I am not a sports fan, but I imagine my Weezer fandom is a lot like loving a Cleveland team: at one point they were good, so there’s always that small sliver of hope that they could be again. Weezer have not made a tolerable album in 12 years (2002’s Maladroit), which means they’ve made as many bad records as good ones. They’re currently recording a new album that reunites them with Cars frontman Ric Ocasek, the producer behind 1994’s Blue Album as well as their 2001 comeback, Green Album. And if teasers on social media are to be believed, this may be the return to form that reels old fans back in. Or it could be more false hope, another example of nostalgia as hype. Which is it? Let’s examine the evidence.
Over the weekend, Weezer hit Nashville for two of their “Memories” shows, in which they played Blue Album and Pinkerton in their entirety. The concert series originated in 2010 when, for the first time in years, instead of pushing then-new LP Hurley, the band gave fans what they needed: a reminder of what had once made Weezer a great band. It wasn’t before time — the Jermaine Dupri Years were particularly dark, and I’m not sure the Weezer fandom could handle another blow (and neither could the band — their album sales have been slowly declining, and reached an abysmal five figures with 2010’s Hurley.)
In addition to the shows, Weezer swung by Jack White’s Third Man Records vinyl booth while they were in Music City. The result was a new take of “Susanne,” the B-side pair to “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and one of their most well-known rarities (there are hundreds). “Susanne” is not a song that pops up in a lot of setlists, so it’s a curious choice. The song is reminiscent of Buddy Holly (the person, not the song), which could explain why Weezer might have chosen to re-record it at Third Man and on vinyl. Or the song selection could be another piece of the Weezer nostalgia puzzle. They do seem to have the 1990s on the brain.
Shortly after this year’s Weezer Cruise in mid-February, a fan-shot video of a new Weez song — “Back to the Shack” — surfaced online. The song starts off with a burst of distortion and metal posturing, and then frontman Rivers Cuomo proceeds to spend three minutes eschewing his recent past and promising more of the past — the distant, distant past. The lyrics read like fanfic I would have written in my LiveJournal when I was 17 and Weezer released the endlessly disappointing Make Believe: “We belong in the rock world/ This is what we wanna do,” “Turn off the radio, those stupid singing shows,” “Had to make a few mistakes to find out who I am,” “I forgot that disco sucks,” “Take me back, back to the shack/ Back to lightning strap,” and most of all, “rockin’ out like it’s ’94.”
“Back to the Shack,” down to the name itself, is full of little references only fans will understand. “Lightning strap” refers to Rivers’ signature lightning bolt guitar strap from the old days, his nod to KISS’s Ace Frehley (one of his idols). The “shack” is a reference to to Amherst House, the LA ranch-style home where Rivers and some of the other original Weezer members lived, wrote, and recorded their demos from 1992 onward (as seen in the “Say It Ain’t So” video). “Turning off the radio” perhaps suggests a departure from Weezer’s shameless attempts at radio hits, like 2006’s “Beverly Hills.” And ’94 is, of course, the year Weezer released their brilliant breakthrough, The Blue Album. I pray these nods to Weezer’s golden era are not merely a tool to sell records.
All in all, “Back to the Shack” is some of the most self-aware stuff Cuomo has ever penned, which is really saying a lot. Remember, this is the guy who pointed out his Buddy Holly resemblance in song before his audience even had a chance to think it.
Also crucial: the music of “Back to the Shack” does not make me want to gag. A distorted guitar solo! Rivers exhibiting his hair-metal past in a tasteful way! Little ‘woo-hoos’ from guitarist Brian Bell and bassist Scott Shriner! As a couple of music sites have pointed out, the song indeed represents a return to form for a band that has been lost for a long while. Moreover, the song’s sound is in line with teaser clips of the new album that surfaced last month. In the first video, the band previews two songs, both of which sound vintage Weez — although perhaps not as far back as fans would hope. I’m hearing more of Green‘s modular power-pop than Blue. Regardless, it’s promising. In the second teaser clip, Shriner notes, “There’s all these vicious, awesome guitars happening.”
I will admit that I am scared. Scared the same way you are when you let a dickhead ex back into your life. For 12 years I have lived in a state of disappointment, unable to permanently let go of a band that served as my musical gateway drug. But I know it’s not all nostalgia for my youth — Weezer’s first two albums remain seminal works in the context of power-pop, alternative, geek rock, second-wave emo, and more.
I’ve always chalked up Weezer’s downfall to the departure of original bassist Matt Sharp, whose strong personality was enough to keep Rivers’ control-freak tendencies in check, at least musically (lyrically, it’s 100 percent Cuomo). But even without that early dynamic, I know Weezer are capable of good music; Green and Maladroit are proof enough. And at this point, I’d be ecstatic to have good. So I’m setting the bar low-ish for the third coming of Weezer, while still allowing myself to feel some small morsel of hope: Green Album 2.0.