Well, it wasn't all he had to draw upon: the tepid reception he received for his prog-metaling sent Cuomo to the songwriting shed, and he emerged a few years later with a project that took his unusually wounded and forceful vocal style and powerful metal guitar chops and channeled them through tightly wound, sunny new-wave tunes that were winkingly self-depreciating yet still emotive and direct. He named the project Weezer (after a childhood nickname his father had given him), wore horn-rim glasses, sang about playing D&D, made pop-culture-referencing videos, and rocked out in front of a gigantic light-up "W" that was itself a take-off on the Van Halen logo.
With its unholy marriage of underdog humility and big, stadium-filling kicks, "The Blue Album" went triple platinum. But when fans guffawed at the lyrical references to Kiss and the unison guitar arpeggios, perhaps they missed the seriousness behind Cuomo's sleight of hand. "We found that there were things — gestures and whatnot — that the audience interpreted as 'ironic.' Like, you know, 'You can't possibly be 100 percent sincere about that lighted flying 'W' behind you!' But that kind of thing, those kinds of gestures, that's what we all grew up with. And we meant those things sincerely. But I guess people thought it was cool and funny because they thought we were being ironic."
In the early '90s, irony went part and parcel with a rock culture that was obsessed with the idea of not trying hard. The ubiquity of the terms "slacker" and "loser" in songs and movies let the world know that alt-culture not only didn't need to try hard, it didn't need to impress anyone with appearing to work hard, either. Cuomo, by contrast, was (and remains) a fastidious musical craftsman. "There was an incredible amount of thought put into the details of our style on our first album. In a way, the record sounds somewhat simplistic and innocent, but that's all very calculated. You only need to go back a year or two before that record to hear the kind of music I was making to see what an act of restraint that first album was."
The restraint he speaks of is found more in the process than in the emotion conveyed by the songs themselves: much of "The Blue Album" speaks of torment, whether it's the paranoid jealousy of "No One Else" or the apocalyptic heartbreak of "Say It Ain't So." If the slickness and pop sheen of Ric Ocasek's production made "The Blue Album" an irony magnet for a music-listening public increasingly unsure of what was sincere and what was meant to be ironic, Cuomo set out on the band's next record to ensure that, this time, everyone would know he wasn't kidding around.
Weezer's current tour is titled "Memories," ostensibly after the lead single off 2010's Hurley (Epitaph). The title is also a nod to the tour's conceit, a spate of two-night stands where the band bang through their debut the first night and their sophomore outing, 1996's Pinkerton, the second. This is an oddly nostalgic move for Weezer, given their extreme recent prolixity. This fall alone has seen the release of two albums of new material (Hurley and last month's odds-and-sods Death to False Metal), as well as a deluxe Pinkerton reissue — and there's a new platter on the launching pad for 2011. But it makes sense when you consider the unusual place Pinkerton has in the band's career and in the story of '90s rock in general.