Weezer extends its middle finger and, quite possibly, takes a final bow.
It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.
Like professional athletes, rock bands rarely age gracefully. They are the professional boxers of music. If they stay past their prime, things can get very ugly. Rock bands, as they mature, can usually be classified into a few different categories (at least the ones who opted to fade away instead of burn out).
Broken Beatles: There are those bands that break up and leave the steady paycheck behind to begin separate collaborations using the notoriety they earned while performing together (Paul McCartney’s Wings, Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band).
Lost Journeys: We often see bands that end up reciting long-ago recorded hit songs to AARP-card holding, hair-receding, waistline-increasing fans at various state fairs around the country (Journey, Kansas).
Like Rolling Stones: Some bands maintain the ability to sell out stadiums by catapulting their previous successes and finding ways to remain relevant (KISS, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Rolling Stones).
Dropping Bombs: A rare few keep pumping out new material to try and create a cross-generational appeal (U2, AC/DC).
Weezer is currently straddling the fence between relevancy and obscurity, and the band knows it. Its latest album, Everything Will Be Alright in the End (which was released last week) is, at times, a very petulant admittance of this fact. The album drips with the emotions of anger, nostalgia, declination, surrender, dissolution and separation. Often the words on the album are a direct attack on modern day popular culture and the current state of the music industry as well as the ever-ticking clock of life and rock identity.
It is fine, in fact it’s recommended, for a rock and roll band to be mostly anti-establishment (U2 recently learned this lesson when its decision to include a free copy of its latest album on every new iPhone 6 kindasorta backfired). Weezer, in this album, leads a direct attack on mass pop culture, popular trends and seemingly on the people who pay for the guitars, drums and Buddy Holly eyewear. Along with its deference to its fans, Weezer peppers in some scathing indictments of the rock and roll establishment and the rocky road that rock music is on.
“Back to the Shack” is the most compelling track on the album (you may have heard it making the rounds on your radio airwaves). The song is a very personal and direct confession by lead singer Rivers Cuomo about the mistakes he has made as a musician and a band leader. Belts Cuomo on the guitar-driven track, “We belong in the rock world/and there is so much left to do./If we die in obscurity, oh well/at least we raised some hell.” The track is followed by “Eulogy for a Rock Band,” an emotional tribute to the band’s loyal following and its rock predecessors. It may also be an indication of where Weezer is headed. Cuomo told Entertainment Weekly that the song, “is about our place relative to the great rock bands that came before us as they are retiring and moving on into oblivion. We’re kind of in that spot now.” These songs though are countered by “I’ve Had It Up to Here,” a seemingly chest-clearing, one-finger salute to all of the critics and naysayers that Weezer has encountered in the last twenty years.
It has been two decades since Weezer released one of the 90’s great rock records: the Blue Album. In that time, Weezer has struggled to find that sound that propelled it to the heights of music (with some notable exceptions, i.e. Pinkerton and “Beverly Hills”). Ironically, the band’s 2010 release, Hurley, featured Lost alum Jorge Garcia on the cover. It’s ironic, because the band has seemingly been, well, lost since the Blue Album. Yet Weezer, especially lead singer Cuomo, has cultivated a cultish status thanks to an unusual connection with its audience (that’s ranged from adoration to disillusionment) foraged through personality and creative uses of new social technologies.
Weezer’s latest album is maybe an encore, the finale to the Weezer legacy. Weezer hoped, with its latest release, to return, at least as much as possible, to the definitive sound that was created with their iconic first album. Whether or not it succeeded is a question for people with a more discerning ear than myself. Yet, in the record, Weezer did take care of some family business. Will the band burn out or fade away? Maybe neither. Maybe it will raise a defiant middle finger, drop the guitar on the stage and walk away. Or maybe, this is a new commitment to the sound that originally defined the band. Either way, in the end, everything is alright.