Revenge of the Weezer Nerds

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It is perhaps because of this early training that Weezer, having gone on to sign with Geffen and make a very fine record produced by Ric Ocasek, are the most becomingly modest successful new band you could hope to meet. If you push them hard, they will admit that they no longer suck, but further than that, they're not willing to go. "It's so amazing that suddenly we're, like, No. 16 on Billboard," says Brian, in whom even immodesty would be pretty becoming. "None of this was even imaginable, ever." "We looked at it as a fatalist type of thing from the get-go," says Pat. "It was like 'I'm gonna fail because 99 percent of all records do, and what makes me so special?'"

In short, Weezer's success really was unexpected (by them, anyway; Geffen, presumably, was no entirely without hope) and, you may think, sudden. You may think it, but you would be wrong. The guys in Weezer (which was Rivers' nickname as a little boy) have worked hard for their sudden success. They have been on tour, except for a six-week break, for almost eight months and recently arrived in London to kick off three months of European gigs, followed by two more months on the road in the States, followed by another break, followed by another couple of months in Europe and some more American shows in the late summer. After that, Rivers is going to return to college, and everyone else is going to get some rest, drink plenty of fluids and work on his side projects. (Matt records with the Rentals, Brian records with Space Twins, and the multi-instrumental Pat will record probably by himself as an artist to be named later.) After that they might make a second album.

Weezer are an anomalous little outfit, and in many ways, theirs is an anomalous little success. For one thing, Weezer is unabashedly major-label pop but has a guitar-based depth that otherwise has pretty much packed up and moved to the indie-alternative genre, where it has grown cranky and cynical. For another, although the record is not a singles album in the traditional sense of hits-plus-filler, the individual songs the band is pushing ("Undone – The Sweater Song," "Buddy Holly" and the upcoming "Say It Ain't So") can function as singles in the old-fashioned, musical microcosm sense of the term. For still another, in a medium dominated by throat-grabbing, intrusive lament, these are modest songs, hooky and buoyant, that ask merely to be taken as they're found: no cover, no minimum – experience of love, loss and alcoholism a plus. And although Weezer have made two great videos, both with Spike Jonze ("I'm gonna go out on a limb here," says Pat. "Spike Jonze doesn't know what he's doing better than anyone else in the world"), they are not video artists. They have too much damn sound.

That sound is, as with all really good pop, at once both familiar and sui generis. There are punk elements in the driver's seat, but the radio is tuned to Beach Boys/Beatles melodicism, and, to stretch the metaphor beyond all limits of help or hope, from the look of the clouds, it's time to get the top up because the weather is threatening arena rock.

Weezer have often been criticized for lacking originality – "We're not trying to do anything unique or bizarre," says Brian – but while it may sound as if I'm damning them with faint praise, I really mean it when I say that when it comes to the equally liberal application of power chords and sincerity, Weezer are in a class all their own. The production is dry to the point of penitential because, as Matt points out, "reverb is not good for the kids."

And the kids love Weezer, by which I mean not only those figurative kids, who are all right, but real kids, 8- to 12-year-old kids. "We could have our own TV show," jokes Pat. "Until the kids met Rivers – then he'd make them really depressed."

As lead singer, Guitarist, songwriter and all-around auteur of the Weezer narrative, Rivers would, of course, be the man to explain how the above-named anomalies became an amalgam that is greater than the sum of its parts. But don't hold your breath, because while I think that I have already mentioned that Rivers is from Connecticut, I believe that I neglected to add that for all I know he was raised by wolves. I think it is fair to say that Rivers does not want to be the girl with the most cake. He is shy beyond shyness and so withdrawn that his reputed admiration for the reclusive Brian Wilson is vaguely troubling. His disinclination to be interviewed, as a result of which I didn't interview him, is, was and forever-more shall be totally his prerogative. I am grateful for his attempt to compromise by answering questions via fax and sorry that I can't compromise enough to quote any of his guarded responses. That there is a private Rivers, unknown to me, who is intelligent, kind and funny, I infer from his music and my optimism. That there is a public Rivers, known to me only through observation, who is fussy, critical and suspicious, I can only regret. Lacking any solid evidence, I assume his reasons are righteous.

Anyway, that's show business, where the road to mutual mistrust is often paved with equally mutual good intentions. "Basically, this is just Rivers' band," says Pat. "It used to be different. It used to be more of a band band, but Rivers just isn't down with that idea. He says he's not interested in playing anybody else's music. And the idea that he would say, 'This is all about me' – it hurts me. Sometimes I'm so sympathetic to Rivers, and sometimes I'm so antagonistic. It's the most amazing thing, and I just can't figure it out."

About that last part, same goes double for me, with these words from Ric Ocasek: "You know, socially, Rivers would stand in a corner, but I don't know if that's a weakness. Andy Warhol did that, too. And having to have too much, control can be a weakness, but looked at a different way, it can also be a strength. And America should be proud that they have a Rivers in the pool of records coming out. He's writing intelligent lyrics, he's writing melody. I feel pretty certain that Rivers is a real force. He's writing songs, and whatever happened to songs? Please, let's have some more."

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