The Over/Under: Weezer

Weezer has always gotten more than its fair share of contempt. We come not to bury Rivers Cuomo, but to praise him. Tucked beneath its Cheap Trick riffs and nerd-friendly lyrics, Weezer managed to record some of the best power-pop anthems of the past 15 years. And even if the band’s recent efforts haven’t lived up to its classic debut and history of hits, this is still a band with the power to surprise us. While some of Weezer’s songs have passed into our collective memory (“Buddy Holly,” “Beverly Hills”) and have no intention of leaving anytime soon, others should never have been released in the first place (we’re looking at you, “Heart Songs”). With Cuomo and crew about to launch their own online radio station courtesy of Clear Channel, what better time to examine the most overrated and underrated Weezer songs?

:: The Five Most Overrated Weezer Songs
1. “Island In The Sun” (2001)

So laid back it’s practically catatonic, “Island In The Sun” somehow managed to become one of Weezer’s biggest hits. Maybe the Green Album wasn’t amazing, but it had a half-dozen single-ready tracks better than “Island In The Sun.” After a lifetime of exposure thanks to commercials and radio play, it’s officially time to retire this tired number. Maybe the song’s appeal was due to that video with all the cute animals; after all, music soothes the savage beast. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Weezer’s career, it’s that “soothing” is not a phrase that belongs in its vocabulary.

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2. “Undone (The Sweater Song)” (1994)
I know, I know, it’s another one of a band’s most popular and beloved songs that we, the MAGNET hacks, are turning on. But hear me out. “The Sweater Song” perfectly demonstrates the fine line between overrated and overexposed. If it had gone about its business being a decent song on a classic album, then this wouldn’t be a problem. A little overexposed, maybe, but it’s the rabid devotion to an otherwise adequate song that pushes “Undone” into overrated territory. It’s still good. But take something like “Buddy Holly,” one of the most perfect pop moments in rock history. “Buddy Holly” can’t be overrated; it’s so good, any rating would be insufficient. “Undone,” on the other hand? Sure, the chorus is great, but those talky interludes? Floating on a cloud of Gen-X nostalgia so potent it could resurrect Winona Ryder’s career, “Undone” is perfectly fine. End of story.

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3. “Only In Dreams” (1994)
The Blue Album is brilliant but not the only great piece of music that Weezer has released. Any fan, casual or obsessive, loves or at least appreciates the Blue Album, but it’s possible to enjoy Weezer in all incarnations, with or without stupid moustaches. It’s time to step back and declare to ourselves that, yes, it is OK to like 2002’s Maladroit or the Green Album. (But 2005’s Make Believe is still taboo.) It is OK to think that “Only In Dreams” is too long and trying too hard. Or that “Surf Wax America” is in no way better than “Knock Down Drag Out.” It is OK to say that “Keep Fishin’” is as good a pop song as “My Name Is Jonas.”

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4. “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” (2008)
Thanks to a little hit called “Pork And Beans,” Weezer had enough clout to command some interest for last year’s Red Album. The critics had to find something to say about it, despite the LP being one of the least describable albums in recent memory. This is not because it is too good to be explained. Nor, really, is it too bad. It’s a completely blank album, less memorable than anything by Jimmy Eat World or the Dave Matthews Band. So we said that “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” was either “ambitious,” “more mature” or a Green Day retread or that “Everybody Get Dangerous” was “aggressive” and “playful” when really, there was no reason for them to exist. Ultimately, the world would not remotely suffer if “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” was suddenly blinked out of existence; but then again, it didn’t seem to do any irreparable harm. Maybe that’s all we can ask.

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5. “Beverly Hills” (2005)
Why was “Beverly Hills” such a huge hit? Maybe because if the careers of Lindsay Lohan and Jon & Kate plus whoever are any indication, we like to watch people embarrass themselves. Like a weak retread of “El Scorcho,” “Beverly Hills” either thought it was funny (which it wasn’t) or thought it rocked (which it didn’t). Honestly, a talk-box solo? Even when Peter Frampton did that on The Simpsons, it still sucked.

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:: The Five Most Underrated Weezer Songs
1. All of Maladroit (2002)
With the Blue Album and 1996’s Pinkerton already established in pop history and the Green Album released to polite indifference, it seemed like Weezer had gone as far as it could go. Each record only managed to divide the band’s fans into separate camps: the early pop lovers, the emo kids, the casual listeners. Luckily, these disparate groups managed to put aside their differences and come together over a shared principle: that Maladroit sucked. But here’s the thing. Maladroit, the band’s fourth album, is actually really good: not exactly deep, but it has some really stellar pop songs. Pitched somewhere between the lightness of the Blue Album and the riffs on Pinkerton, Maladroit has charm and hooks to spare. With numbers like “Keep Fishin’,” “Space Rock” and “Possibilities,” Maladroit is catchier than the Green Album and less melodramatic than Pinkerton. Sure, Maladroit never became a cultural touchstone the way the band’s first two albums did, but it deserves more credit than it ever got.
“Love Explosion”

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2. “Perfect Situation” (2005)
Coming from the much-maligned Make Believe, anything with a decent beat would seem underrated. Luckily “Perfect Situation” has more than a decent beat. It’s catchy, nerdy and sweet, even memorable. Make Believe might have had moments like “We Are All On Drugs,” but it also had the quiet sweetness of “The Damage In Your Heart.” As much as we’d like to dismiss its fifth album, Weezer can only be relevant again if we listen to a song like “Perfect Situation” and accept for the genuinely good piece of work that it is, even if it’s no “Pink Triangle.” Though you might have written these boys off long ago, “Perfect Situation” gives us hope that Weezer can still deliver a song with heart and a hook.

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3. “Private Message” (2002)
A demo from a scrapped album circa 2002, “Private Message” is unfairly good. No, it’s not exactly Dylan lyrically (“I’m trying/To show you/A hint of/My coolness”), but Weezer never was. And what “Private Message” lacks in wit, it more than makes up for in spirit. With an emotive and powerful vocal performance by Cuomo, “Private Message” deserves to find its way onto the mix tapes of idealistic (and heartbroken) young things immediately.

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4. “Waiting On You” (1997)
“The Good Life” might be more than a decade old, but it’s still one of Weezer’s best tracks, and its b-side is (arguably) even better. Releasing “Waiting On You” as a throwaway showed more guts than we ever thought Cuomo had, even in his Pinkerton phase. But depriving that second album of such an amazing song was a pretty questionable move, making this breakup tune the property of hard-core fans only. With a slightly droning beat that brings back memories of Pinkerton’s heavier tracks, “Waiting On You” is a moving take on more than the usual teenage angst. All together now: “Mine is the loneliest of numbers … ”

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5. “Troublemaker” (2008)
Like “Perfect Situation,” “Troublemaker” is an example of a surprisingly good song from a surprisingly bad album. Proof that Weezer never met a chorus it didn’t like, “Troublemaker” is goofy, unnecessary fun. But that’s not a criticism; if anything, it’s a relief to see the often-intense Cuomo just letting go. It’s not really OK to like “Troublemaker,” a track that plays the “Rock The Casbah” card in being a pretty stupid song from a pretty smart band. But buried beneath the chunky metal riff lies a hint of self-examination from Cuomo, laced with irony: “I’m gonna be a rock star/And you will go to bed with me.” Sure, it’s a far cry from the teenage nebbish who crushed on half-Japanese girls, but who could say no to a pick-up line like that?

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—Emily Tartanella

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18 Comments

  1. John E
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    There needs to be some rule for this Over/Under column that you can’t pick b-sides or outtakes for “underrated” songs. Obviously they are underrated if they are pretty good and have never been properly released except for completists or for those who had a lot of time to spend on free file-sharing sites.

    I consider myself a pretty big fan of the band from ’94 until Make Believe came out and I have never heard #3 or #4 on the underrated list.

  2. elf
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. This may be the first time this article didn’t pick a band’s most popular song (Buddy Holly) as the most over-rated song. Now I’m more inclined to believe the writer really doesn’t like the most overrated song.

  3. Emily
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    That’s because Buddy Holly is not only (arguably) the band’s best song, but one of the best 90s pop songs period. How could I possibly call it overrated?

  4. Posted June 30, 2009 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    This list is crap and invalidated the moment “Only In Dreams” is insulted in any way/shape/form. Also, a defense of Maladroit is a predictable (if still unwarranted move), but singling out three of its worst songs in that defense won’t fly.

    “Private Message” and especially “Waiting On You” love is appreciated, but like someone else mentioned, can a b-side (let alone a scrapped demo) really be considered “underrated?” It’s practically unheard, so maybe “non-rated” would be a better way of putting it.

  5. Posted June 30, 2009 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and fer chrissakes, “Buddy Holly” is the best =W= song? Nearly anything from the Pinkerton era kills it. Certain post-2000 songs are better than it, even. It’s a great, perfect pop song, but Weezer’s capable of much greater things than pop songs with witty lyrics (“Say It Ain’t So” and “Only In Dreams,” hell, even “No One Else” looking at Blue alone).

  6. Matt
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Would it be possible to just say the entire catalog is overrated and leave it at that? Truly one of the worst bands of the last two decades to garner critical acclaim. They started out as watered-down Pavement lite for the mainstream and ended up a bad Cheap Trick clone. And for the last time, they are not a power pop band, at least to anyone even remotely familiar with power pop.

  7. J. Neto
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    The Private Message version of 04/21/2002 is so much better than this one you guys posted here

  8. Posted July 20, 2009 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Where is that version of Private message from? I have a demo of it but it sounds nothing like this one… Most aborted Album 5 outtakes were pretty good if you ask me. I don’t like Maladroit much even though it has some good moments.

  9. Posted July 28, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Never understood the watered down Pavement comment. I’ve heard it a bunch over the years. Maybe the hooks? Lyrically they’re not really alike.

    “Waiting On You” is one of my favorite Weezer songs of all time. “Space Rock” rules even though there’s too many weird fake metal riffs on Maladroit for me. I think “Perfect Situation” comes closest to the old Weezer charm during the new Weezer annoying / yuck / why isn’t this 100 times better era.

  10. Richard Parr
    Posted July 29, 2009 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Personally, the two most underrated Weezer songs for me would be Slave from Maladroit – and the b-side from ‘El Scorcho’ – “You Gave your love to me softly” – Still my favourite Weezer song.

  11. Posted August 19, 2009 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    First off. Waiting on you is an awesome song. I lost it sometime in the early 2000’s to a reformat. So glad to have found it again. I also would say that Living Without You is definitely underrated, maybe not top 5 due to its b-side status, but it never got the credit it deserves.

    And I’m sorry, but “Only In Dreams” is “too long and trying too hard”? How about you go listen to it again and remind yourself to not air guitar/bass/drum your freaking face off. Thank You Jakob for your 1st post.

    =W= Fan

  12. james hoffa
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    That whole freakin’ scrapped 2002 demo album is SICK. Some of the best songs since Pinkerton, sheer beauty.

  13. Posted September 2, 2009 at 3:14 am | Permalink

    I totally agree with the Maladroit bit. The released singles from the album are ok, at least as good as anything on the Green Album, but all the rest of Maladroit is amazing. Like comparable to “Pet Sounds” or “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” good. Def more experimental but raw and catchy.

    It drove me insane to see Make Believe marketed as “Weezer’s most raw album since Pinkerton”. Seriously? Make Believe was a 90% turn away from what I knew of as Weezer and seemed like a sell-out. Pinkerton is emotional and rocks hard but not the standard of the band by any means. As much as I like it I still wouldn’t listen to it around my wife or parents or my kids and is best enjoyed in the loneliness of a dark room with the rain on the window. Although at work we would bust out spontaneous a capella rounds of El Scorcho from time to time.

    Green is a solid album by itself to play just straight through and enjoy the whole thing. Blue should be the standard of the band showcasing at least glimpses of everything we’d like about them in all their other albums and B-Sides. Make Belive and Pork N Beans have a few decents, but I have a hard time listening to them still.

  14. Posted October 27, 2009 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    I have to disagree on Maladroit. It was good, yes. Underrated? Maybe a tiny bit. It featured amazing KISS-like riffs in “Take Control” and “Fall Together.” “Slob” rocked in a great self-hating poppy manner. Catchier then the Green album? Less melodramatic then Pinkerton?! No way.

  15. Jason
    Posted October 29, 2009 at 3:28 am | Permalink

    It’s not “you will go to bed with me.” It’s “you will grow to bear with me.”

    I thought it was “bed” at first, too. Woulda been cooler.

  16. connor
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    i dont get why people put the blue album on this rediculous pedistool. its an amazing album, but pinkerton is way better, and there are a lot of parts from their later stuff thats just as good as the blue album. other weezer fans are so frustrating in that regard, except for this emily chick. shes got it pretty much nailed.

  17. Nelson
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    A good portion of this article is bullshit. The logic is so flawed. You’re gonna sit there and tell me buddy holly isn’t overrated? The breakdown has some of the dumbest lyrics on the album, but then you knock Undone for having spoken word interludes. Get outta here. The only overrated song that belonged on that list was Beverly Hills. And perfect situation isn’t underrated because it’s so incredibly corny, even for weezer.

  18. Posted September 24, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    While I agree with some of this, I think The Greatest Man that Ever Lived is highly underrated. Cuomo did a great job of actually crafting variations on the Shaker Hymn in various styles that aren’t typically his style. For an experimental piece it is very bold and well crafted. I think the entire Red Album is highly underrated. And I think people only hate on Make Believe because it has a very New Wave sound. Personally, I think only one album in the Weezer discography deserves the hate it got: Raditude.