There's a new Weezer album out today, which I learned about the moment I woke up. When I switched off my phone's alarm and checked my messages, there were texts about it from both my partner and my best friend from high school (who's also the biggest Weezer fan I've ever known, unless someone's been hiding their fandom from me like a dark secret).
It's the fifth of their self-titled/color-coded albums, and their twelfth studio album since their 1994 debut. "The Teal Album," in the wake of last year's viral #WeezerCoverAfrica campaign — which somehow launched the band back into the broader public consciousness in a way they haven't been since Rivers Cuomo grew a terrible mustache — is a cover album.
There's another "real" album slated to come out in a couple months, so you might think that surprise-dropping a 36-minutes of covers is just a marketing move. I wouldn't blame you for believing this after listening to the covers, which anyone who's heard the originals and more than two Weezer songs can perfectly imagine in their heads. "Faithful," "uninspired" and "lazy" are all fair descriptors.
I don't even think the "surprise" part of the surprise drop even registered with me this morning, because of course Weezer would put out an album of cover songs with no announcement. "So this is what Rivers Cuomo singing 'No Scrubs' sounds like," you'll go. "About what I expected," is the conclusion I came to. It's okay to be mad about Weezer joining the ranks of white people appropriating black music through covers, and fine if you just want to dunk on them for it — but we've already been over this, they covered "Hey Ya" on tour in 2017.
Part of why I found the #WeezerCoverAfrica campaign so funny wasn't because I thought they would never do it, but because I savored the remote, absurd possibility that they might actually act like they were too good to. Of course, now we're reaping the obvious-in-hindsight outcome of that gambit: here's a whole album, and don't forget the other Toto cover.
Judging by the chatter online, the move definitely brought Weezer a good measure of attention, but they don't exactly seem like a band that's desperate for it. Weezer has always had a legion of fans and they've always had their fair share of haters, and they're a band that so famously has fans doubling as haters there's a recent "Saturday Night Live" sketch about it:
Not to shit on "SNL," but if the old "'Blue Album' and 'Pinkerton' are Weezer's only good albums" line of thought is now so played-out that Matt Damon agreed to do a four minute sketch about it for America's #1, mostly unadventurous sketch comedy institution, then it's time for the stans of those albums (myself included) to admit we've been ripe for parody for some time. Meanwhile, none of our grousing has stopped Weezer from doing whatever the fuck they want!
Subjective assessment of their music aside, there are plenty of good reasons to have always hated on Weezer or to slowly grow out of them. Yes, a lot of the songs on "The Blue Album" and especially "Pinkerton" have a rare-in-pop-rock vulnerability to them, but freely expressing unsubtle misogyny is a trait of early Weezer that has actually endured while others haven't. "Pinkerton" may have been trashed by many critics at the time for reasons that don't hold up to scrutiny, but the accurate reads on Cuomo's creepiness did not stick.
Oh, and because it's worth mentioning and in line with nothing under the sun about Weezer being surprising anymore: I guess Rivers is into gaming and tweeting too much nowadays?
Maybe he's being a troll! Maybe it's all real! It definitely does not matter either way, and not in the sense where a normal person performing irony for far too long could risk turning themselves into a genuine asshole. No, Rivers — and by extension, Weezer as a unit — has been performing "the Weezer thing" for so long now that the barrier that once existed between human and rock act has completely dissolved. I don't think this is uncommon: A lot of bands achieve a similar level of success, the lives they used to lead that informed their art either vanish without a trace or get absorbed into the band's artistic project, the albums get shittier and eventually they break up or devise a 20-year touring plan that ends with them playing the casino circuits between knee surgeries.
I, and many others, might not like new Weezer, but I do think they're traveling down their own path, and I think that's because there was a porousness between themselves and the band's legend from the early days. The band cultivated close relationships with devoted fans before their first album dropped — two of them, Mykel and Carli Allan (to whom the "Undone" B-side "Mykel and Carli" is dedicated) were quick to start a fan club for the band soon after the release of "The Blue Album." Thanks to Rivers' relatable-if-questionable lyrics, Ric Ocasek's timeless production and some heavy grunge counter-programming radio and MTV rotation, Weezer became a huge band really, really fast.
By the time I was actually old enough to start caring about bands the way a gatekeeping "real fan" cares, the drama of the band's post-"Pinkerton" hiatus/Rivers' break to attend Harvard and the "Green Album" comeback/naysayers' "every post-2000 album sucks" stance had not only been crystallized within the fandom, but for all intents and purposes had been played along with by the band. Weezer gave all of what comparatively little it had to fans right out the gate, and with the exception of Rivers' collegiate recluse phase (which is now as much a part of the band's mythology as anything else), the band has been consistently serving up fodder for fans — new albums, old demos, questionable tweets — ever since.
Fodder feels like the right word. Weezer hasn't spent the last 20 years consistently trying to please or troll some segment of their fans. They've been producing things they know fans will respond to however they see fit. You can reject it, you can begrudgingly like it, you can be ecstatic about every new drip but the one thing you can't do is deny that it exists. Every new song and piece of information about the band doesn't or can't challenge the immutable idea of what Weezer is, good or bad. That's Weezer's longevity in a nutshell — if they were out here striving to make good music and it all ended up bad, they'd be criticized, increasingly ignored and then forgotten. Instead, Weezer makes music that reminds you that Weezer is around. That people like some of their albums but not others. That Rivers is a creep. That "Say It Ain't So" is fun to sing, isn't it?
I think Weezer fans know this. If they've outgrown the band and rarely talk about it, somehow the other fans or lapsed fans in their orbit will know to text them the morning of a surprise album drop, and those people already know what reaction they'll get out of whoever they texted. A Weezer fan might change so much over the course of their life that they legitimately forget what they really liked about the band in the first place, but it's hard to forget the motions of liking or not liking certain things about the band. They'll yell "smoke dope" during the breakdown of "Surf Wax America" at live shows not only because they want to, but because they know it's just what you do.
Sometimes Weezer's creative raison d'être might be more veiled than others, but an album of rote covers that you know people will debate online is an exceptionally clear way to declare that you're still here. For that reason alone, it might be Weezer's best release since "Pinkerton."