Rockism’s Latest Poster Boys: Weezer

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Let us not forget that Rivers Cuomo, human receptacle for music fandom’s collective disappointment, once posed on the cover of Billboard Magazine with his arm around Jermaine Dupri. Even in today’s genre-agnostic musical landscape, that pairing — the Weezer frontman and the R&B songwriter/producer, best known for his work with Mariah Carey — wouldn’t be the most obvious one, but in 2009, the concept was a real head-scratcher.

Those were the years before The Black Keys finally broke through the mainstream with Danger Mouse-produced pop hits, before Usher’s presence was practically expected at Afghan Whigs shows, and before A$AP Ferg remixing Haim somehow made sense. Poptimism was not a concept given much consideration by those outside the music media, let alone controversial thinkpieces in the New York Times. But empowered by the success of mid-2000s singles like “Pork and Beans” and “Beverly Hills” at both pop and alternative radio, Weezer doubled down on pop music. After all, a lot had changed since “Buddy Holly” cracked the Top 20 in 1994.

Sadly, Dupri and Cuomo’s main collaboration was a dud: “Can’t Stop Partying,” featuring Lil Wayne on the brink of making his “rock” album Rebirth, was one of the most laughably bad moments of Weezer’s post-Pinkerton career, which is really saying something. “It’s a little bit challenging for some of our fans cause it’s real progressive, it’s bringing in elements from different styles,” Cuomo told Billboard of the song at the time. It was obviously too challenging: Weezer’s sixth album Raditude, from which the song was taken, failed to make a dent (despite co-writes with everyone from Dr. Luke to Butch Walker to All-American Rejects to Dupri); no single cracked the Top 80 of the Hot 100 chart, and the album sold about half (66,000) of what 2008’s Red Album had done in its opening week. The L.A. quartet followed it up with an even more forgettable album, Hurley, a year later. Then they finally got the hint.

After a four-year release break marked by multiple nostalgia-fueled victory laps, Weezer return this week with their tenth album, Everything Will Be Alright In The End (Republic Records). With this record, Cuomo and co. attempt to rewrite their history and atone for their pop sins by falling back on an antiquated tactic: rockism. The album’s first half is dominated by lyrics that betray this aim via a mixture cultural criticism, tacky metaphors, and pining for good old days (the 1990s, of course). If you can put all this aside and look at the album for its musical quality — catchy hooks, stadium choruses, and Big Four-referencing guitar solos on nearly every track — then Everything Will Be Alright In The End is easily Weezer’s best album since 2002’s mixed bag of metal worship, Maladroit. But even the album’s musical attributes help to assert Weezer’s new-found rawk propaganda.

“The British Are Coming” frames the band as defenders of a tradition that’s battling encroaching enemies, while “Eulogy for a Rock Band” ironically suggests that there’s no room in this world for the kind of capital-A Authentic guitar music Weezer is once again peddling. Album opener “Ain’t Got Nobody” starts with radio transmissions of phrases like “guitars are dead” and former MTV VJ John Norris uttering the words, “In the ‘where are they now?’ category…”.

Lead single “Back to the Shack” follows an anti-sellout narrative, bur it also cashes in on the nostalgia trend by referencing early Weezer symbolism (“The Shack” being slang for the Los Angeles house where Weezer members lived and wrote 1994’s Blue Album) and making bold declarations about toiling away in obscurity for this return to Real Art. And I’m sure Dave Grohl is longingly admiring that American Idol diss on “I’ve Had It Up To Here”; he’s drafting a text to Cuomo now about being part of his next supergroup, cursing the fact that a “Rock On” emoji has not yet been invented for this very occasion.

Weezer have always seemed like underdogs, despite being signed to a major label and now having their first two albums canonized. It’s a big part of why fans have taken the band’s artistic decline so personally, and held on hope for a proper throwback Weezer album for so long. People identified with Cuomo, who revealed himself initially via socially-anxious diary entries and nerd signifiers like X-Men. So you can see why it’s beneficial for Weezer to frame Everything Will Be Alright in the End as a good vs. evil battle between pop commercialism and the kind of over-the-top Flying-V guitar solos that feel like extensions of its originator’s manhood.

For these diehards in search of anthems articulating Cuomo’s brand of outsider masculinity via KISS fetish and daddy issues, Everything Will Be Alright In The End will do the trick — and perhaps fuel easy Miley-vilifying sentiments to boot. But for me, I prefer Weezer’s other successful comeback, 2001’s Green Album, which they also made under the tutelage of Blue producer/Cars frontman Ric Ocasek. At least that album wasn’t an out-of-touch thinkpiece lamenting the state of pop.