Reconsidering Weezer: A Definitive Album Ranking
Yes, this will be controversial.
The Mandalay Bay Events Center bustled with eager 30 and 40-somethings ready to relive a better time in their lives. As my wife and I approached the doors, we could hear the erratic sounds of the opening act, Pixies. We entered as they powered through their cover of my favorite Jesus & Mary Chain song, "Head On."
My wife slowed down behind me as I mindlessly made my way to our seats. She yelled stop so she could catch up. All week, she had felt a little off...
I had purchased our seats somewhat recently (at a great price, no less) and we weren't sure if they would be any good. They were. Not only were they on the floor, center, with a perfect view of the stage, but at one point, Rivers Cuomo himself got on a tiny boat-on-wheels, the S.S. Weezer, and this happened:
While as excited as I was, internally, my wife still felt something was not right about this weekend. A less-than-normal-for-Vegas amount of alcohol was even too much. Constant bathroom breaks. A general sense of malaise.
Was she okay?
Yes, she was. In fact, we didn't know it yet, but Weezer was technically my son's first concert, even if he was just the size of a pea in her uterus.
First, You Have to Understand
Weezer fans have an internal battle that can be best summed up by this incredible Saturday Night Live sketch:
(Fun fact: According to sketch writer Eli Mandel, Matt Damon basically knew nothing about Weezer but appropriately enough, knew "Beverly Hills" because of its ubiquity. And Leslie Jones had to ask what the fuck any of those words she had to say meant.)
It's an age-old battle.
"Did Weezer die after Pinkerton? Or were they just beginning?"
Truth be told, after their initial two-album 90s run -- legendary by any stretch of the imagination -- things got weird. Green Album was basically a pop-punk record that took 5 years to come out but only lasted 28 minutes. Maladroit is dark, crunchy, and mean with very questionable lyrical choices. They collaborated with Lil' Wayne at one point, released a covers album, made an orchestral record, and even most recently (this week, in fact) released an album-length homage to Van Halen and really just 80s hair metal overall. An entire album.
So... What's the Verdict?
Objectively, this is a meaningless argument. After all, you like what you like, right?
Wrong. Attention must be paid to the fact that even though Weezer got weird, they never stopped trying. They took risks most bands would never consider and, guess what, succeeded with a lot of them.
That's right, I'm the Matt Damon of the sketch!
You see, when I was younger, my step-sister and her boyfriend were obsessed with Weezer. This was in the between-times, after Pinkerton but before Green. Between overhearing updates on rumors about Rivers going to Harvard, possibly leaving Harvard, doing solo stuff, or doing new Weezer, etc. they would blare The Blue Album and, if they were feeling extra edgy, Pinkerton.
My love of Weezer was borne of a need to be seen by the older crew, who I thought at the time were infinitely cooler people than I was. Admittedly, it was a manufactured love at first. I worked from the outside in.
"Oh, you like Weezer?"
"Yeah... man... Weezer? Psh. Of course! They fuckin' -- they rule. They totally rock."
As you can tell, I had real 40-Year-Old Virgin "bag of sand" energy.
But if they and critics were to be believed, there were two classic albums right under my nose I hadn't really taken time to discover.
Then I did.
And that manufactured love transformed into a real love for this band. Then the Green Album came out. It was official: Weezer was back and I was ready.
16 Albums, Only 1 Winner
You see, Weezer had two classics out in the span of 7 years. Then, after that 5-year hiatus, they released 14 albums in 20. Even though I joined post-Pinkerton, based on album mathematics, I have been a fan for over 87% of their career. I jumped on the ship as everyone jumped off. Bassist Matt Sharp left and the diehards went with him.
Because of their undying loyalty, I feel like they really missed out on what made these second and third sections of their career special so far.
That's why I want to share with you my definitive ranking of their albums.
Warning: This will be controversial. Also, Variety did the very same thing this week to celebrate the release of Van Weezer and I'll be damned if they are going to outdo me. Also, their list is super basic and predictable. Boring.
Okay. Are you ready?
BUT WAIT! THIS FIRST!
Did you know I don't share my fiction on Vocal? I do share it in my newsletter, however... I am also going to share a lot more you won't find here.
Fair warning: Numbers 16-11 are albums that, if they disappeared off the face of the earth tomorrow, I'd probably be fine. I'll keep these brief because 10-1 is where I believe Weezer really begins to shine.
16. Pacific Daydream
To be perfectly clear, this isn't necessarily their "worst" in my eyes because it, in any way, does anything insane. In fact, some songs are still pretty okay (like the opener, "Mexican Fender.") It's their "worst" (again, in my eyes) because it's so middle of the road, it is a carbon copy of the far superior White Album that preceded it with none of its charm, wit, or catchiness. I get bored by this record.
Stand-out tracks: "Mexican Fender" and "Feels Like Summer"
Now, here's an example of "too bonkers to work." Named by actor Rainn Wilson (you know, the guy from Super), Raditude is a mess of trying too hard. There's a bollywood-esque collaboration, a Lil' Wayne collab ("Can't Stop Partying") and a song so cringy, it's hard to believe it exists ("I'm Your Daddy"). In a lot of ways, I feel like it fails harder than Pacific Daydream, but it edges it out simply because the risks, while bad, are still somewhat memorable.
Stand-out tracks: The first single, "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To" is pretty good, despite the rest.
14. Make Believe
I was a little contrarian when this came out and I was maybe too harsh on it. It only sits this low on the list due to the strength of the other albums, though it's not without its sins. Namely, "We Are All On Drugs" and, yes, "Beverly Hills." Now, full disclosure: "Beverly Hills" is my 16 month old's favorite song, right behind "Elmo Slide" (a true slapper.) And years later, I understand its ironic charm. But still, come on, despite the humor, it's still kind of lazy, right?
Stand-out tracks: Lead single, "Perfect Situation" is a S.C.C. (stone cold classic) and "Hold Me" has stood the test of time in my brain.
13. The Teal Album
I am kind of a sucker for cover albums. In fact, the thing I will defend is what most people find unforgivable, that the songs don't change much. And that's true, but these are great songs and it reveals the strength that all Weezer had to was play. Now, both a good and bad thing came of this: The hit cover of Toto's "Africa" became their biggest all-time song. Rivers himself doesn't really like that fact as he's spent his career trying to craft perfect pop songs, only to be undone (pun not intended) by a cover.
Stand-out tracks: Their cover of ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" because I am a massive ELO head.
12. Death to False Metal
Okay, I know, it's not technically an album in the traditional sense. It's a rarities and b-sides compilation dating back to the 90s. On one hand, it's very clearly a collection of songs that "didn't work" for one reason or another. But it's also a collection of rejected songs from their younger days, governed by pure creativity. So, yes, I'd rather listen to records of new work than revisit things that were cut, but it isn't all bad, just mostly whatever.
Stand-outs: On the iTunes edition, they include a cut that fans from back in the day know and love, a tribute to fans who sadly passed away, "Mykel and Carli." It's a beautiful song that represents the best of those early cuts that never made the Blue or Pinkerton cut.
11. The Red Album
Another risk-taker that actually really pays off at times, but also results in some very boring cuts, The Red Album almost made the top 10 but is hampered by some of the late album cuts written by members of the band not named Rivers. To be clear, Pat Wilson, Brian Bell, and Scott Shriner do amazing work in their respective side projects. But here, tracks like "Spider" and "Pig" fall flat. They went for the throne and came up short. That being said, the strong tracks are insanely strong. There are more than a couple stand-outs...
Stand-outs: This album produced some S.C.C.'s like "Pork and Beans," "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (A Shaker Hymn)" and "The Angel and the One" is a late record ballad.
10. The Green Album
Forever known as my first new Weezer, the Green Album roared onto the scene like a full-speed freight train. 28 minutes long and incredibly divisive, this economical pop-punk album may have disappointed some. To others, it's an infinitely better version of pop-punk than any other act at the time. I'm looking at you, Sum-41.
Stand-out tracks: "Knock-Down Drag-Out," "Photograph," "O Girlfriend" and "Crab" all slap. They slap hard. Maybe not "Girlfriend," it's just a great ballad and album closer.
9. The Black Album
A lot of fans are reading this wondering what the hell this album is doing in the top 10. One: Just wait, it gets worse. Two: "High as a Kite." Get past the pseudo-dance album nature of the record and you'll uncover some real gems. The songs that are good are great and the others that aren't are not bad, they are maybe just forgettable. Maybe it's worst sin is that it's not as dark as they maybe promised, Rivers having bragged about how he says "fuck" on it and how it was inspired by their producer's drug use. In the end, it's still just a dorky Weezer album.
Stand-outs: Again, "High as a Kite" deserves a spot among the best of Weezer's work, and that includes tracks like "The Good Life" and "Buddy Holly." It's a great song. Tracks like "Can't Knock the Hustle" and "Byzantine" are also truly great moments.
8. OK Human
"What? A 2021 album is ranked this high?"
In a quiet way, this album is bananas. It's an orchestra-backed record titled as a playful jab against Radiohead's most popular record. But if you listen, there is real pain here. It's not what you'd expect, but it's definitely a beautiful, sensitive record that was a welcome surprise during a world-crippling pandemic.
Stand-out tracks: The 1-2-3 light punches of the opening songs, "All My Favorite Songs," "Aloo Gobi" and "Grapes of Wrath" are enough to keep you hooked for the rest of the record, even if those songs don't quite live up to these three.
7. Van Weezer
I'll keep this short and sweet, because it came out today and recency bias might be skewing my opinion here, but this. Album. Fucking. Rules. It also allows Rivers to showcase something a lot of us, but not all of us, knew: He is a true guitar virtuoso who has only showcased these talents on a record a few times. Here, he lets it all out and it works. Holy shit, it's so fun and the perfect companion to this year's earlier, softer album, OK Human.
Stand-out tracks: "Hero" has been out for a long time, but it never lost its heat. "All the Good Ones" and "1 More Hit" are true slappers as well.
This album, in a lot of ways, is embarrassing. It's named after the character actor Jorge Garcia played on ABC's Lost and features his face on the cover for, notably, no reason. It is an album that preys on their late 2000s love of acerbic irony. At times, it preys too hard. "Where's My Sex" admittedly sucks. So, why is it so high on the list? The stand-out tracks...
Stand-out tracks: I'll say it now, "Memories" might be my second favorite Weezer song overall. "Ruling Me," "Hang On" and the closer, "Time Flies" are Weez classics. I'll say it, 9 out of 10 songs here are good to great. There. Come after me.
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Well, here we go. The top 5...
5. The Blue Album
I know. I know. I know. I know. If you're a diehard Weezer fan who hasn't thrown their phones or computers out the window, hear me out:
I love this album deeply. At this point, it's about resonance and it isn't this album's fault it's at #5, it's 4-1's faults.
There are no stand-outs because they all stand-out. In fact, from here on out, these are albums that edge each other by the skins of their teeth.
Remember earlier when I called this album mean, crunchy and outdated? I never said it wasn't incredible. I remember when this album came out, they released 5,000 (correct me if I'm wrong) uniquely numbered copies. I made sure my mom took me to (where?) The Wherehouse and I got what I believe was 1,500-ish.
Nostalgia aside, even "Dope Nose"s use of the word f** is rooted in childhood bullying and anger. In fact, most of this album is rooted in anger. The songs are not overdone, they feel like they were recorded in one go and released. It has raw punk energy not found in any other album.
It just works.
The album that basically ruined the entire band. It was so bad it made Rivers go to college because he'd rather study than face the backlash that was the public's reaction to this album.
Luckily, I wasn't one of the disappointed Blue Album obsessives who, with eager anticipation, got their hands on a new copy of Pinkerton only to wonder why Rivers was so obsessed with half-Japanese women. I got to enjoy this album before I ever listened to Blue and was swept away in a sea of heartbreak and raw emotion.
Rivers vowed to never show that side of himself again and in some ways, save for OK Human, he didn't. Pinkerton is a time capsule of pain that'll likely never be repeated again. Seriously, can you imagine Rivers Cuomo allowing himself to write something as raw as "Butterfly"?
2. The White Album
I grew up in the Bay Area. San Francisco was a regular outing, considering it was only 45 minutes away. I remember the smells of the cold, barely inhabitable Pacific Ocean and the sounds of seagulls. Every time "California Kids" slowly crawls to a start, I am reminded of the time I was strolling along the pier and two seagulls divebombed my crab roll and made away with most of it.
It's rare for an album this late in a career to be this good. Between "California Kids" (one of the strongest lead singles I've ever heard) and "King of the World," not to mention "Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori" (which you can listen to the making-of on Song Exploder) and "Jacked Up," this is a record of S.C.C.s (again, stone-cold classics.)
It rules. No, it more than rules. If not for my #1 choice, it would be a perfect album. But there's one that edges out the rest...
1. Everything Will Be Alright in the End
When they were recording Raditude, the band was quickly approaching (or already into) their 40s. The midlife crisis caused them to make one very weird choice in their live shows:
Drummer Pat Wilson played guitar. Rivers dropped his guitar to be solely the lead singer. Devo & Nine Inch Nails touring legend Josh Freese took over the drums. And I love Josh Freese but we all agreed, this was not the band to do this.
So, in their first album back since the Raditude/Death to False Metal/Hurley era, they released a single with an apology and a joke:
"Sorry guys, I didn't realize I needed you so much / Thought I'd get a new audience, I forgot that disco sucks / I ended up with nobody and started feeling dumb / Maybe I should play the lead guitar and Pat should play the drums"
My point being, Everything Will Be Alright... was a make-or-break moment for the band. They could have stuck out this new path or look inward and be who they are. Now, I praise Weezer for always pushing forward and one might think, from listening to the lead single, "Back to the Shack," that this album was purpose-built to be a nostalgia trip.
But the first song, "Ain't Got Nobody" is a hard-edged arena rock opener that doesn't resemble the old days in the slightest. Songs like "The British Are Coming" and "Cleopatra" propelled them forward and yet somehow felt like the old days. (They even re-teamed with the late Ric Ocasek, the Cars frontman who produced both Blue and Green.)
And earlier, I mentioned "Memories" is my second favorite Weezer track. That's because Everything's closer, "The Futurescope Trilogy" is a three-track shredder of a rock opus that spans 7 minutes and is, unequivocally, the highlight of this entire band's career. If the multi-guitar wall of sound that is "The Futurescope Trilogy: III. Return to Ithaka" doesn't make you want to backflip off a rooftop into a pool, then you are broken.
As the guitar erupt into madness and I am engulfed in the awesome brilliance of this song, that's when I know indeed, everything will be alright in the end.
And there you have it. I ranked a 2013 album at the top, their debut classic in 5th place and the new records higher than The Green Album. I hope it inspired you to keep listening if you're an anti-post-Pinkerton snob. Most of all, I just hope you had a good time.
Well, until next time...
Thank you for reading.
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