WARNING - INCOMING TEXT WALL.
As a relative neophyte here (especially having missed out on the ultimate litmus test of when the relevant packs were released), I don't know what the general Weezer consensus around these parts is. I'm willing to bet that it's like most places though: your milage may vary, wildly, but the slim-but-sure majority feels Blue Album was great, Pinkerton was an underrated gem and it was all downhill from there.
Now, I'm not here to say that every disc in that catalog is secretly amazing. I'm not here to stick up for Make Believe, Maladroit or Raditude. Christ, especially not Raditude. But with the way frontman Rivers Cuomo has become the butt of every punchline—it seems like every critic who writes a Weezer review feels the need to "get the obvious joke out of the way" early on—I'm gonna take issue with.
Let's start with the Blue Album (because there's really no other logical place to start from). We know the story. Quirky frontman introduces the fledgling 90's to garage-y rock that was catchy instead of grunge. Due to his very frank awkward nerdiness, both in his image and his lyrics, he strikes a chord with high school outcasts, becomes a folk hero of sorts. Rides high for a little while, then makes another record. Does not do so hot. Few are on board with how gritty and personal Pinkerton is, at least not initially. The band goes on hiatus for a chunk of years. During this hiatus, Pinkerton grows on people—I'm told that the 'emo' crowd really took to the personality of the lyrics.
When Weezer come back, it's a hit-and-miss affair. They can't win to lose. Everything is either not emotive enough (Green Album), emotive in bland ways (Make Believe) or just plumb unhip (smatterings throughout).
But I have to wonder what this whole whirlwind was like for Rivers. To be heralded for his uniqueness like a true ugly ducking, just to get lambasted for being too weird. Then for not being weird enough. Then for being weird in the wrong ways. That's gotta be confusing when you can't even know what your own fans think of you. The Green Album is so straight-laced, refusing to deviate from the norm, (and it's a shame it's got all this baggage attached, because you'd be hard-pressed to find a leaner powerpop record) but it was met with these cries of "Boo, this is cookie cutter, we want what made Weezer unique!" I'm sure it was tempting for Rivers to just snap and yell, "Well, where the f*** were you five years ago?!"
So I get the impression that during that hiatus, without being in a band courted by a press that celebrated his eccentricity, he did what most of us do when high school's over: grew up. Found a way to be himself in society, shed his weirder tendencies, and—keeping with the ugly duckling metaphor—came out of it a swan. Not a belle-of-the-ball swan, but an average-joe swan. Except he'd made such a name for himself being an ugly duckling, that it didn't stick. People wanted quirk.
And so, by God, he'd give it to them. He over-emoted à la Pinkerton on Make Believe, but the problem was his musings were not quite so unconventional. Most of the album boils down to, "I could use some company." Not enough. People wanted weird.
Now, I've heard some portraits of Rivers that seem to say that he is still an immaculately weird dude. One not need look further than the video for "My Brain Is Working Overtime" to see that he has not totally assimilated into society, and even my "average joe swan" assessment is a stretch. But I have to wonder, if heeding the call to be the quirky Rivers from 1994, he started wondering why just shooting straight from the heart wasn't working anymore, and started scraping the bottom of the barrel for any idiosyncrasy he could find. And that's how we got songs like Everybody Get Dangerous ("Boo-yah!"), I'm Your Daddy (Advice: Never ever recontextualize something you said to your daughter as a come-on. Unless you're intentionally going for that creepy-as-s*** feel), and Where's My Sex (Not even touching this one). None of them are bad songs until you get to the lyrics, and that's when it just starts to feel like Rivers is trying to embarrass himself. And when he got lauded as a folk hero for songs with choruses like "In the garage. I feel safe. No one cares about my ways." I can see why he'd think that might be a key to success.
And the more years go by, the more time is not on Cuomo's side for redemption. When I was browsing the user critiques on iTunes, I came across one that committed one of Dack's Cardinal Sins of Customer Reviews (I could fill a topic with these bad boys): The Je Ne Sais Quoi. When you judge something over a quality you can't (and won't even attempt to) put into words. (I don't even use the phrase je ne sais quoi genuinely because it is literally French for "I don't know what". It seems to me, if you can't put it into words, trying to look smart by using fancy idioms is immensely hypocritical.) It was something to the tune of:
"Remember when you first put on The Blue Album, and as the introduction to My Name Is Jonas started, you just felt that... that magic? There's nothing on here like that. One star."
And here's why that's a Dack's Cardinal Sin of Customer Reviews (DCSCR). You can't define it, iTunes Customer? I will fill in the blanks with assumptions, then. You miss high school, you miss being an outcast with your outcast friends and finding solace in a Weezer record. The Red Album doesn't fulfill your nostalgia quota because it can't get you and your prom date in the back of your sedan deflowering each other, hence, "no magic". Goddammit, you're still grown up. One star.
And bringing it back to my main point, it kind of feels like all these fellow kids who were getting shoved into lockers and finding comfort in the Blue Album are now the ones giving Weezer the swirlies.
Weezer's put out some absolute stinkers since their reformation. I am not denying that. But the more I think about it, the harder it feels to blame them.