Out & About

Wanna start a fight? Walk into any alt-minded, college-radio-friendly, independent record store in America during its peak after-school hours and proudly proclaim, "Rivers Cuomo sucks," and see what happens. You may not incite the throwing of punches or even the pulling of hair, but you'll definitely be the recipient of a number of steely-eyed leers behind thrift-store glasses, barely audible scoffs and mouth-open gapes of disbelief. You may even be called something as sassy as a cretin. You see, for a certain segment of today's brave, new emo world, one band stands heads, shoulders and cardigans above the rest. Sorry Rites of Spring. Better luck next time, Lungfish. Maybe in the next world, maybe in the next world, maybe in the next world, Jawbreaker. All of you have to take a backseat to the boys who started out in 1992 Los Angeles wanting to hair-metal head-bang before morphing into the more affable and affecting pop of guitar-crunch angst known as Weezer.

But more befuddling than the Weezer-fan army is its staying power. The appeal of one-hit wonders is easy to rationalize. The real riddle lies in those acts that aren't simply filed away in the memory vaults of K-Tel record trivia or ESPN jock-rock compilations, those two-hit terrors that can never predict how their next album is going to do. Just ask No Doubt. Gwen Stefani, her navel and band mates rode "Just a Girl" and "Don't Speak" into stardom's tragic kingdom to the tune of 15 million albums sold back in 1992, but when the new album came out last year, neither fans nor radio bothered with it. And if there's still any skepticism that bands with two hits can't rekindle their fans' fire, simply recall one word that really should be two: Silverchair.

Weezer, however, is an entirely different brainteaser. Songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Cuomo and his crew's--and this Harvard boy really seems to be running the show these days--sensitive-pop-meets-power-chord-propulsion on Weezer's self-titled 1994 debut scored two certifiable alt-rock hits in "Buddy Holly" and "Undone (The Sweater Song)." But you had to be a patient sleuth to uncover the purloined thrills hidden in the concept-oriented, more opaque Pinkerton, and this reported difficulty, though modestly better reviewed, caused the album to suffer commercially.

And that may be the key to Weezer's winning ways. By moving from MTV darlings to misunderstood quasi-art-rock misfits, Weezer endeared itself to a youthful generation stuck in its awkward early-20s and late-teens by shucking the gravy train in favor of obscurity. It's a path that's the exact opposite of R.E.M., the quintessential esoteric college rockers who took their own personal universe of mumbling, sideways meanings and their devoted legions into the mainstream. Weezer grabbed the world by the tail from the get-go and then loosened its grip, daring the rebel boys and girls who really wanted to know what's so funny about peace, love and understanding to figure Pinkerton out for themselves and stay with the band. It was a matter of pride. You had to earn it.

That devotion sells out concerts on Weezer's 2001 spring tour six years after its last release. And the band's imminent new album--the Ric Ocasek-produced The Green Album--is cloaked in so much mystery and expectation that advance copies are still not available even though it's due out May 15. The band teased concert-goers last year by tossing in some new material into its play lists, but those songs that are listed on fan-fueled Web sites--and the few tracks that appeared on Napster recently--have gone through many title changes, keeping fans on their toes and the new songs cagey. How The Green Album is received may foretell what Weezer becomes in the future--simply a longtime fave among die-hard emo veterans or the second coming of a certifiable pop powerhouse. At the moment, it's too close to call.

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Bret Mccabe