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  Weezer (green album)  
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Strangely enough, Weezer is one of the more difficult bands to write about. They exist in some weird interim space in the pop/rock world, no longer "popular" (as judged by radio play) yet still well entrenched in the major label power structure. As if to complete some oddly self-reflective metaphor, the band's sound is itself trapped somewhere in between those two worlds as well. Or so it seems to me. They can't seem to decide if they want to be the neo-Van Halen popsters so perfectly displayed on their 1994 debut or if they'd rather settle into the underground's Husker Du/Pixies/Sugar vacancy.

This release (we'll just call it "the green album", both because that's the general convention among critics and because it's a practical way to discern this s/t release from 1994's s/t release) is clearly and distinctly a return to the Van Halen mode of things. In fact, the similarities between this album and 1994's blue album are so readily apparent as to beg the question of self-reflexive irony, or at least self-reflexive identification. Both albums are self-titled. Both covers feature the band arrayed in slacker poses on a blank field of basic color. The only real difference is the change from blue to green, which makes one consider for a minute the band's brief flirtation with the underground (1996's Pinkerton) and front man Rivers Cuomo's admittedly understated desire to be Frank Black rather than David Lee Roth. Green implies money, which implies caving back into the machine, capital, for better or for worse. Anyway...

The fact of the matter is that the uncanny similarities of Weezer's blue and green albums don't end at packaging. Despite what you might have heard, the material on the green one is virtually interchangeable with the material on blue. I performed a small experiment when I first bought green, plopping both it and blue into the CD changer and hitting random play. There's very little to discern the two collections. Granted, a listener who has some nostalgic connection to the blue album, who knows all of those songs by heart already, might find something lacking on the new material. A loss of some indefinable angst, perhaps, or maybe the subtlest of changes in uses of minor vs. reduced keys? I'm not really sure what it would be, or even if it is really there. It very well may be nothing more than the plucked strings of nostalgia elevating In The Garage just a bit higher than Photograph or Knock-down Drag-out. In fact, I'm inclined to think it is just that. I don't think there's any real qualitative difference between the 1994 material and the 2001 material. I think it's just us Weezer fans getting old and crotchety and complaining that nothing will ever measure up to the hey-day of our youth.

Of course, with all that said, I'm not going to give the green album the same number of sponges I'd assign to the blue album. First off, the green album doesn't have any song that can compare to Buddy Holly as far as pop songcraft is concerned. It's just not there. Simple Pages is a fine, fine pop tune in its own right, but regardless of whether it's fair to do so or not, Weezer will always be judged, pop-wise, by the standard of Buddy Holly. Secondly, the green album lacks the subtle flourishes that catch the listener by surprise on the blue album: the melancholy plucked arpeggios that open that album's first track, My Name Is Jonas; the intricate counter melodies of The World Has Turned and Left Me Here; the pre-emo standard bearer Undone -- The Sweater Song.

But then again, the notion of my ear placing more import within the sounds of my waning college days bugs me again.

It's a tough call. Taking a moment to review our dandy little rating system, I'm thinking the green album might be a 4 sponger. It's above average and has some merit for fans of the band, but the casual listener, one who, perhaps, did not spend his two senior years at university with the blue album and Sugar's Copper Blue blasting at obscene volumes at all hours of the night (for example), might find it to be merely average.

But I really want to give it 5 sponges, because I feel bad assigning less than a "good" rating to a Weezer album.

I am torn. Truthfully. I can't decide which it is. I can't decide if it's the music or me. I can't decide if green lets me down in the exact places where blue picked (picks) me up or if I'm just asking too much. One more listen almost convinces me that it's the music. The green album lacks the low-key enhancements, the fade-out noise experiment that ends Undone, the prominent and leading bass line of In the Garage, the stupid fun of Surf Wax America. It lacks that bass-line driven breakdown a minute and a half into Holiday where the band approaches some unholy blend of The Pixies and doo-wop, extorting tried and true forms in unseen combination, to produce brilliant and previously unknown moments of beauty.

In the end the green album feels kind of phoned in, as if Rivers and company were just fulfilling the contract, maximizing the royalties and moving on with it. Or perhaps it is missing a defining presence, a check or balance that added levity and subtlety to Rivers' sonic assault. Perhaps the green album is missing former bassist Matt Sharpe. (Completely tangential note here, but Sharpe's "other band", now his only band, The Rentals, is well worth the listen. Less guitar, more pop, but solid, solid music.) Perhaps there's more to be read into one of the differences of the covers. In 1994, every member stood equal and blank on the blue field. In 2001 Cuomo stands slightly ahead of all of the other members, and he alone has an instrument, with a lightning bolt of power running down his guitar strap. Hmmmmm.

So I guess we go with four sponges, with a fifth ghost sponge hanging about in the wings. If nothing else, the 2001 release gives the fan a well-deserved excuse to break out the debut and relive it for a while. That is itself something worthwhile, no?

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