Weezer: “The World Has Turned And Left Me Here” (Weezer (Blue), 1994)
In this post earlier today, Matthew Perpetua linked to a site where someone is attempting to raise $10 million to get Weezer to break up, and he (correctly, in my view) identified it as mean-spirited bullshit.
I hadn’t listened to Weezer in a long time, so I took out the blue album and played it after reading his post and checking out the dumb fundraising site (hilariously, two out of the three comments excoriate the chief fundraiser for being a bad person).
I don’t know what your relationship to Weezer is, but mine goes back to 1994, when my friend Matt bought the blue album on cassette. I remember listening to it at his house and enjoying it just fine—I wasn’t listening to modern rock radio then, so I heard everything, including “Undone - The Sweater Song,” for the first time. Actually, that big hit was the one I remember somewhat bothering me. I liked the dialogue bubbling under the intro, and the piano-innards outro, but something about it was a little too overtly novel for me. I grew to like the song over the years, but still wouldn’t call it a favorite or anything.
The spry little blasts of fuzzy power pop that dot the album appealed to me more, especially the triple shot (“My Name Is Jonas,” “No One Else” and “The World Has Turned And Left Me Here”) that opened the album. I wouldn’t say the band meant anything to me, really. Certainly not in the way a lot of other bands did (honestly, it was my classic rock phase, and I’d consider Jethro Tull to be much more meaningful to my development as a music fan). I didn’t even buy Pinkerton until three years after it came out, when I started reading the revision of critical opinion on the album. Sorry, Rivers. Maybe I shouldn’t have waited.
Anyway, whenever the band releases a new album, there’s a lot of tooth-gnashing in the music writer community about the State of Weezer. Usually, we’re pretty united in not liking whatever the band’s done most recently, but what’s really funny is that every time we wind up having different permutations of the same argument over why we don’t like it.
I’ve never developed a comprehensive argument about it, perhaps because I don’t have a very strong opinion to begin with. I like the band’s first two albums a lot and most of their stuff since has left me non-plussed, though I don’t particularly hate it (there are exceptions—“Memories” and “Can’t Stop Partying” stunk), and I suppose it’s easier to cobble together some sort of theory if you have a really strong aversion to or preference for one or the other. I can rationalize why I don’t like it, what makes it different and in my mind less good, but I don’t have any need to prove that it’s bad.
The band is still really popular (moreso than in the 90s, actually), so one thing we talk about a lot is that perhaps it is we and not the band who have changed. The common point I hear made is that the blue album and Raditude are basically the same. Which is wrong, actually. The band has changed, if not in intent then in sound and execution. Their intent has always been to be a world-conquering rock band, or at least that’s how I read them. In the 90s, their approach to that was to make neat and shiny rock songs that have some remarkable flourishes of complexity (mostly in the vocal harmonies). There’s a fuzziness and a specificity to the band’s outsider persona on the blue album that’s still appealing to me.
On Pinkerton, Cuomo let the veil slip a bit and actually showed you a bit of himself. It’s a ragged record that’s exciting precisely because it’s ragged. It feels unpredictable, and not knowing where the band is going next makes following them interesting. It will always be the critical favorite for that reason, and I think it has an open honesty to it that’s made it a source of inspiration for a lot of subsequent bands.
At their worst in the past decade, they’ve displayed none of that unpredictability and certainly no vulnerability (honesty is trickier to disprove). The big choruses are precision-engineered, the cultural references seem less identifiable than shyly admitting to liking KISS in the age of Nirvana—the first moment I remember thinking something had gone wrong was when I heard “Hash Pipe.” It was all style, with a hook built around a winking drug reference (and here’s where I admit that, yes, those original listeners have changed just as the band has—they’ve honed in on a target audience that cassette-copy blue album buyers have aged out of. I might have nodded to a hash pipe reference when I was in high school).
But let’s be honest. Whatever disparities in quality my colleagues and I might perceive, late Weezer has its own power, and immunity to it isn’t some badge of honor. The big, dumb slam of “Beverly Hills” may not be the equal of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” in genuine passion for its subject matter, but it pretty much is its equal for singability and catchiness and it ultimately fills a similar space. We’re music critics because we like to really think about music, whereas most people just like to listen to music, and we can sometimes trick ourselves into believing that there’s something superior or more real about the former tendency (there’s not).
And in light of that, this “$10 million for Weezer to break up” thing just seems even further beyond stupid. Never mind that it’s an idle project that won’t amount to anything—the project talks about wanting to save its friends from disappointment every time the band releases a new album. To which I say: are your friends bed-ridden prisoners who are forced to listen to every new Weezer album? Because unless they are, there’s always this option called not listening. I’ve been doing it for years and it’s worked great. Meanwhile, the band is still making people happy, and if you’re not one of those people that doesn’t make the happiness less valid.
I’ve come to the conclusion after all these years of discussion that, yes, 90s Weezer and 21st Century Weezer are different. It’s possible to like both, especially if you have no formative moments tied to the 90s albums, but it’s also okay to let your favorite artists move on and do what they want to do, even if that means the world turns a little and leaves you behind.
*also, I realize this post amounts to lengthy, rather disorganized spitballing. Feel free to ignore me, challenge me, correct me, berate me, etc.