALIFORNIA — It’s April 28, two and a half weeks before the May 15 release of the homonymous comeback CD that’s destined to be known as “The Green Album,” and Weezer are busy reminding a big chunk of the 30,000-plus crowd who have come out to the Coachella Valley Music Festival why so many young rock fans are so happy to have the band back. For starters, there are the vintage hits “Undone — The Sweater Song” and “Buddy Holly,” a catchy and witty pair of tracks from the band’s platinum-certified homonymous 1994 DGC debut (a/k/a “The Blue Album”). Both have remained modern-rock radio mainstays even as the format has shifted to more-aggro rap-metal fare in the five years that Weezer have been, well, away.

Then there’s “Tired of Sex,” one of the soul-baring cuts from 1996’s heavier and more confessional Pinkerton (DGC) that helped that album, initially dubbed a critical success and a commercial failure, take on a life of its own in the band’s absence. Now certified gold, Pinkerton just took a little longer than the notoriously impatient music industry demands to find its audience, but the delay has only solidified Weezer’s fan base by giving everyone the kind of shared secret that intimate devotion demands.

And finally, there’s “Hashpipe,” the oddly arty grunge-pop single from “The Green Album” that’s already been dubbed a hit by the influential LA modern-rock powerhouse KROQ. If the number of kids packed in up by the front of the stage screaming along the lyrics is any indication, a couple of weeks of heavy rotation on KROQ has already had the desired effect.

As dusk descends and Weezer finish their 45-minute set, Perry Farrell will prepare to reunite once again with the art-damaged metal circus known as Jane’s Addiction, and those fans resourceful enough to con their way backstage — including a trio of college freshmen girls in half-shirts sporting homemade Weezer flying W’s — will do their best to catch a glimpse of Weezer’s mercurial and often reclusive frontman, Rivers Cuomo. No question that the cult of Rivers is the crucial component of Weezer’s appeal — it’s his songs, his presence, his knowing revenge-of-the-high-school-heavy-metal-nerd persona that has colored everything from the giant “W” with Van Halen–style wings that lights up the stage behind the band to Spike Jonze’s Happy Days–styled video for “Buddy Holly.” And taking himself out of circulation for a few long years following the “failure” of Pinkerton may well have been the best thing Cuomo could have done to keep his underdog charisma intact.

That said, there’s simply no accounting for the grassroots enthusiasm that has already greeted the band’s return to active duty. It’s not as if Cuomo had gone out of his way during the band’s five-year absence to promote his career even quietly: there was no Weezer live album, no B-sides/rarities set, no tell-all biography to tide fans over, just a track on the 1999 Glue Factory Pixies tribute CD Where Is My Mind?, a Christmas song titled “The Christmas Song,” and a couple of tunes on soundtracks. If anything, Cuomo at times seemed intent on diffusing interest. Having been signed out of LA after growing up in Connecticut, he moved back to a small house in Cambridge for a few years in the mid to late ’90s and took classes at Harvard. And though he was far from a ubiquitous presence on the local music scene, he seemed to enjoy being able to go out to a club without getting swarmed by fans. He played a few solo gigs with Shods guitarist Kevin Stevenson, Juliana Hatfield bassist Mikey Welsh, and Milligram drummer Zephan Courtney backing him up, but they were low-key affairs that drew a minimum of attention.

Meanwhile, the rest of Weezer were busy tending to their own solo projects. Bassist Matt Sharp had had a big enough hit with “Friends of P.,” from his new-wavy band’s 1995 debut album, Return of the Rentals, that he opted out of Weezer following Pinkerton to focus on the Rentals’ unsuccessful and best forgotten follow-up, 1999’s Seven More Minutes (both on Maverick). He was replaced by Welsh, who ended up touring as the bassist in Weezer drummer Pat Wilson’s Weezerish band Special Goodness. And Weezer guitarist Brian Bell kept himself occupied with his own Space Twins group.

None of which is unusual. A five-year wait between albums may be a bit on the long side, but it’s not unprecedented. And side projects are almost as much of a cliché in the realm of rock and roll as model girlfriends — not everybody has one, but there are, well, more than enough to go around. What’s more interesting is how much ink has already been spilled sensationalizing those five years in the life of Weezer. Request, CMJ New Music Monthly, and Blender (the new music monthly from the publishers of the men’s mag Stuff) have all run features (two of them cover stories) that, with seemingly little help from the band, have tried to fit the rather typical details of the Weezer saga into something resembling a VH1 Behind the Music scenario, from the triumphant “Buddy Holly”–fueled rise of “The Blue Album” to the confused fall that supposedly followed Pinkerton and on to the redemption the band are finally finding in “The Green Album.” The departure of Sharp, the fatal car crash that killed Weezer fanclub founders Mykel and Carli Allen in 1997, and unsubstantiated rumors that the admittedly eccentric Cuomo descended into some form of madness during his self-imposed exile from the music biz are all part of the foundation on which the tall tale of Weezer’s Phoenix-like rebirth has been hammered together by a culture industry that thrives on telling the same stories over and over again.

No surprise, then, that there’s very little on the new Weezer to support the notion that Weezer or Cuomo spent the preceding five years teetering on the verge of total collapse. If anything, the rock-star-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown persona was more prominent on the old albums than it is on the new. Pinkerton, with its unhinged noise-guitar solos and confessional lyrics about the boredom, confusion, and even self-loathing that came with the rock stardom that followed “The Blue Album,” certainly sounded like the product of a troubled psyche. And “Undone — the Sweater Song,” conjured images of torn and frayed loose ends with a greater force than do the generally sunny pop tunes that pepper “The Green Album.” Indeed, “Hashpipe,” with its slightly sinister chugging metal riff, its thumbnail sketches of the seedy side of LA’s Santa Monica Boulevard, and its repeated refrain of “Come on and kick me,” is easily the most disturbing and disturbed song on the album. That certainly hasn’t prevented Weezer from finding a home on today’s modern-rock radio, where raging against one or another machine is de rigueur. But next to the latest bloodletting from Tool, “Hashpipe” is the Beach Boys. And, with all due respect to jolly old Maynard James Keenan, I do mean that in a good way.

The rest of the new Weezer finds Cuomo rediscovering the joys of the kind of catchy, three-minute, buzzsaw-guitar-pop nuggets that made the old Weezer an enduring and endearing grunge-era classic. And that shouldn’t be too big a shocker: after all, the band brought back Cars maestro Ric Ocasek, who produced “The Blue Album,” to work on “The Green Album,” and it’s no accident that people have already started calling this new one a classic as well. Fans who entered Weezer’s world through the murky door into Cuomo’s psyche that was Pinkerton and only grudgingly gave in to the bittersweet charms of “The Blue Album” may be a little disappointed to discover their twisted anti-hero earnestly crooning “Open your heart and let the good stuff out” in a mid-tempo rocker called “Smile.” But my guess is that anyone who put in the time and effort to get the good stuff out of Pinkerton is insanely happy to have even a happy Rivers Cuomo back among the singing. And plenty more Weezer fans — the ones weaned on the boyhood Kiss reveries of “The Blue Album” — will know exactly what Cuomo means in “Simple Pages” by “Kick it on back/Kick it on back/Kick it on back to what you know/Gimme some love/Gimme some love sugar on the hard-rock radio.”

There were plenty of industry people backstage at Coachella wondering whether a new Weezer album mightn’t rescue modern-rock radio from the evil clutches of aggro rap rock. It’s a nice thought, if for no other reason than change is always good, and this aggro thing’s been hanging around for a while. But that’s a little like expecting Al Gore to save the environment at this point — yeah, he got a lot of votes, maybe even enough to win the election, but Bush is going to be in the White House for at least the next four years, so Alaska is basically toast. On the other hand, this time last year no one expected to find Weezer sharing the headlining spot at Coachella with Jane’s Addiction, much less dominating KROQ with a new single. Triumphant underdog: it’s a role that suits Rivers Cuomo to a T.

Issue Date: May 10 - 17, 2001