When Rivers Cuomo, Weezer wunderkind and Harvard-educated overachiever, sets his mind to something, he is nothing if not meticulous. Which means that Weezer's official output — eight albums in 18 years — belies the thousands of songs Cuomo has penned, only to deem them not worthy of official release. Also, when he speaks, it's with the cadence of one who's attempting to tighten the spigot on a torrent of internal thoughts. And when he's asked to discuss a subject as touchy as, say, the purported irony that attaches itself to all things Weezer, matters turn deadly serious. "Look, I want to say this very clearly, because this is important." Pregnant pause. A few seconds later, with renewed purpose: "I never intended anything we did to be ironic, or be appreciated ironically, in any way. And I never intended to make fun of anybody. Everything I do, or that we do as a band, we mean sincerely."
What does it mean to "be appreciated ironically"? If that idea is confusing to you, or propounds a thought you've never pondered, then perhaps you were too old, too young, or too busy to have been wrapped up in the rich meta-culture of the 1990s from which Weezer sprang with the out-of-left-field success of their 1994 debut, Weezer. (It's colloquially known as "The Blue Album," from its color, to distinguish it from two subsequent homonymous long-players, 2001's "The Green Album" and 2008's "The Red Album.")
For the rest of us, however, the Three I's (irony, intention, and integrity) and how they pertained to pop culture, and in particular music culture, were the focus of countless late-night bullshitting sessions and chatroom flame wars throughout those heady pre-web, pre–Monicagate Clinton days. It came down to this: in the hangover period after the excesses of synth-wave hair-metal Day-Glo '80s MTV culture, a self-imposed quasi-Marxism swept over the land (and the Billboard charts), bolstered by the earnestness of R.E.M., Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and a host of artists aiming to deflate the preening rock-star myths of prior generations. Popular musicians of the '90s and beyond, it seemed, would be plain old regular people like you and me, dressed down and expressing their feelings without the overblown theatrics of yesteryear.
This reformation was ill timed for Cuomo, who in 1990 had left his family's Connecticut suburb to make it in LA with his prog-metal band, Avant Garde. After teasing his hair high and clocking countless hours on his best guitar-hero moves in the mirror, he discovered that he was hopelessly out of touch with what people wanted from a '90s rock star. "Throughout my formative years as a musician," he explains, "I drilled those postures and licks and body language into my system. And after years watching our elders in the spotlight, just as we were on the cusp of being of the age to enter that spotlight ourselves, we discovered that everything that we had learned, everything we had worked on, was suddenly the least cool thing possible. And so here I was, out here in LA with this enormous arsenal of moves and creative style, and that's all that I had to draw upon."