It seems it’s become an indie-rock rite of passage to fall in love with Weezer in your formative years, eagerly await their next album, buy into the hype, convince yourself on first or second listen that it’s not that bad, then slowly realize the truth: They’re not the band they were in 1995. Is there anyone under the age of 30 who won’t posit two things: (1) That “Say It Ain’t So” fucking rules, and that (2) “Beverly Hills” fucking sucks? The release of Hurley, Weezer’s eighth studio album and first for storied indie label Epitaph, makes me wonder if the cycle of being let down by Weezer has started anew for kids aged 13-17. It also makes me wonder just what, exactly, Weezer fans expect from Rivers Cuomo, a man who’s had more thoughts and internal monologues projected onto him than maybe any other musician of his time.
As usual, Cuomo is writing about issues and feelings that matter to him: He’s never stopped being a personal songwriter even as his emotional turmoil seems to have ebbed in recent years. Some songwriters create characters, but Cuomo is always the leading man. Opening single “Memories” has him pining for the ‘90s over the kind of driving radio-friendly power pop that Weezer has always taken inspiration from, sounding just a little telegraphed by the end of the song where Cuomo turns the melody into a piano solo. You’ve got to wonder how long ago the song was written when a line like “Playing hacky sack back when Audioslave was still Rage” pops up, considering Rage has been Rage for what, three years now?
But part of the aging process is getting nostalgic and most of the songs find Cuomo split between subdued yearning for the past and a baffled cynicism at his own fame. Do you remember that he’s recorded with Lil’ Wayne and Kenny G in the past year? What other nerdy indie rock hero has crossed over to mainstream acceptability while still remaining a nerdy indie-rock hero? On “Trainwrecks,” which slows down the riff from “Hash Pipe,” Cuomo sings, “Someday we’ll cut our critics down to size/ And crash a Diddy party in disguise”—but in 2010, Weezer could attend a Diddy party as themselves. Hard to believe for a guy who once wrote an entire concept album about Madame Butterfly.
Cuomo is often lauded for his workmanship-like approach to pop songwriting, and Hurley eschews the quirkier sonic roughness that filled up the blank space on Pinkerton for plenty of arena-ready hooks that make it readily obvious why Weezer is as popular as they’ve ever been. The coasting “Hang On” is perfect for AOR radio; the woefully silly “Smart Girls” has the type of sing-song hook that kept people listening to “Surf Wax America” for years even though most Weezer fans read books when they’re at the beach. It’s hard to get worked up about how tepid most of the material is because it’s not like we’ll be hearing any of this material at Weezer shows after the promo tour.
So what if a song as juvenile and tossed off as “Where’s My Sex?” (Here’s the joke: “socks” sounds like “sex”) exists? If they’re still playing it by next year, I’ll eat my hat. You wonder why they’ve put out three sub-par albums in the last three years (with a fourth on the way), but it’s the easiest way to remain in the spotlight aside from making another music video stocked with Internet memes (Keyboard Cat is waiting for the phone call, guys). Maybe Cuomo is just looking for financial stability, not artistic fulfillment — the band announced the intention to tour behind Blue and Pinkerton once again, which could sell out at $100 a ticket.
As long as fans and press outlets keep buying into the pre-album hype (It’s on an indie label! They’re back to their roots! It sounds like Pinkerton!) there will always be some mild rage whenever their new single like twice-warmed-over Cheap Trick. Weezer listeners have been projecting themselves over bits and pieces of the band’s lyrics since the dawn of time, ignoring the specifics (like anyone has ever fallen in love with a girl from Japan who loved ECW and didn’t know who Billie Joe Armstrong was) for the general concepts of heartbreak, loneliness and whatever else (every fanbase has this relationship with a band’s songs, but I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that Weezer’s fans have always seemed more attached than the usual crowd). Now that Cuomo is older and singing about things like fame and the alienation of age, it’s become harder to empathize. But at this steady rate of basically listenable and huge-selling albums, Weezer’s a sure bet for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019, assuming Western civilization hasn’t collapsed, and no one will be able to say they didn’t succeed.