Strangely enough, Weezer is one of the more difficult bands
to write about. They exist in some weird interim space in the
pop/rock world, no longer "popular" (as judged by radio play)
yet still well entrenched in the major label power structure.
As if to complete some oddly self-reflective metaphor, the band's
sound is itself trapped somewhere in between those two worlds
as well. Or so it seems to me. They can't seem to decide if
they want to be the neo-Van Halen popsters so perfectly displayed
on their 1994 debut or if they'd rather settle into the underground's
Husker Du/Pixies/Sugar vacancy.
This release (we'll just call it "the green album", both because
that's the general convention among critics and because it's
a practical way to discern this s/t release from 1994's s/t
release) is clearly and distinctly a return to the Van Halen
mode of things. In fact, the similarities between this album
and 1994's blue album are so readily apparent as to beg the
question of self-reflexive irony, or at least self-reflexive
identification. Both albums are self-titled. Both covers feature
the band arrayed in slacker poses on a blank field of basic
color. The only real difference is the change from blue to green,
which makes one consider for a minute the band's brief flirtation
with the underground (1996's Pinkerton) and front
man Rivers Cuomo's admittedly understated desire to be Frank
Black rather than David Lee Roth. Green implies money, which
implies caving back into the machine, capital, for better or
for worse. Anyway...
The fact of the matter is that the uncanny similarities of
Weezer's blue and green albums don't end at packaging. Despite
what you might have heard, the material on the green one is
virtually interchangeable with the material on blue. I performed
a small experiment when I first bought green, plopping both
it and blue into the CD changer and hitting random play. There's
very little to discern the two collections. Granted, a listener
who has some nostalgic connection to the blue album, who knows
all of those songs by heart already, might find something lacking
on the new material. A loss of some indefinable angst, perhaps,
or maybe the subtlest of changes in uses of minor vs. reduced
keys? I'm not really sure what it would be, or even if it is
really there. It very well may be nothing more than the plucked
strings of nostalgia elevating In The Garage just a bit
higher than Photograph or Knock-down Drag-out.
In fact, I'm inclined to think it is just that. I don't think
there's any real qualitative difference between the 1994 material
and the 2001 material. I think it's just us Weezer fans getting
old and crotchety and complaining that nothing will ever measure
up to the hey-day of our youth.
Of course, with all that said, I'm not going to give the green
album the same number of sponges I'd assign to the blue album.
First off, the green album doesn't have any song that can compare
to Buddy Holly as far as pop songcraft is concerned.
It's just not there. Simple Pages is a fine, fine pop
tune in its own right, but regardless of whether it's fair to
do so or not, Weezer will always be judged, pop-wise, by the
standard of Buddy Holly. Secondly, the green album lacks
the subtle flourishes that catch the listener by surprise on
the blue album: the melancholy plucked arpeggios that open that
album's first track, My Name Is Jonas; the intricate
counter melodies of The World Has Turned and Left Me Here;
the pre-emo standard bearer Undone -- The Sweater Song.
But then again, the notion of my ear placing more import within
the sounds of my waning college days bugs me again.
It's a tough call. Taking a moment to review our dandy little
rating system, I'm thinking the
green album might be a 4 sponger. It's above average and has
some merit for fans of the band, but the casual listener, one
who, perhaps, did not spend his two senior years at university
with the blue album and Sugar's Copper Blue blasting
at obscene volumes at all hours of the night (for example),
might find it to be merely average.
But I really want to give it 5 sponges, because I feel bad
assigning less than a "good" rating to a Weezer album.
I am torn. Truthfully. I can't decide which it is. I can't
decide if it's the music or me. I can't decide if green lets
me down in the exact places where blue picked (picks) me up
or if I'm just asking too much. One more listen almost convinces
me that it's the music. The green album lacks the low-key enhancements,
the fade-out noise experiment that ends Undone, the prominent
and leading bass line of In the Garage, the stupid fun
of Surf Wax America. It lacks that bass-line driven breakdown
a minute and a half into Holiday where the band approaches
some unholy blend of The Pixies and doo-wop, extorting tried
and true forms in unseen combination, to produce brilliant and
previously unknown moments of beauty.
In the end the green album feels kind of phoned in, as if Rivers
and company were just fulfilling the contract, maximizing the
royalties and moving on with it. Or perhaps it is missing a
defining presence, a check or balance that added levity and
subtlety to Rivers' sonic assault. Perhaps the green album is
missing former bassist Matt Sharpe. (Completely tangential note
here, but Sharpe's "other band", now his only band, The Rentals,
is well worth the listen. Less guitar, more pop, but solid,
solid music.) Perhaps there's more to be read into one of the
differences of the covers. In 1994, every member stood
equal and blank on the blue field. In 2001 Cuomo stands slightly
ahead of all of the other members, and he alone has an instrument,
with a lightning bolt of power running down his guitar strap.
So I guess we go with four sponges, with a fifth ghost sponge
hanging about in the wings. If nothing else, the 2001 release
gives the fan a well-deserved excuse to break out the debut
and relive it for a while. That is itself something worthwhile,