The Over/Under: Weezer

This is from 2009, but we thought we’d repost it given Weezer is on the cover of the current issue of MAGNET. Order a copy here.

Weezer has always gotten more than its fair share of contempt. We come not to bury Rivers Cuomo, but to praise him. Tucked beneath its Cheap Trick riffs and nerd-friendly lyrics, Weezer managed to record some of the best power-pop anthems of the past 15 years. And even if the band’s recent efforts haven’t lived up to its classic debut and history of hits, this is still a band with the power to surprise us. While some of Weezer’s songs have passed into our collective memory (“Buddy Holly,” “Beverly Hills”) and have no intention of leaving anytime soon, others should never have been released in the first place (we’re looking at you, “Heart Songs”). With Cuomo and crew about to launch their own online radio station courtesy of Clear Channel, what better time to examine the most overrated and underrated Weezer songs?

:: The Five Most Overrated Weezer Songs
1. “Island In The Sun” (2001)

So laid back it’s practically catatonic, “Island In The Sun” somehow managed to become one of Weezer’s biggest hits. Maybe the Green Album wasn’t amazing, but it had a half-dozen single-ready tracks better than “Island In The Sun.” After a lifetime of exposure thanks to commercials and radio play, it’s officially time to retire this tired number. Maybe the song’s appeal was due to that video with all the cute animals; after all, music soothes the savage beast. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Weezer’s career, it’s that “soothing” is not a phrase that belongs in its vocabulary.

2. “Undone (The Sweater Song)” (1994)
I know, I know, it’s another one of a band’s most popular and beloved songs that we, the MAGNET hacks, are turning on. But hear me out. “The Sweater Song” perfectly demonstrates the fine line between overrated and overexposed. If it had gone about its business being a decent song on a classic album, then this wouldn’t be a problem. A little overexposed, maybe, but it’s the rabid devotion to an otherwise adequate song that pushes “Undone” into overrated territory. It’s still good. But take something like “Buddy Holly,” one of the most perfect pop moments in rock history. “Buddy Holly” can’t be overrated; it’s so good, any rating would be insufficient. “Undone,” on the other hand? Sure, the chorus is great, but those talky interludes? Floating on a cloud of Gen-X nostalgia so potent it could resurrect Winona Ryder’s career, “Undone” is perfectly fine. End of story.

3. “Only In Dreams” (1994)
The Blue Album is brilliant but not the only great piece of music that Weezer has released. Any fan, casual or obsessive, loves or at least appreciates the Blue Album, but it’s possible to enjoy Weezer in all incarnations, with or without stupid moustaches. It’s time to step back and declare to ourselves that, yes, it is OK to like 2002’s Maladroit or the Green Album. (But 2005’s Make Believe is still taboo.) It is OK to think that “Only In Dreams” is too long and trying too hard. Or that “Surf Wax America” is in no way better than “Knock Down Drag Out.” It is OK to say that “Keep Fishin’” is as good a pop song as “My Name Is Jonas.”

4. “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” (2008)
Thanks to a little hit called “Pork And Beans,” Weezer had enough clout to command some interest for last year’s Red Album. The critics had to find something to say about it, despite the LP being one of the least describable albums in recent memory. This is not because it is too good to be explained. Nor, really, is it too bad. It’s a completely blank album, less memorable than anything by Jimmy Eat World or the Dave Matthews Band. So we said that “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” was either “ambitious,” “more mature” or a Green Day retread or that “Everybody Get Dangerous” was “aggressive” and “playful” when really, there was no reason for them to exist. Ultimately, the world would not remotely suffer if “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” was suddenly blinked out of existence; but then again, it didn’t seem to do any irreparable harm. Maybe that’s all we can ask.

5. “Beverly Hills” (2005)
Why was “Beverly Hills” such a huge hit? Maybe because if the careers of Lindsay Lohan and Jon & Kate plus whoever are any indication, we like to watch people embarrass themselves. Like a weak retread of “El Scorcho,” “Beverly Hills” either thought it was funny (which it wasn’t) or thought it rocked (which it didn’t). Honestly, a talk-box solo? Even when Peter Frampton did that on The Simpsons, it still sucked.

:: The Five Most Underrated Weezer Songs
1. All of
Maladroit (2002)
With the Blue Album and 1996’s Pinkerton already established in pop history and the Green Album released to polite indifference, it seemed like Weezer had gone as far as it could go. Each record only managed to divide the band’s fans into separate camps: the early pop lovers, the emo kids, the casual listeners. Luckily, these disparate groups managed to put aside their differences and come together over a shared principle: that Maladroit sucked. But here’s the thing. Maladroit, the band’s fourth album, is actually really good: not exactly deep, but it has some really stellar pop songs. Pitched somewhere between the lightness of the Blue Album and the riffs on Pinkerton, Maladroit has charm and hooks to spare. With numbers like “Keep Fishin’,” “Space Rock” and “Possibilities,” Maladroit is catchier than the Green Album and less melodramatic than Pinkerton. Sure, Maladroit never became a cultural touchstone the way the band’s first two albums did, but it deserves more credit than it ever got.

“Love Explosion”

2. “Perfect Situation” (2005)
Coming from the much-maligned Make Believe, anything with a decent beat would seem underrated. Luckily “Perfect Situation” has more than a decent beat. It’s catchy, nerdy and sweet, even memorable. Make Believe might have had moments like “We Are All On Drugs,” but it also had the quiet sweetness of “The Damage In Your Heart.” As much as we’d like to dismiss its fifth album, Weezer can only be relevant again if we listen to a song like “Perfect Situation” and accept for the genuinely good piece of work that it is, even if it’s no “Pink Triangle.” Though you might have written these boys off long ago, “Perfect Situation” gives us hope that Weezer can still deliver a song with heart and a hook.

3. “Private Message” (2002)
A demo from a scrapped album circa 2002, “Private Message” is unfairly good. No, it’s not exactly Dylan lyrically (“I’m trying/To show you/A hint of/My coolness”), but Weezer never was. And what “Private Message” lacks in wit, it more than makes up for in spirit. With an emotive and powerful vocal performance by Cuomo, “Private Message” deserves to find its way onto the mix tapes of idealistic (and heartbroken) young things immediately.

4. “Waiting On You” (1997)
“The Good Life” might be more than a decade old, but it’s still one of Weezer’s best tracks, and its b-side is (arguably) even better. Releasing “Waiting On You” as a throwaway showed more guts than we ever thought Cuomo had, even in his Pinkerton phase. But depriving that second album of such an amazing song was a pretty questionable move, making this breakup tune the property of hard-core fans only. With a slightly droning beat that brings back memories of Pinkerton’s heavier tracks, “Waiting On You” is a moving take on more than the usual teenage angst. All together now: “Mine is the loneliest of numbers … ”

5. “Troublemaker” (2008)
Like “Perfect Situation,” “Troublemaker” is an example of a surprisingly good song from a surprisingly bad album. Proof that Weezer never met a chorus it didn’t like, “Troublemaker” is goofy, unnecessary fun. But that’s not a criticism; if anything, it’s a relief to see the often-intense Cuomo just letting go. It’s not really OK to like “Troublemaker,” a track that plays the “Rock The Casbah” card in being a pretty stupid song from a pretty smart band. But buried beneath the chunky metal riff lies a hint of self-examination from Cuomo, laced with irony: “I’m gonna be a rock star/And you will go to bed with me.” Sure, it’s a far cry from the teenage nebbish who crushed on half-Japanese girls, but who could say no to a pick-up line like that?

—Emily Tartanella