There was a time when I thought "pop" was a bad word, music wise. Really. I just couldn't dig it. (Sure, the Beatles were pop in their day, but I was able to disregard that with the whole "they're classic rock now" notion.)
What was the use of FUN when there were serious things going on? Who needed music you could dance to? I mean, look, I was a teenage male. No girlfriend. Stuck in the middle class, with college (and college bills) looming. What was I going to be? What was I going to do? How was I going to pay for it all?
So I listened to Pink Floyd. Nothing speaks depression like a few tracks from "The Wall." And if I wanted something more current, I had a favorite that was always there for me: Weezer's "Pinkerton."
But you know something? I've grown up (kind of ... sorta), and my views and tastes have grown (not CHANGED, exactly ... because I still feel those things and still like Pink Floyd, but my views have expanded and so has my musical outlook).
Weezer grew, too. That seems to be a bit of a cardinal sin for some Weezer fanatics (a large chunk of the fandom can't tolerate anything after "Pinkerton," or hate everything after "The Green Album," or think the last few albums just suck ... can't make them all happy).
Luckily, for me, my stages of growth and maturity have fit well into Weezer's own, so I've been able to stay a committed fan every step of the way. Ask anyone who knows me well, and they'll tell you that I'm quite a Weezer booster. I'll no doubt review some of their albums at some point (and part of this entry may read like reviews of some), but for now I want to stay on this topic of pop and Weezer.
Weezer grew out of the grunge and alternative rock sound of the early 1990s. "The Blue Album" and "Pinkerton" have fuzzy guitars, big crunchy riffs, power chords, the loud-soft dynamics, the powerful vocal screams and the introspective lyrics ... but they also have some sense of humor and nerdishness to them. "Buddy Holly" speaks for itself. And "El Scorcho" is just epic cool.
When "Green" came out, it was poppy beyond anything I'd expected ... but it had just enough of that yearning behind-the-scenes "this song sounds happy but actually listen to the lyrics" analysis that gave the album enough personality and depth to keep the short album from being ignored and dismissed. "Hash Pipe" was just a cool bass line and some tasty lyrics, but "Island in the Sun" isn't some happy love song that so many people classify it as. There's some longing and disappointment to it. That's classic Weezer.
"Maladroit" kind of went back to the basics, with guitar riffs and big vocals ... but the actual song content wasn't really that good. The intellectual banter of the lyrics, the actual content, the universalness all seemed to be missing. This was the album of hooks and choruses, but nothing to really chew on.
After this, Weezer really started to change itself. From here on, just about every Weezer album gets at least a 50/50 panning from the fanbase. It's when new sounds, new styles and Rivers' focus on the popular music model really took over (perhaps for good).
The next album they released, "Make Believe," may be my favorite Weezer album. It's not very consistent, it has so many different sounds and styles to it. But the connecting thread behind most of the tracks is the need to belong, fit in, be somebody, be loved, be wanted, be present. That was the vibe that originally drew me to Weezer ... they could have fun, or be moody; they could be nerds or they could be rockers; they could thrash or they could croon. But it'd always come back to the human connection, a personal understanding that the band identified the real-life issues that its fans were going through.
It was after "Make Believe" that the band seems to have decided that they'd had enough (for now) of singing about being the nerds, the losers, the guys who never got the girl. If anything, Weezer decided they were going to be winners now and they were going to rock. That doesn't mean melancholy would disappear, but they weren't going to be at fault for misery.
This is where the "pop" really came in, in the truest sense of the word. Popular music of this age tends to be split by catchy synthesizers, rap, weird sounds and big productions. Weezer threw all of this in a pot, mixed in some of their own style, and came out with "The Red Album."
With such songs as "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)," "Pork and Beans," "Troublemaker" and "Dreamin'," the band really stretched out. On some songs they sounded like totally different bands (spinoff bands, even), and I liked that. The variety was cool. Yeah, maybe it all didn't sound like classic Weezer, but it still sounded LIKE Weezer ... and that isn't a bad quality (no matter what hip critics may say these days).
But some people could still tolerate that kind of range because the album still offered some of the usual Rivers Cuomo introverted analysis ("The Angel and The One") to add that darker mood moment.
Most fans still want "Pinkerton Vol. II," and that came straight to the fore with the general reactions following the release of the next album (and their poppiest yet), "Raditude." It seems that most people just flat out hated it. Not necessarily the songs or the music, so much as hating that Weezer of all groups was the one creating this happy music.
"Raditude" is just straight out fun and catchy pop. From the opening song (and first single) "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To" to the moody-but-still-ultra-produced "I Don't Want to Let You Go," the album is a soundtrack for remembering high school/early college days. It just is. And frankly, that's awesome.
Remember how I talked about how I couldn't stand pop and I didn't see the need for fun up at the beginning? Times definitely have changed. With wars going on, the economy in bad shape, politicians pointing fingers and doing nothing for the people, athletes constantly in scandals and musicians overdosing or retiring or dying from age or health issues, the world is a pretty negative place.
I needed (and continue to need) a shot of optimism. The puppy love of "I Want You To," to the high school girl who got ignored, but blossomed and became the most attractive girl at the reunion AWESOMENESS of "The Girl Got Hot," to the things-might-suck-and-we-might-fight-but-we're-perfect-for-each-other quality of "Tripping Down the Freeway," to the jobs suck but friends are still cool message of "Let It All Hang Out," this album hit me in so many different ways that really matter to me. They feel right. They make me feel like the guys in Weezer have lived (and are living) my life. I could sing along and picture myself as the narrator of those tunes.
OK, sure, I can't relate to "Can't Stop Partying" with Lil Wayne (or the AOL version with Chamillionaire), but I still enjoy the situation of Weezer doing a tune with a rapper (especially when you see the video with Chamillionaire, and both the rapper and Rivers Cuomo look like they're having such a blast).
In the case of "Can't Stop Partying," Rivers took an upbeat club song and turned it into a kind of lament ... an inversion of the peppy sound of most of the album, but the backing track still bubbles and pleases. Rather than celebrating the constant partying, his tone indicates an exhaustion and listlessness at still partying. But the music goes on, and energy is summoned. It's an unhappy party, a cool li'l trick.
And maybe I never hung out at the mall (mostly because my town didn't have one), but I can laugh at Weezer's rifftastic "In the Mall." (C'mon, don't take the song literally ... these are guys in their 40s talking about the mall ... it's tongue in cheek!)
Life has plenty to get uptight about, and there's seriousness around the corner for everyone. And there's plenty of serious music out there. One of the greatest things about the current times is that it's so easy for people to share things (Facebook, Twitter, blogs like this one), that artists can really spread out and address things that matter to them. And fans, well, they have a universe of music of different styles to meet their needs and interests. There's so much communication and connection out there, that any song is likely to find some listener out there that benefits from something in it.
Weezer is a bunch of dads now. They have kids, they have money, they don't have to sing about the girl in college that wouldn't be theirs. They don't have to sing about the lonely nights or misunderstandings. They still CAN, if they WANT to, but it's unfair to expect them to. If they want to have fun, let them have fun. And god bless them for doing it. If I can live vicariously through their angst, then I can live vicariously through their joy too.
And if you want more of that moody stuff, it's all out there. Their original albums are easily found. And other groups have picked up the mantle and new music in that vein is made every year.
Fun isn't a bad thing. And Weezer has found that out. And thankfully, I benefit from their lessons. I get to have some fun, too. Sure, I can still connect with their angry stuff. I still cherish their early stuff. And I'm not always a fan of their newest stuff ("Hurley," the album after "Raditude," just doesn't hit me in the right spots).
Pop tends to take more than its fair share of ridicule. So does Weezer. But if you approach pop/Weezer with open ears (and can discern from quality and crap, or literal meaning from irony or humor), there's treasure to be found and good feelings to enjoy.