Weezer announce huge North America Indie Rock Road Trip! tour
Weezer are hitting the road with Spoon, Modest Mouse, Future Islands, Joyce Manor, Momma and White Reaper at select dates.
From Blue to Green to Red to White and beyond, we rank Weezer’s coolest cuts…
Has an alt.rock band ever sounded more timeless than Weezer? Born in Los Angeles at the height of the grunge movement, their initial output felt like a direct riposte to the sounds emanating further up the United States’ west coast. It had similar levels of angst, but the long-haired wild-man aesthetic was swapped out for that of a quartet of clean-cut, cuddly, heavy metal-loving nerds. While so many of their contemporaries have flamed out over the years since, the core trio of frontman Rivers Cuomo, drummer Patrick Wilson and guitarist Brian Bell are still casually hanging around, like the preppy kids done good at the tail-end of a high school reunion, happy to bend ears with the same stories of brotherhood and broken hearts they did back in the day.
That said, there are three distinct ages of Weezer. The first – and indisputably best – began with their 1992 formation, encapsulated 1994’s incredible self-titled “Blue Album” debut and ended with the fan backlash to 1996’s deeper, darker Pinkerton that almost led to their breaking up. The second spanned six albums, from their 2000 return and the following year’s “Green Album” to 2010’s Hurley. The third is still ongoing, beginning with 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End and on through two LPs – OK Human, Van Weezer – dropping this year, with a further four season-specific releases reportedly due in 2022.
Although our Top 20 is dominated by that earliest run, there is incredible quality to be found across all 15 albums – and beyond. You’re best off taking this as the jumping-off point for that fathomless deep-dive…
A loose adaptation of the 1848 Shaker hymn [a type of religious American folk song] Simple Gifts, The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived is Weezer’s Bohemian Rhapsody, transitioning through ten distinct musical styles while remaining connected to its central motif. Taking in swaggering hip-hop, ecstatic choral vocals and gritty punk rock, it is one of Weezer’s most distinctive compositions. Rivers Cuomo has commented that his practice of self-observational Buddhist “insight meditation” was vital to being able to compose such a complex yet playful number, and that he simply couldn’t have managed it earlier in his career. A head-spinning triumph.
Drummer Pat Wilson sat down with Rivers to write The World Has Turned And Left Me Here about a year before they’d even started the band. Following on from No One Else on the Blue Album, the frontman has remarked that it is very much drawn from the same protagonist’s point-of-view, with the jealousy and possessiveness of the earlier song earning its comeuppance in being kicked to the kerb in the latter. Beyond that clever narrative, the track became a heartbreak anthem for a whole generation of teenagers with those simple, repeat lyrics (‘The world has turned and left me here / Just where I was before you appeared / And in your place, an empty space / Has filled the void behind my face’) just as applicable in less deservedly-dumped scenarios.
There are a breed of Weezer fans who absolutely hate the slew of knowingly-goofy singles that followed their 2000 return. Apologies to them. For the rest of us, tracks like We Are All On Drugs were the soundtrack to grinning, geeky good times. Rivers has clarified that the second single from Make Believe isn’t necessarily about narcotic thrills, but more to do with the abundance of overstimulation in the modern world – from TV, radio and the internet, to the coming wave of smartphone addiction that hadn’t even begun to hit yet. Hilariously, MTV insisted on playing an edited version called We Are All In Love. Weezer dropped it with a music video that re-edited footage from Grim Reaper’s 1985 banger Fear No Evil (an official release, but no longer on YouTube) before following-up with a trippy cut featuring the band later that year.
The story goes that Rivers came up with the Red Album’s third single following a record label meeting with Geffen execs, where the band were compelled to come up with some more commercial material. A statement of defiance that emphasises being happy in who you are (‘I'ma do the things that I wanna do / I ain't got a thing to prove to you’), it was ironically also one of the band’s most immediately-accessible singles with its candied melodies and massive sing-along chorus acknowledged right there in the song. Matthew Cullen’s inspired music video, featuring a host of early YouTube stars, is still one of their most memorable.
Rivers Cuomo initially struggled with the explosion of attention that followed the Blue Album, and enrolled at Harvard to study classical composition and retreat from the spotlight into a relatively anonymous dorm. Dropping out to record Weezer’s second album Pinkerton (he would return to the Ivy League institution, and graduated in 2008) Rivers poured his feelings of dislocated darkness and heartbroken isolation into gritty second album Pinkerton, which itself would divide fans and almost end the band. Nowadays, it is acknowledged as their true masterpiece, however. Third track No Other One was originally written back in 1994, and feels like a warped counterpart to the Blue Album’s No One Else, but its blend of polished pop instinct and slightly off-kilter sonics makes it a perfect bridge for fans struggling to find a way in.
Another of those wilfully tongue-in-cheek tracks that divides the fanbase, the 219 seconds of Thank God For Girls is perhaps the Californians’ most deceptively complex recent cut. Rivers originally wrote the first lines of the second verse (‘I'm so glad I got a girl to think of even though she isn't mine / I think about her all the day and all the night it's enough to know that she's alive’) all the way back in 1997. Fleshing them out with borderline-absurdist reflections on women and the traditional male-female dynamic, and building around a composition with no regular rhyme or rhythm, the singer has commented to K! that it’s their hardest song to sing. Still, that’s never stopped legions of fans from trying. It’s another single with two 'official' music videos, too. We’ve gone with the cannoli-smashing 'lyric video' here, but Scranton Film’s avaricious church-set cut is also worth a watch.
The third single from Pinkerton plays out as a typically warped love song, and serendipitously pre-empted the plot to Kevin Smith’s stoner cinema classic Chasing Amy the following year. In it, Rivers feels like he’s met the girl of his dreams with whom he might finally be able to settle down, but then finds out that she simply isn’t into guys. Delivered with wry good-humour (‘I’m dumb, she’s a lesbian’) and tragi-comic sympathy, it is a timeless showcase for Pinkerton’s razor wit.
The Blue Album’s epic eight-minute closer still feels like an ultimate showcase for Weezer’s characteristic combination of slump-shouldered geek rock (‘She's in the air / In between molecules / Of oxygen and carbon dioxide’) and overblown stadium swagger over a quarter-century down the line. Telling the story of a young man’s infatuation with an out-of-his-league girl who he can be with only in his dreams, it is full of all the angst, heartache and bizarro imagery that make Weezer who they are. It’s the bold instrumental composition, though – building and bursting twice, before climaxing with an outrageously layered-up guitar solo Rivers has called his favourite ever – that makes Only In Dreams epically essential.
Written during the summer of 2000 when Weezer got back together after their late-1990s hiatus, Rivers was apparently a few tequilas and a large dose of Ritalin deep when he wrote third album Maladroit’s lead single Dope Nose – on the same night he came up with the Green Album’s similarly-themed Hash Pipe. It’s a chunky feel-good anthem full of nonsense lyrics (‘For the times that you wanna go / And bust rhymes real slow / I'll appear, slap you on the face / And enjoy the show’), and clear proof of the vibe that saw the band decide to carry on. Marcos Siega’s memorable music video sees a bearded Rivers and the band playing in the street surrounded by stunt bikers pulling tricks.
As it stands, 2016’s the White Album is Weezer’s late-career masterpiece, and its opening track California Kids is their best song of the past two decades. A return to the easy-breezy pop songwriting of the 1990s, it feels indebted to the classic Beach Boys formula, and plays out as a simple ode to the sun-baked beauty of their home state. ‘It's gonna be alright / If you're on a sinking ship,’ Rivers sings. ‘The California kids / Will throw you a lifeline / And if you're up all night / Thinking about some thing you did / The California kids / Will show you the sunshine.’ Fellow Harvard graduate Dan Wilson was a co-songwriter, and the track makes time for a shout out to those ‘old friends chilling back in Boston.’
Rivers’ deeply autobiographical songwriting was at its peak on Pinkerton, as evidenced by the matter-of-fact sequence of events detailed in its lead single El Scorcho: ‘I asked you to go to the Green Day concert / You said you never heard of them / How cool is that?!’ The singer’s first year at Harvard really didn’t go so well, with Rivers confined to a steel leg-brace for much of his stay and struggling to hit it off with many of the substantially younger student body. The sense of funky playfulness with which he looks back on his mishaps makes this a stand-out, though. The “half-Japanese” cellist mentioned clearly left a real impression, too, cropping back up on Falling For You.
‘On an island in the sun / We'll be playin' and havin' fun / And it makes me feel so fine / I can't control my brain.’ An all-time great sunshine rock song, and arguably Weezer’s best-known track, Island In The Sun is a perfect showcase for the timeless, doo-wop indebted side of their sound. (Is the title a reference to the Harry Belafonte and Irving Burgie 1957 classic of the same name, or The Bee Gees' classic Islands In The Stream? Fuck knows.) Exceptionally chilled-out, it’s built of lightweight guitars, easygoing drums and an irresistible ‘hip-hip’ vocal hook that’s perfect for singing along to without having to get up from your lounger by the pool. (A perfect cool down after the Green Album’s lead single Hash Pipe, as well.) And it’s yet another single with two music videos: Marcos Siega’s Mexican wedding is pretty good, but Spike Jonze’s wildlife-packed classic is our pick here.
Combining elements of The Velvet Underground, Metallica and Albert Einstein, the lead-single from Weezer’s debut LP really did lay wide their stall for all to see. On one level, it’s a faintly angsty song about, er, destroying a sweater. On another, it’s a banger that plays with the imagery of an Einstein analogy about the effectiveness of focused thesis statement, on top of music deliberately influenced by the New York art rockers which inadvertently “rips off” Sanitarium. “It just perfectly encapsulates Weezer to me,” rivers told Rolling Stone in 2009. “You're trying to be cool like Velvet Underground, but your metal roots just pump through unconsciously.”
Arguably no song is more emblematic of the Pinkerton era than that album’s brilliantly divisive fifth track. Having withdrawn from the spotlight and hidden himself away in that aforementioned Harvard dormitory, Rivers was suffering from real loneliness when he received a piece of mail from a young female fan in Japan that touched him deeply. The song he wrote about the experience teeters on (arguably over) the line of creepiness as it veers between a declaration that ‘I could never touch you / I think it would be wrong’ and his admission that ‘I wonder how you touch yourself / And curse myself for being across the sea.’ As a jangly, pan-flute-inflected pop-rock masterclass, and an unapologetically honest autobiographical insight into the mind of a rock star coming to terms with his place in the world, though, it is absolutely unmatched.
Throughout their career, Weezer have flirted with the classic Californian surf-rock sound, but never have they faced it more brilliantly head-on than in the Blue Album’s frothy sixth track. From that cucumber-cool name and the evocatively jangling six-strings to the brilliant, iconic refrain (‘You take your car to work / I'll take my board / And when you're out of fuel / I'm still afloat’) it manages to feel like a continuation of a great American rock tradition while also being identifiably Weezer. The perfect soundtrack for popping beers and catching the waves at the beach – or for transporting yourself from some grey cityscape back to better times.
For many fans, the first image that springs to mind when they think of Weezer is that of the band in Arnold’s Diner from Happy Days, taken from Spike Jonze’s outstanding music video for Buddy Holly. There’s so much more to the Blue Album’s second single than that, though. On face, it’s a tribute to rock‘n’roll pioneer (and geek-rock icon) Charles Hardin Holley – known professionally as Buddy Holly. On a deeper level, it’s Rivers’ reckoning on friends who made fun of his Asian girlfriend at the time, with the iconic opening lines, ‘What's with these homies dissin' my girl? / Why do they gotta front?’ making way for the slightly more troubling observation: ‘Don't you ever fear, I'm always near / I know that you need help / Your tongue is twisted, your eyes are slit / You need a guardian.’ Still, an absolute classic.
There was predictable uproar when Weezer returned after five years away with the lead single from the Green Album. That title, and the song’s hookier-than-hell lyrics referencing drug paraphernalia, led the record label fighting the band over whether it was a suitable promo and, subsequently, to outlets like BBC Radio 1 refusing to give it airtime. Even more bizarrely, Rivers clarified that the song was actually about a transvestite prostitute, with his use of squeaky falsetto vocals possibly influenced by said subject-matter. All oddness aside, it remains a fuzzed-up banger and Weezer’s most immediate song of the 21st Century.
It won’t have escaped Rivers Cuomo that the title of the opening track on Pinkerton sounds like some sort of old-school cock-rock boast. Rather than a complaint about being oversexed (not to say that he wasn’t), the song is actually about the search for meaningful connection in a world of casual hook-ups and over-enthusiastic groupies. The frustration is real, too, as the composition writhes and tears at its seams, with the frontman singing ‘Monday night I'm makin' Jen / Tuesday night I'm makin' Lyn / Wednesday night I'm makin' Catherine / Oh, why can't I be makin' love come true?’ with the tangled anguish of an addict looking to kick their habit. A bare-nerve classic.
The Blue Album’s third and final single wasn’t just its finest, but also one of the most deceptively complex – and downright brilliant – American rock songs of the 1990s. Rivers had a hard childhood growing up, with his biological father suffering from alcoholism and eventually walking out on the family. On returning home from school one day years later, and discovering a bottle of ‘Heine’ in the fridge, he found himself overwhelmed with concern that his stepfather might turn out the same. Say It Ain’t so taps into that memory with brilliant, bubbly potency. From those iconic, easy-strummed opening chords through that massive singalong chorus (’Say it ain't so / Your drug is a heart breaker / Say it ain't so / My love is a life taker’) to its gloriously squalling guitar solo, this is a pop-rock masterpiece, plain and simple.
‘My name is Jonas / And I’m carrying the wheel…’ Original guitarist Jason Cropper only spent a year in Weezer, and left right before the recording of the Blue Album, but he was responsible for one of the most iconic moments in their whole catalogue. The first thing you hear on the first record they ever put out, the acoustic intro to My Name Is Jonas feels absolutely definitive of this band for so many fans. Apparently influenced both by Lois Lowry’s 1993 YA novel The Giver and the serious traffic accident experienced by Rivers’ brother while at college (‘Guess what I received / In the mail today / Words of deep concern / From my little brother’), it is a goofy, nonsensical delight packed with whimsy and powered by a heart of gold. Hell, it even chucks in one of the great harmonica solos in modern rock. 100 per cent pure Weezer. Absolutely superb.
Weezer are hitting the road with Spoon, Modest Mouse, Future Islands, Joyce Manor, Momma and White Reaper at select dates.
Fall Out Boy recruit their Hella Mega tourmate Rivers Cuomo for the fun “heist” video for new single Heartbreak Feels So Good.
Weezer say they’ve “got the remedy for your seasonal depression” with their fourth and final SZNZ EP, Winter.
From Woods Of Ypres to Weezer, we present the perfect soundtrack for the darkest evenings of the year...
Rivers Cuomo sings of how he wishes he had a dog to ‘curl up beside me’ and ‘look out for me’ in Weezer’s new single, I Want A Dog. Fair enough.
In a fun new interview on the Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend podcast, Rivers Cuomo reflects on going to Harvard after Weezer exploded – and how no-one realised how famous their classmate was…
Listen to Weezer's new Autumn EP from their SZNZ collection – and watch them live on Jimmy Kimmel