Weezer vs. the Record Industry

Guess who won. You can find out who won the epic battle for control over the shape of Weezer’s new album in the latest Glorious Noise Feature. Check it out now.

Well, I picked up the new Weezer album today. Even though I had the opportunity for weeks to download the mp3s, for some inexplicable reason I decided to wait for the official release. I didn’t even go to Vertigo Records yesterday to beg my man Herm to sell me one a day early like I did five years ago when Pinkerton came out. Back in 1996, it was embarrassing for a guy my age (25 then) to be excited about the new Weezer album. But by that time I had already accepted the first Weezer album as a pop masterpiece, and thanks to my man Colin, I’d already totally gone crazy over the moog madness of the Rentals’ first album. Since then my love of Weezer has not waned.

I’m a nut — ask any of my friends or especially my wife. I get obsessed about bands and burn myself out. I inherited this trait from my cousin Mike who first turned me on to the full power of music in the form of those Knights In Satan’s Service, KISS. When the King died, Mike and I went on a huge Elvis kick. His older Dazed and Confused-era brother got us into The River and then the Doors. AC/DC was in there somewhere — probably when Bon Scott died. As we got older, Mike and I drifted apart as he fully embraced the Metal side of things and I queered off into Duran Duran, Tears for Fears and, heaven forbid, Wham! I eventually ended up with the Beatles, the Smiths and the Dead Milkmen as my high school soundtrack. The Stone Roses were coming up as I graduated.

And for each of these bands, I became totally obsessed and had to hear everything they ever recorded and read every interview they ever gave. This was a lot tougher back in the days before the Web and Napster. I had pen pals in the UK who would record radio performances and send cassettes to me. I became a bootleg tape trader. It’s ridiculous. College broadened my musical horizons but it didn’t chill me out at all. Neither has marriage. I’ve gone crazy about britpop, Parliament-Funkadelic, NWA-related hip hop, Frank Sinatra and Neil Young. There are tons of other bands that I was into that are more embarrassing, but you get the picture.

Which brings us back to Weezer. I started to get nervous about the new album in October 2000 when I heard that Ric Ocasek was going to be the producer. He produced the first album and this seemed like a real step backwards. But he’s better than the guy who produces Blink-182 and the guy who produces Radiohead, who were both being considered. Weezer fifth member and lousy speller, Karl, had posted this frank disclosure on his website a month before:

9/13/2000: The hammer comes down… today the band learned from Interscope that they CANNOT start recording the new album unless they definately have a producer! This flies in the face of the band’s insistence on starting on October 23 "by any means necessary", and puts a serious damper on their hopes for getting the new record off the ground on schedule…

So it was obvious that the Record Company was already messing with the sound of Weezer. They were making it clear to the band the next Weezer record was going to sound the way They wanted it to sound, regardless of what the band wanted. This was the next alarming post from Karl:

11/15/2000: …Well, today weezer was visited in their home studio garage by the president of Geffen records, whose views of what weezer was doing were fairly unknown to date. We found out today, to the bands delight, that he is a very cool guy who thinks the new songs are "awesome", and he had lots of good ideas and suggestions for the band as they continue to write and record brand new songs and refine the slightly "older" ones from the past few weeks.

I actually don’t even know who the president of Geffen Records is, but I can’t honestly imagine a corporate executive having many good ideas about anything, much less about how a great rock and roll album is supposed to sound. Was Karl betraying us, or just being enthusiastic because the exec "gave his full approval to the bands plan to get Ric out here and start album work in December!"? I’m willing to give Karl the benefit of the doubt because he seems like a good guy and not a professional spin master. Ten days into the actual recording of the new album, Karl posted this:

01/06/2001:…recording day 10… In the midst of finishing up Mikey’s bass "fixes", Weezer recieved a visit from the record company, and were suprised to learn that they were unsatisfied with how several tracks were turning out so far. Despite the fact that the songs are in a very raw form and will be much farther along in just a few weeks, the comments were still fairly critical, even while other songs got positive remarks. This of course is not the best news we could have gotten, as dissention from "on high" can lead to unwanted delays. And as we all are aware, there is very little margin for error here. Extending the album sessions could adversly affect the tour schedule, and conversely, sticking to the tour schedule in spite of not finishing the album work could mean a delayed release. Both of these outcomes are the last thing anyone wants, so the guys are continuing to work extra hard to get all the tracks as top-notch as possible.

…Very lengthy debates and discussions of what should/shouldnt/could be done with the tracks led to renewed attempts to nail down some songs. Later, after intensive internal debate within the band, a few songs got "the boot", their slots in the final running taken over by others that were "bubbling under". Additionally, another song, "Gonna Make My Move" was given a first time attempt.

The next day Karl posted the following, I assume, to calm down fans who (like me, I admit) were freaking out:

01/07/2001:…recording day 11…The hard work is really paying off, and the guys are determined to make this album their own way. Suggestions and criticisms come in all flavors, and some are helpful, some useless. Ultimately, weezer is duty-bound to deliver exactly the album that they want to hear, untainted by even the slightest of compromises, and they can only hope that that’s the same album that everyone else wants to hear.

The rest of the album recording apparently went off without interference, but you’ve got to wonder how the "advice" and "suggestions" affected the way the band and crew performed. After the recording and mixing were completed, Karl posted this bit of bipolar corporate doublespeak:

02/17/2001:…Well, the moment of truth has come and gone. A few hours ago, our meeting with the record company went down, about how they feel about the (99 percent) finished weezer record…and we have recieved the word, finally. I think it best for me to just present the facts and let you guys mull it over, because were not exactly sure how to take this. First of all, the record company told weezer that they LOVE the record, and had nothing but supportive and excited things to say about it. All the comments and talk being spoken tonight was positive and definately the kind of things we were hoping they would say. And these were thoughtful and insightful comments, not just empty enthusiasm. It seems that all the late night recording and mixing and countless hours of detail work to the point of total exhaustion have paid off. While it is of course YOUR opinions that matter most to weezer, getting the record company on weezer’s side is simply essential to the process…so, right on! However…at the same time, we were told that they no longer wish to release the album on April 17th, as we were originally told. In fact, they would not even supply us with a replacement date, which effectively throws the release date into thin air. When will they let weezer release this album? From their excited talk, we had figured that they would have wanted to put it out "yesterday"…. But now, its become a total mystery…

I attended the concert in Chicago on March 9, and wrote about how oddly unsatisfied it had left me feeling. The new songs sounded good. The old songs sounded just like the recorded versions. They didn’t play for very long. But I think my biggest problem with the show was that I spent most of the time up in the balcony where it was too quiet and comfortable instead of being down on the floor where I belonged. My fault. I won’t make that mistake again.

The final bit of Record Company flack that Karl wrote about had to do with release dates:

04/12/2001: …Speaking of release dates, some folks have been writing me in a panic, having heard of further delays to the US release. I can assure you direct from the band itself that this is NOT so, and that may 15th is the date! It is true that the record label had tried to further push it back till June, but this did NOT go over well with the band…in a heated behind the scenes debate with some label higher-ups, the exasperated guys got their way, and May 15th stuck!

Since then the only troubling comments I have read have come from interviews with the band. In an interview with the LA Times, Rivers talks about the effect of Pinkerton selling less than a fifth of the first album:

     "That was a devastating disappointment," says Cuomo, 30. " ‘Cause at the time I felt we had come up with something really new and fresh and exciting and important. It was very personal to me also.
     "And we put it out and everyone said they hated it, just across the board—our fans, all the critics. It was just the worst stab in the heart. And that was definitely one of the factors that led to me not being able to leave my room for a few years."

I didn’t hate it. My wife reminded me today that I didn’t love it at first, but I’m sure I respected it as growth. I can understand why he was upset, but I think the only people who really hated Pinkerton were the simpleminded dopes at MTV. But Rivers’ predictions about the new album surprised me:

     "I don’t expect it to succeed commercially, unlike everyone at the record company," he says. "They’re all gonna be incredibly disappointed in a few weeks.
     "The thing that I’m worried about, and this is a real concern, is that I also think our fans are gonna hate it."

Uh oh. Maybe he’s preparing everybody for the worst. Trying to downplay expectations. I can dig that. A little reverse telepsychokinesis (or something). But here’s what scared me:

     "There were songs on the [first] album that were pointing the way to a personal, confessional style, and that’s what I got really excited about as I went to do ‘Pinkerton.’ But now I’m just totally closed. I think they’re gonna miss the extreme emotionalism.
     "They’re gonna say, ‘He doesn’t sing with any feeling anymore, he’s not letting his feelings out.’ And the truth is, I miss that too. But all things considered, I think this is a stronger record. This record stands on its own without having to manipulate people’s emotions."

And it’s true the new album seems to completely lack the extreme emotionalism that I love about Pinkerton and parts of the first album. And it doesn’t have any weird sounds. Nothing that makes you stop what you were doing and say, "What the hell was that?" It’s a good record with some really nice songs on it. But I can already tell that it won’t make it in my CD player past the summer. There are no songs that I absolutely have to put on mix tapes for my friends, like "No One Else" or "Across the Sea" or even "The Good Life." I like the single, "Hash Pipe," but I don’t really care about it. 

We’ll see.  Maybe I’ll change my mind. Lester Bangs hated Exile on Main Street when it first came out. But I’m pretty sure that the new Weezer album is no Exile. I mean, it’s less than 29 minutes long, and come on, they didn’t even bother to give it a name. Has there ever been a band to release two separate self-titled albums?

But I’m still a fan. And I’m anxious to download the b-sides and outtakes and new live stuff. And even though I feel let down, I’m already excited about their next album.

     "I would like to say one thing, and that’s that I hope people stick with us. All these records are just phases I go through, and when you’re younger and kind of inexperienced, you go through more extreme phases, and ‘Pinkerton’ is maybe on the emotionally extreme side.
     "This record is on the anti-emotional extreme side. And I hope people stick with us, because in the future I’ll be going back and forth and probably finding some middle ground that makes us all happy."

Let’s hope this one sells millions of copies so they feel liberated enough to follow it up with a little bit of forward evolution. Is that lame of me to even think that way? Am I being suckered by a corporate marketing machine into consuming goods I don’t even enjoy? I honestly don’t know. After all, I’m just a fan.

3 thoughts on “Weezer vs. the Record Industry”

  1. Personally,I enjoy the extreme emotion of Pinkerton, but that could just be because I’m a younger fan. But I do understand the thing about growing up with the music, it is true.

  2. Just sayin’, but these bands/artists released more than one self-titled album: Weezer (duh), Peter Gabriel, Seal, and Cheap Trick. There very well may be more, but I’m not sure.

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