Where To Start With... - March 1, 2019

Where To Start With... Weezer
by James
James
by James hmv London, Bio "Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

Where To Start With... Weezer

Of all the many alternative rock bands that emerged during the early 1990s, few have managed to survive for as long as Weezer. Formed in 1992 by lead vocalist/guitarist Rivers Cuomo and drummer Patrick Wilson, Weezer's knack for creating quirky power-pop anthems saw them quickly snapped up by Geffen Records, who released their self-titled debut album (commonly referred to as The Blue Album) in 1994.

Reportedly, Geffen initially intended on the somewhat bold promotion strategy of not releasing any singles from the album to find out how it would perform based on word-of-mouth alone. Fortunately, that strategy was quickly upended when a Seattle radio DJ began playing 'Undone (The Sweater Song)' on his show, leading Geffen to relent and release the song as Weezer's debut single, complete with a video directed by Spike Jonze. Jonze was recruited again to direct a video for the band's next single, 'Buddy Holly', which spliced together footage of the band in preppy outfits with footage from 1960s sitcom Happy Days, securing heavy rotation on MTV which helped turn the song into a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Weezer's quick success saw their live audiences grow rapidly and marked the band out as one of the most promising prospects on Geffen's roster, with their debut album eventually going triple-platinum, but not everyone was comfortable with the speed at which the band's music was crossing over into the mainstream: “We saw our audiences change from intelligent, hip-looking people to complete jocks who just came because they saw the video”, guitarist Brian Bell told the Toronto Star in a 1996 interview.

Frontman Rivers Cuomo, in particular, was struggling to come to terms with the pace and ramifications of such rapid success. To make matters worse, an operation to lengthen one of Cuomo's legs put the band's frontman out of action for an extended period while he endured months of excruciating physiotherapy. Due to a combination of disenfranchisement with the way the band was perceived and a diet of strong painkillers, Cuomo began writing a very dark concept album called Songs from the Black Hole, a dense and intensely personal space opera inspired by Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly.

The album those songs eventually morphed into, Pinkerton, almost finished the band's career when it was released in 1996. Although the album has retrospectively become something of a cult classic, at the time it sold poorly, was panned by critics and even criticised by some fans, perturbed by the sexual nature of some of the album's lyrics. The tense tour that followed ended in the band going on hiatus for what turned out to be nearly five years.

When they returned in 2001 with another self-titled album – otherwise known as the Green Album – the band had retraced their steps by bringing back Ric Ocasek, the producer who worked on their debut, and delivering a new set of songs which sounded much more like a natural follow-up to their debut, scoring two of their biggest hits in years with 'Hash Pipe' and 'Island in the Sun'.

In the years that have passed since, Weezer have proved to be one of the most durable bands of their era, churning out a grand total of 12 studio albums. The last few years, in particular, have been one of Weezer's most prolific periods and this week sees the arrival of their 13th full-length offering, which follows the band's long tradition of being self-titled and identifiable by its colour – in this case, The Black Album.

Cuomo had already begun talking up the new record shortly after the release of 2016's White Album, hinting at something much darker than their latest outing, telling NME: "What could stand out more against 'White' than 'Black'? I think it's going to maybe be like Beach Boys gone bad. I'm thinking of swearing, which is something I've never done in songs.” However, as it turned out, the band's next release would be 2017's Pacific Daydream, an album which showcased Weezer's more pop-centric tendencies and represented the biggest shift away from their trademark sound in years.

It seemed like The Black Album would be next up, but then Weezer surprised everyone in January with The Teal Album, an LP filled with cover versions, including their much-discussed cover of Toto's 'Africa'. This week though Weezer get back on track and The Black Album lands on the shelves in stores today.

Produced by TV On The Radio's Dave Sitek, the new album isn't quite the 'Beach Boys gone bad' filth-fest that you might be expecting, retaining some of the pop sensibilities of Pacific daydream on songs such as 'Can't Knock The Hustle', but it does live up to Cuomo's sweary promise in places, none more obvious than on the superbly titled 'Zombie Bastards'.

You can find the Ted Rodgers-inspired video for new single 'High as a Kite' below, beneath that we've picked out five key moments from Weezer's back catalogue to get you in the mood...

 

 

'Buddy Holly'

Although it wasn't the band's first single, for anyone outside the college radio loop in the U.S. 'Buddy Holly' was the first real taste of what was to come from Weezer and, 25 years on, the song remains a fan favourite and a regular fixture in their live sets. Spike Jonze's video is great too.

 

'Hash Pipe'

After the disastrous reception to Pinkerton and the hiatus that followed, Weezer returned refreshed and rejuvenated with 2001's Green Album, and while we could just as easily have picked 'Island in the Sun' from the LP's tracklist, for our money it's the grinding riff-fest of 'Hash Pipe' that really represents the album's high watermark, mainly because it's the sound of a band who are finally enjoying themselves again.

 

'Pork & Beans'

Aside from being the most instantly memorable moment on 2008's Weezer (aka The Red Album), 'Pork & Beans' also happens to have one of the best videos Weezer have ever turned out – and that's a crowded field. Directed by Matthew Cullen, the video sends up a series of topical memes from Coke and Mentos bottle rockets to Tay Zonday's 'Chocolate Rain', and the results are hilarious.

 

'Feels Like Summer'

Of all the songs on Pacific Daydream, 'Feels Like Summer' is perhaps the one that represents the album's biggest stylistic departure from Weezer's usual modus operandi. Unabashedly poppy and quite different from anything they've done before, the song wrongfooted some fans when it first arrived in 2017 but has since become a highlight of their live set.

 

'Rosanna'

The obvious thing to do here would be to finish with Weezer's cover of Toto's hit single 'Africa', which came about as a result of a dogged campaign by 15-year old Mary Klym, who spent months spamming Cuomo's Twitter feed in an effort to persuade her favourite band to cover one of her all-time favourite songs. Eventually, of course, the band relented and recorded not only a version of 'Africa' but a whole LP filled with covers, the Teal Album. But before that, Weezer expertly trolled the campaigner by first releasing a cover of another Toto hit: 'Rosanna', which we've included here instead on the basis that it's really, really good.

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