Twenty years ago today, I was in line at a music store for the midnight release of Weezer’s 2001 release, the Green Album.
That I was there was, at the time, a miracle, because a few years earlier, it looked like Weezer was done for good. But Weezer was the hot thing in music that spring and summer of 2001, and Green catapulted the band to new heights and is responsible for the success they have today.
The thing is, while Green is special to me, as an album, I’d rank it in the lower tier of Weezer albums. In an effort to make the perfect pop album, Rivers Cuomo made his songs a little too perfect. Instrumentally and structurally, they’re all the same. The songs themselves have little room to breathe, with no development in the choruses throughout the songs and solos that just mimic the song’s chorus lines.
Thankfully, Rivers learned from Green and changed not only his habits in composing future songs (2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End very much sounds like if Green had been done right), but also the Green songs themselves. By the end of 2001, Weezer was changing up the keys, solos and structures of the Green songs in live shows. As an example, for me, the 2005 AOL Sessions version of Don’t Let Go is the definitive version of the song.
And while we’re talking about 2005 versions of Don’t Let Go, this version from a show in Japan has the band’s best energy ever:
Despite my issues with the production and songs, I’m very glad we have Green. There is a generation of Weezer fans who consider Green their favorite album and I admire that.
Green is also the only Weezer album featuring Mikey Welsh on bass. Mikey joined Weezer in the spring of 1998 and left due to personal issues in the summer of 2001. Mikey passed away ten years ago, but I’ll always remember the fresh vibe he brought to the band. And his Rolling Stone video interview with Pat.
Looking back at that wait in line for the midnight release of Green, I remember having fun with my friends who were there with me. But I also remember this incredible feeling of relief and victory. That my favorite band was putting out another album. That they survived a dark, weird time. And that they were back, rocking just as much as better. I knew great times would be ahead for Weezer. And I was right.
The next 25 are in the books. Or on the Twitter.
Shortly after my last post, I started a new project on Twitter – #RiversDemoFlood. Each day I’ll post at least one ‘review’ of a random song from one of Rivers’ bundles, to give some context to the song and explain why I rated it the way I did.
I started this project on the fly and have some rules:
- I have the rated songs in an Excel file. I use a random number generator to determine which song gets tweeted about.
- If a song is a sketch and I have the time, I’ll do a second entry sometime that day.
- I’m going to try and do all the files. So there will eventually be more than 40 takes on Rules of Life. I hope I have interesting things to say after 20 or so.
- If possible, I’ll include images or videos relating to the song. While there are some of these demos on YouTube, Rivers asked that we not do that when he started bundling them (although he didn’t make that request when he sold the first batch individually), so I’ll link to other, sometimes full-band takes of final songs.
- Sentimentality, nostalgia and potential have no place in the ratings. I’m evaluating each of these files as if they’re their own songs. How would they sound on a mixtape? Or on the radio? How these sound as songs is one thing. What types of songs they could be, that’s another story.
- Above all, I’m trying to have fun with this. Which I am.
The songs so far:
Eighteen years ago, I met Weezer lead singer Rivers Cuomo during a post-show meet and greet. I was on a message board with Rivers and he invited some of us from the board to hang out with him and the band after shows on the 2002 Enlightenment Tour.
Near the end of the meet and greet, a small group of us talked with Rivers for a while. One thing I remember to this day was him saying that he wanted to share all the songs he ever wrote and recorded with all of us. Rivers had already shared a few demos with the board and other fans. And in the years after that, Rivers released three Alone CDs featuring his home demos. Rivers liked interacting with fans (on his terms) and writing/sharing music with them. And while I was a huge fan of all three Alone CDs, I didn’t expect much more.
Last year, Rivers launched (or re-launched) his personal website, RiversCuomo.com. Rivers took a coding class (because that’s what rock stars do) and started the site with a chatroom, adding other functions over the summer.
And then in October, he started putting together the building blocks of his final project- an online store to sell a bunch of old demos. After going back and forth on what to sell and how, Rivers settled on bundles, based on time periods in his life. Buy a bundle and you get access to a dropbox folder. And inside those bundles was a lot of music, but not everything. Music with co-writers or co-performers was out. Rivers set songs and ideas intended for future projects. And some songs/files he just couldn’t find.
Since launching the store right before Thanksgiving, Rivers added three additional bundles, two with co-writers and a greatest hits sampler. And he’s also added a number of files that he’s found. Currently, the bundles include more than 100 hours of files.
I’ll be the first to say that the files are a mixed bag. There are some files that are Rivers with a guitar and handheld recorder. Or Rivers humming/beatboxing ideas for tunes. Or 30-second long sketches for songs. Or songs where you can tell something is there, but the quality is questionable. Or songs with upwards of 40 versions. But there are a bunch of good, quality, full band (or one-man band) songs. And some of these songs are right up there with Weezer’s greatest songs.
There are enough songs to make alternate albums. Or earlier ideas for Weezer albums. Or Weezer albums that we never got. I’ve been listening to these song and I’m not even close to being all the way through.
Having these songs has gotten me back into music. A specific kind of music, granted, but still. And it’s given me ideas of things to write. It might be fun to write something about the evolution of Make Believe. And I would love to update one of my most favorite articles I’ve ever written. But I’m not doing either just yet because there are still more songs out there that might be added.
And there’s something else that’s happened with all of this. Rivers hangs out in the chatroom regularly and has asked for fan help for a few different things, like cataloging these files. Considering how daunting the concept of 100 hours of files is, some of us suggested putting together a Greatest Hits style bundle. Another site visitor (or neighbor) had been working on compiling the best songs from each bundle (at least when they were first released) and I had been working on that with him. But as we were talking about this with Rivers, he was receptive to the idea. I don’t remember exactly what spurred it, but he asked if I wanted to rate the songs on the spreadsheet. Of course I said yes.
A week or two later, Rivers started selling the Greatest Hits bundle, a combination of the other neighbor’s compilation and the songs that I rated at five stars. Gotta admit that was pretty cool.
So I’ve been keeping busy listening to a lot of these songs. On top of everything else I’m up to these days. I had an idea for something Twitter-related I may try, which will get the writing juices flowing.
After all these years, it’s great to have new (old) songs to get into all over again. And that’s not counting the Weezer album out (maybe) later this month. Or the other one coming out later this year. Or any of the other projects Rivers has planned.
1997 was not exactly a fun time to be a Weezer fan.
The band’s second album was a critical and commercial bomb. Despite the creativity and rock found on Pinkerton, people instead were listening to the Wallflowers and the Verve Pipe. The founding members of the Weezer fan club died in a car accident and the band was taking some time off due to creative tension, with rumors that one member was about to leave for good.
But near the end of the year, some rumors started popping up on fan-run news sites. Lead singer Rivers Cuomo, who was in Boston attending Harvard, had formed a side band backed by local musicians and had been playing shows at local venues. The songs played at these shows were both songs never intended for Weezer and possible future Weezer songs. The final one of these shows took place 20 years ago today. Joining Rivers and local musicians was drummer Pat Wilson, out from LA in an effort to find some common ground with Rivers. Bassist Matt Sharp was also supposed to appear, but was not able to make the trip.
The eight-song set was a tight show, featuring three new songs (Rosemary, Baby, The Prettiest Girl in the Whole Wide World) and five Weezer entries (Getchoo, No One Else, Say it Ain’t So, Undone and Only in Dreams). Rivers and Pat would find their common ground, and would end up (as Rivers said at the start of the show) going out to LA to make a new record. But a whole set of challenges would meet them when they reached the West Coast, including the loss of Matt, recruiting a new bassist and Rivers being unsatisfied with any creative direction developed despite his prodigious musical output (A few years back, I wrote a rather lengthy article on that, check it out here). By the time Weezer released their third album, it was a new century and the band was going in a totally different direction.
As I mentioned earlier, news of this and the previous Boston shows hit Weezer fan sites pretty much right away. Back in January of ’98, I had just started the second semester of my third year of college. I e-mailed one of the attendees, who said he would do a 2-for-1 swap for a recording of the show (in other words, if I sent him two blank tapes, he would send me one tape back with a recording of the show). I sent off the tapes and days later, I received one back. The guy (I don’t remember his name) had written up an essay about the tape- he attended three of Rivers’ shows and recorded all three. The essay was heartfelt about his time as a fan of the band.
I listened to the tape and fell in love with the songs- both the ones intended for future Weezer use as well as the “goofball, country” songs Rivers penned. The sound quality was a little rough and in the years since a few of the songs have had official releases (in either full-band or demo form), but two of the more intriguing ones, Baby and Rosemary, only exist in the recording from this show.
Still, these songs and this show will hold a special place for me, because in a time when everyone was singing along to Tubthumping or MmmBop, I had hope that Weezer would be back. It would just take a while.
Seventeen years ago I was a sophomore in college. On this day back in 1996, I walked a few miles between classes to the one record store near Seton Hall University to pick up a CD that was coming out that day, Weezer’s Pinkerton.
Once I purchased the only copy of the CD in the store, I walked/ran back to my dorm room, but was only able to listen to the first three songs before my next class began. All I remember about the class was not being able to wait to hear the rest of the album. Pinkerton was so different from the Blue Album (which was by then, my favorite thing to listen to), but not in a bad way.
The sound of Pinkerton was more raw and the lyrics more emotional, which were a bad news/good news thing for the album’s fortunes. The rawness and emotion, combined with the public’s changing musical tastes meant the album didn’t do well commercially. In the year after Pinkerton’s release I was incredulous as songs like One Headlight and The Freshmen were played constantly on the radio, while Pinkerton‘s songs were ignored.
At the same time, fans loved this approach and the public rediscovered the album a few years later after word-of-mouth and file sharing attracted more listeners, leading to the band’s resurgence in 2000.
But by then, it was too late for Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, who abandoned the approach that made Pinkerton what it was and sought out a more generic way of crafting the perfect pop rock song (this approach, which led to the Green Album, also was responsible band’s fascinating, yet vague (and too minimal) output in 1998). The band has also embraced (or re-embraced) the album, even releasing Pinkerton Deluxe Edition three years ago. The highlight of this special edition was Tragic Girl, a song originally demoed at the last minute then promptly forgotten.
After my class, I rushed back to my room and listened to the whole of Pinkerton. I realized it was no Blue Album, but that was not a bad thing. It was an amazing, personal, rocking album. And it’s still amazing all these years later.