There is a very specific dividing line in Weezer’s career, a BC and an AD. Countless bands start strong and dwindle over the years, but few have a story as severe as Weezer’s. After releasing Pinkerton in 1996 to negative backlash from listeners and critics alike, the band faded away for a while, not reemerging until the 21st century, with an attempted return to their self-titled debut with their new, now-green-colored self-titled third album in 2001. It makes for an unusual split. Weezer plugged away and released two classic albums in the mid-’90s, the kind of records that — in hindsight, once the perception of Pinkerton underwent a hard 180 — define the decade. But it’s been in the past 16 years that they’ve released most of their music, sometimes at a furious album-a-year clip uncommon for a big rock band these days. Some of their most famous songs come from this era, the post-Pinkerton revival. Some of their most reviled songs come from this era, too.
Weezer have taken a lot of shit from critics and fans this century. Yes, there are albums from the ’00s and ’10s that committed fans love, and yes, there are gems throughout that make it worth sifting through it all. Just yesterday, we highlighted some of the best and most notable compositions Rivers Cuomo & co. have released since Pinkerton. The idea there is that Weezer is saddled with an unfair narrative that does a disservice to them, the idea that their first two albums were stratospheric highs that automatically negate anything that came after, when there is plenty of material worth your time, even if you aren’t a diehard. Oftentimes, nothing can stand up to the music a band made when they were young or the music you discovered when you were young. But it’s clear that Cuomo still has the goods, that he still has a compass.
The issue with Weezer’s output this century is that Cuomo’s compass has gone haywire on occasion. Or he follows the strangest muses, the ones that are so obviously an ill-fitting partner for his particular talents. In reality, the issues with most of Weezer’s weaker material is that it’s anonymous, slick, or mediocre. It’s a gray area, the Weezer-By-Numbers tracks that can hook one listener and leave another cold. Either way, it’s undeniable that there are songs littered throughout the last 16 years of Weezer output that just sort of exist — reliable and not-always-unwelcome chugging guitars and Cuomo melodies, but ones lacking the fire from before. Lapsing into mediocrity isn’t a damning thing in of itself: There are plenty of artists that we hold in high esteem who always have a few classic songs and several workmanlike and/or serviceable ones per album. The problem with Weezer is that when they’re bad, they really commit to it.
For a band with such dizzying highs in their catalog, Weezer also have nauseating lows. Most of these have, unfortunately, arrived when the band tries to experiment too much. It’s a fine line to walk: No band should ever be judged based on a personal bias regarding them leaving their comfort zone, regarding them not continuing to give us the insular, bookish take on riff-rock we first fell in love with. But with Weezer, it’s barely a personal bias, it’s just so plain. Their forays into pop have alternated between perplexing, grating, and cloying — often coming across as some mislead or disingenuous attempt at crossover, or worse a combative gesture towards those longtime fans they just can’t please. Weezer make decisions that leave you wondering how it could possibly be the same artist making the classic or good Weezer songs that it is making the befuddling, embarrassing ones.
You have to feel for them on some level. They’re operating in that rarefied George Lucas territory, the place where you have changed countless lives and people love you and absolutely despise you in equal measure for the work you have done, the work they think you shouldn’t have done, and the work you should’ve done instead. Through the years, Cuomo has been very aware of it all. It’s what led to the breakdown of Weezer’s story after Pinkerton and the misguided “course correction” of the “Green Album.” It’s what led to all sorts of course corrections over time, including the very direct reckoning with Cuomo’s relationship to his fans that was one of the main themes on 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End, often regarded as the late-career renaissance album. But a few years later they’ve released Pacific Daydream, an album that finds them wading into pop territory once more alongside some more expected (if sunnier) Weezer tracks. Just the other day, Cuomo posted this on Instagram:
On some level, you can’t blame the guy. He’s had to repeatedly apologize for letting everyone down. He had to deal with a petition that tried to raise $10 million to get Weezer to break up. I mean, plenty of bands drop off after a few records. Some make a clunker and get back on track. But Weezer have soldiered through an uneven and unsteady 16-year run that was enough to prompt that? It’s ludicrous, for sure, but it’s also telling about how complicated a legacy they’ve built over time. They’re a band that evokes fervent devotion and seething vitriol, sometimes from the same person. It’s an extreme paradox, and it’s not always warranted. But, as much as post-Pinkerton Weezer has plenty of merits that shouldn’t be overlooked, there are also reasons we’ve arrived here, with Weezer’s legacy a precarious one even when their work from the last few years seemed poised to finally turn the tide. Nine of those reasons are below, ranked from least-worst to abysmally worst.
9. “The Damage In Your Heart” (from Make Believe, 2005)
“The Damage In Your Heart” is not a terrible song, really. It’s fine. And that’s really why it’s on the list: as a placeholder representation of all the fine and forgettable music Weezer dumped onto albums like “Green” and Make Believe. There are a dozen other songs you could slot in here to showcase the bloodless version of Weezer, the one that gets bogged down in mediocrity. There is something slightly more pernicious about it once you get to Make Believe, though. The too-polished radio-rock sound was more than just innocuous here; it signaled the beginning of Weezer’s worst stretch, a period defined by pale imitations of themselves alongside head-scratching mainstream maneuvers.
8. “Pork And Beans” (from the “Red Album,” 2008)
Part of me thinks “Pork And Beans” is one of those Weezer songs that exists in a gray area. Sometimes I like it, and sometimes I loathe it, and it seems there are plenty of fans on either side. The chorus, at least, feels halfway to a real Weezer moment, with Cuomo singing about how he’s gonna do the things he wants to do and he ain’t got nothing to prove to you. It’s just that, in the context of the shaky “Red Album,” it comes across as one of those moments that feel like Cuomo’s trolling. Then there’s that dried-out, irritatingly catchy lead riff — that riff somehow manages to be DOA and inherently earworm-y at the same time, a quality that makes “Pork And Beans” simply feel annoying. Nevertheless, it was a hit. Many of Weezer’s latter-day hits also happen to be their worst songs.
7. “Feels Like Summer” (from Pacific Daydream, 2017)
In a different situation, I could see myself enjoying “Feels Like Summer.” Its chorus is catchy and there are some nice synth tones. As a pop song, it’s relatively harmless, of the sort you might hear in the background while buying a pair of jeans and it’s pleasant enough. This is a different breed of bad Weezer song, though. It’s one in an unfortunately growing lineage of tracks where Weezer try to do something that is so fundamentally at odds with them as artists. “Feels Like Summer” sounds like it could be by just about anyone operating in a pop-rock vein these days, or any indie band angling for that sweet commercial sync money. Coming at this juncture in Weezer’s career, where they’d restored a bit of goodwill with fans and critics alike, it’s hard not to be cynical about “Feels Like Summer.” There are some great songs on Pacific Daydream. Then there are ones like this, that feel like soulless gambits for pop credibility as Cuomo nears 50 and Weezer edges closer to the 25th anniversary of the “Blue Album.”
6. “Everybody Get Dangerous” (from the “Red Album,” 2008)
Did you ever find yourself sitting around idly on a Saturday afternoon, pondering big existential questions, and have a revelation along the lines of, “Whoa, it’d be so cool if there was a song that sounded like Weezer had a child with the most neanderthal Red Hot Chili Peppers song?” No? Well, you got it anyway.
5. “Love Is The Answer” (From Raditude, 2009)
In many ways, Raditude is the worst Weezer album — a mess of a thing that finds the band trying out a lot of directions, most of which make zero sense of them. “Love Is The Answer” oscillates between gentle, swelling balladry from the band and a shoe-horned bit of Indian music. It’s not a trainwreck, exactly, it’s more that it’s a faceless and generic paean that comes across as Weezer trying to be “exotic” by including Indian music in what otherwise could be mistaken for a Christian rock track thanks to that awful chorus.
4. “The Girl Got Hot” (from Raditude, 2009)
There are a lot of Weezer songs where Cuomo’s depiction of women veers into bad territory. Is “The Girl Got Hot” the absolute worst offender? Probably not. But between the manufactured “oh-oh” chant, the run-of-the-mill butt-rock riffage, and hearing a Cuomo on the cusp of 40 muse about stumbling across a girl from high school who’s now, well, hot, the whole thing reeks of aimless midlife-crisis rock. In the past, Cuomo had the ability to walk a fine line, detailing his own relationship anxieties in ways that could cause unease but at least felt like some kind of statement. “The Girl Got Hot” is emblematic of other thoroughly dumb 21st century Weezer songs in that it simply seems beneath them.
3. “Where’s My Sex?” (from Hurley, 2010)
Ahem, on that note. In 2010, Hurley unexpectedly started to right the ship for Weezer after the disastrous lows present on “Red Album” and Raditude. But it only started that process because there were still some wildly low points, like “Where’s My Sex?” The story goes that this song was written about…not knowing where your socks are. And then Cuomo replaced “socks” with “sex.” Look, maybe you have to take it as it comes, not be so hung up on joke-y Weezer songs. But the reason “Where’s My Sex?” is so eyeroll-inducing — in either iteration of the joke — is that it’s a juvenile premise taken way too far, when you know that Weezer is capable of being so much better than this.
2. “Can’t Stop Partying” (from Raditude, 2009)
The worst song on the record with some of Weezer’s most dismal songs, “Can’t Stop Partying” is the sound of a band out to sea, deeply and fundamentally confused about who they are. You can see glimmers of something real here, the fact that it’s a narrative that’s sort of dark, the rockstar partying life turning to banal routine. But it’s delivered over half-baked late-’00s Timbaland electronics and the result is about as successful as when Chris Cornell did the same for 2009’s nonsensical Scream. Between Cuomo’s cringeworthy lyrics and a completely out-of-place Lil Wayne feature, “Can’t Stop Partying” is one of the most ludicrous ideas Weezer ever had for a song, and it does a pretty good job at summing up how lost they were by the late ’00s.
1. “Beverly Hills” (from Make Believe, 2005)
Here it is. The great nadir. There might be worse Weezer songs than “Beverly Hills” on this list. There might be worse Weezer songs than “Beverly Hills” that aren’t on this list. But “Beverly Hills” symbolizes the fall of Weezer more than any mildly-disappointing but solid album could. It symbolizes the fall even more than the insane pop experiments that followed, and that continue today. It still operated in the pre-existing Weezer language, but just moved them down a road that would destroy them more than the divide over Pinkerton. Annoyingly catchy in the same way as “Pork And Beans,” “Beverly Hills” is, in a great moment of cosmic injustice, one of Weezer’s most recognizable songs. It is probably, despite lack of merit, going to be one of their most enduring for people of a certain age. You can’t escape it. And every time you hear it, you can remember the selling-your-soul blankness of Make Believe, you can remember the listlessness Weezer fell into when trying to be exploratory. And, even if you’re trying not to, you can remember that for every great Weezer song, there is another (or two others) like “Beverly Hills,” resoundingly stupid songs that leave you asking, “What were they thinking?”