Weezer is the Star Wars prequels of rock and roll: objects of loathing born from young love, recipients of vitriol presumed to be deserved and, beyond the affection of a few die hard nutcases, universal. This is hyperbolic, of course: a rock band “no one” likes can no more survive for decades than a movie series “everyone” hates can gross $300 million domestic every time out. But it’s inarguable that Weezer has, like the Star Wars prequels I so enjoy, disappointed a lot of people, and unlike Attack of the Clones, I would not give any of Weezer’s albums of the past decade three and a half stars out of four for the sheer enjoyability of the good stuff.
Also unlike Star Wars, which had three-year gaps (at least in terms of movies) for opinions to percolate (and, I think, sometimes nervously reverse themselves into scorn), Weezer has absorbed these negative reactions via not scarcity, but abundance. The band came back in 2001 after nearly five years of inactivity, and they haven’t been away for so long since. Though their 2005 nadir Make Believe was bookended by three-year breaks, they’ve also had major productivity spurts, most notably in the 2008-2010 period where they released three studio albums and one cast-off collection in less than four years.
Conventional wisdom says these records mostly just upped the ante on how bad Weezer could let down its dwindling fanbase, and true that none of these records or what I’d call “good,” though a few flirt with “pretty good” or “OK.” But as the band prepares to release its umpteenth for-real-this-time return to form, Everything Will Be Alright in the End (out tomorrow), it’s worth noting that the past decade of Weezer has not yielded nonstop dross. In fact, there are some pretty great Weezer songs adrift in the seas of mediocrity, waiting for attentive, non-angry listeners to rescue them. This is what I intend to do here. I’m limiting this to a list of the Ten Best Weezer Songs of the Past Decade and, as such, not including their post-comeback records, 2001’s Green Album or 2002’s Maladroit — because those albums are, as a whole, good. Not great like the first two, but good enough to listen to without much skipping – really, the best halves of Green and Maladroit could combine to form a record nearly as good as Blue or Pinkerton. And the songs that follow, well, they could probably form a record nearly as good as that one. Maybe some of the poptimism afforded derivative Top 40 songs might (in a Weezer-friendly rockist fashion) be applied to your old pals from ’94.
The Ten Best Weezer Songs of the Past Decade
10. “I’m Your Daddy”
One of the weirdest things about late-period Weezer is reading about the origins of some of their songs, especially ones with seemingly off-putting lyrical content. The empty-headed “Smart Girls” seems all the stupider hearing that it started off as “Hot Girls” but Cuomo crowdsourced it into “Smart Girls” to make it nicer (nice sentiment, I guess; still a stupid song). The nonsensical “Where’s My Sex?” seems like even more of a dumb joke if you think about how it was based on Cuomo’s young daughter asking about the whereabouts of her socks (how does making that change suddenly make it into a song?). The best of these weird-origins songs is probably “I’m Your Daddy,” even though it has the potential to be the creepiest: It’s a creepy phrase unto itself, although the origin is actually kinda cute; apparently Cuomo sang part of the chorus to his kid. But he brings it back to weird by applying it back to a song that’s supposed to be romantic. I’m sure it was just a strange songwriting whim, but it’s the kind of anecdote that makes Cuomo seem like he’s fucking around at best, out of ideas at worst. That said, “I’m Your Daddy” is super-catchy, enough so that I can forget that the phrase “I’m Your Daddy” figures into the chorus.
9. “This Is Such a Pity”
Make Believe, 2005
Make Believe is a terrible album. I can find a lot of positive things to say about the three records that followed, but there are only the scantest pleasures to be found on one of the band’s longest and seemingly most painstaking releases, and the contrast between this and Maladroit, paticularly in the lyrics department, is stark. I’d love to read a detailed account of what Rivers was up to between 2002 and 2005 that (a.) derailed his initial plans to continue releasing an album a year and (b.) drained the specificity out of his lyrics. But on “This Is Such a Pity,” the lady backing vocals, synthy beat, and eighties-y dueling guitar solos in the bridge offer a rare moment where musical experimentation overtakes the rote songwriting. Basically, anyone who loves “I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams” should at least give this one a chance.
One of the best things about Hurley is the way it sounds: rougher and looser than the more polished albums that preceded it. The band (and, really, anyone writing about the band) often seems to be chasing “since the Blue Album” or “since Pinkerton” but here, truly, is someplace that comparison really applies: Vocally, Cuomo hadn’t sounded this unhinged since Pinkerton. It’s not gratuitous, but the way he hits “WRECKS!” at the end of the titular word is a thrill, considering how buttoned-up he often sounds. The rest of the song is pretty great, too: chugging and anthemic about a group of people who are totally messy and unreliable.
7. “Trippin’ Down the Freeway”
The off-kilter vocal melody of the verses sounds like the Ben Folds Five song “Your Redneck Past,” so maybe that accounts for my affection for this song. But I actually really like how mean and petty it sounds, recounting some kind of dysfunctional relationship where the narrator picks a fight about how lame it is that his partner wants to go to a volleyball game and dated some guy named Kevin Greene. The bouncy chorus asserts that the couple will, regardless, not be breaking up — the kind of upbeat ode to a failing romance that I more closely associate with They Might Be Giants. Appropriately, the song contains the kind of lyrical silliness I know must infuriate some people, particularly where “not just in ’08 and ’09/we’re gonna be together until the end of time” gets repeated as “not just in ’09 and oh-10/we’ll be together from now until the very end” and then “not just in oh-10 and oh-11/we’ll be together from now until we’re up in heaven,” but I have to say: I think those couplets are actually really playful and funny. For a record with a lot of self-conscious throwbacking, Raditude does occasionally touch upon darker themes.
My main problem with the current Weezer single “Back to the Shack” is that it’s pretty much just an inferior version of the lead single from their last album, with both the band and much of the music press pretending that previous single never happened. “Memories” is shamelessly nostalgic, but it also sounds so genuine and specific about the band’s experiences on the road in the nineties that I can’t fault them for it; “Memories” is a song for the band while “Back to the Shack” sounds like a sop to its fans. And to Cuomo’s credit, he writes about touring and being in a band no more than a lot of bands his age, and actually seems to actively avoid it a lot of the time. Spotty as their output has been, I think the band has earned a song like this. Plus: It has more of that Hurley vocal edge, and its chorus is irresistibly huge.
5. “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)”
Red Album, 2008
Weezer’s later-period records don’t always lack ambition the way you’d expect from their rep as lazy and/or flailing. One of their most exciting songs from this period, “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” is an epic and (despite the grammatical flub in its title) ambitious multi-part, tempo-shifting blowout. Rivers and company seem like the kind of nerds who have some logged some time listening to prog and glam, and if “Greatest” isn’t fully proggy (it has plenty of guitar crunch, as well as a sort of quasi-rap intro), it does enter Queen territory with some “Bohemian Rhapsody” scope, all building off the melody to a shaker hymn. The lyrics are self-consciously hubris-laden (I mean, read the title again) and sometimes silly, but the expansion of familiar Weezer stuff into a six-minute mini-opera shows how flexible their sound can be under the right circumstances. For the first three tracks or so, the Red Album sounded like it might be one of their most eclectic and unpredictable records — and actually, it may be; it just doesn’t live up to its early promise that it will also be pretty damn good.
4. “Ruling Me”
If Weezer is gonna do the permanent-adolescence thing, I dunno, “Ruling Me” makes it sound pretty awesome. Yes, the song came out in 2010, when Rivers was turning 40, so I guess it wasn’t particularly dignified for him to sing about how when he met you in the “lunchroom,” his “ocular nerve went pop-zoom.” But mixed into the Weezer catalog out of the forty-year-old-dude context, it fits in pretty well. Close your eyes. This song would not sound especially out of place on the Blue Album, and it would have been a fucking fist-pumping highlight of the Green Album (which I love, but sounds a little mechanical at times). Listen to those heavenly backing vocals or that vibrant guitar.
3. “Miss Sweeney”
Red Album bonus track, 2008
Most of the bonus tracks on expanded deluxe editions of aughts-era Weezer have been disappointing, save for something that doesn’t really count like “The Prettiest Girl in the Whole Wide World” (being a finished version of a song that had been floating around since the late nineties). But the undersung gem “Miss Sweeney” is one of their best B-side-style songs. It starts weird, with an awkward “Hi” announcing that Cuomo is doing a downbeat character-song, singing as a nebbishy-sounding boss addressing some manner of employee or coworker about office and business matters. It might sound like a doofy caricature if not for the way it crashes into a deeply Weezer-y chorus as he confesses his love: “Girl, you make the rainclouds disappear! The sun always shines when you’re near! I’m waiting until you love me!” These lyrics are not great shakes on their own, but juxtaposed with the awkwardness of the verses, they’re sweetly epic: a Weezer torch song for a grown-up white-collar dork.
2. “Pork and Beans”
Red Album, 2008
One reason it’s hard to buy into “hey, this sounds like ’94!” hype from rock critics (or the band, for that matter) about new Weezer singles is the weird collective amnesia that somehow discounts how spot-on “Pork and Beans” is at the task of replicating that sound. It also manages to sound effortless in doing so — the kind of hooky mainstream “alt”-rock song that Cuomo seems, at his best, to write by instinct. Many latter-day Weezer songs engage with feelings of nerdy alienation from whatever the current music scene is (and apparently that returns on the new record); at the risk of sounding regressive or at least encouraging regression, “Pork and Beans” sounds the most like what “In the Garage”-era Weezer would write on that topic. For a moment, the Red Album sounded like it would be a true successor to its Blue and Green counterparts.
1. “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To”
Weezer’s lead singles from their albums have, in recent years, raised my expectations about said albums to unfair degrees. I like Raditude more than most (apparently), but it must be said that this song, which I absolutely adore, set me up for something better. It starts with an acoustic riff, a relative rarity for a band that so favors the Pixies-style quiet-loud dynamic, and the melody has a Cheap Trick jauntiness to it. Cuomo may be yet again describing something pretty far removed from his personal experience at the time — I assume he wasn’t spending much time watching Titanic or at Best Buy or meeting his girlfriend’s parents in the summer of ’09, or ’08, or pretty much any year that this list encompasses — but I could not give less of a fuck. This song has the goods. Not only is an exuberant big-chorus love song in the style of Cheap Trick (only better than most Cheap Trick songs I’ve heard), it goes a little deeper in the wonderful 20-second bridge and pre-chorus, where the narrator jumps ahead to a time when maybe this relationship won’t be such a heady rush. There’s something profoundly moving to me about that last jump to the chorus, the way it insists that years down the road, the narrator plans to return to this sentiment to jolt a tired relationship back to life. This song did that to my relationship with Weezer, however momentarily. And I always think: yes, this could happen again, I don’t see why it couldn’t.
If you’d like to listen to these songs, plus a handful of other decent tracks from Weezer’s past decade, check out this Spotify playlist: