In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, in honor of Independence Day in the United States, our favorite songs with the word “America” in their titles or lyrics.
Here’s my pet theory about Weezer fandom: No matter what Weezer fans think of the band’s roller-coaster discography, fans will vehemently defend the Weezer album that came out during their junior year of high school. Like most rock-critic theories, this is complete and utter bullshit based on personal experience. Unlike most rock-crit theories, however, its claims are borne out by people who aren’t me, as evidenced by this informal Twitter poll. (Further flying in the face of convention and logic, the theory asserts the existence of people who enjoy 2005’s Make Believe.) Seemingly discrediting the theory is the fact that three classes of American high-school juniors went without a new Weezer record between the 1997-98 and 1999-2000 school years, meaning that the band has no fans born in 1983. Counterpoint: I’ve never met a Weezer fan born in 1983. If I meet a 31-year-old wearing an “If it’s too loud, turn it down” T-shirt in the next few months, I’ll be sure to alert the world’s major anthropological journals.
My junior-year Weezer record is Maladroit, which is a particular burden to bear because on the month of the record’s release, Rivers Cuomo showed up on the cover of Guitar World looking like this. The dude who once sang about looking just like Buddy Holly appeared to all the world like he now spent his spare time practicing finger taps in the Guitar Center showroom, and the opening track of Maladroit reinforces that image. “American Gigolo” was the heaviest Weezer ever sounded, to the point that I wondered if there was some sort of packaging mistake the first time I popped the CD into my car stereo. The overdriven crunch of the band’s first two full-lengths had clenched into a metallic snarl; Patrick Wilson’s drums sound like he accidentally wandered into a recording session with Mutt Lange. Weezer had made a stadium-rock record that didn’t feel the need to apologize for its stadium-rock ambitions, and “American Gigolo” was confirmation that lead single “Dope Nose” was no jokey fluke. The light-up version of the band’s logo, a longtime live staple, was no longer a winking nod toward Kiss; by the time Weezer hit the road with Dashboard Confessional and Sparta (oh, 2002!) that summer, the logo even spat flames.
“American Gigolo” is flame-spitting music. The Pixies- and Nirvana-indebted chug of the self-titled “blue album” and Pinkerton has rushed to the front of the mix, and convinced Cuomo that he’s a guitar god worthy of posing with Eddie Van Halen’s 5150. The song is a loud, snide rocker, at which smarty-pants Weezer fans (like myself) typically turned their noses up. But it feels less so with repeated plays, especially when those repeated plays rattle the windows of the used car that became the listener’s responsibility one year before Maladroit’s release.
Because here’s the other thing about having a junior-year Weezer record: It’s a lesson in keeping your expectations in check. Pinkerton’s intense over-sharing was startling to the 17-year-olds of 1996; the suddenly slick sincerity of the band’s second self-titled record came as a shock to the junior class of 2001. But over-sharing and sincerity are signatures of our nation’s high schoolers, much like the mood swings on display in “American Gigolo.” Anyone who calls the track uncharacteristic tuned out before the middle eight, which is pure, hook-laden Weezer. (“American Gigolo” possesses one final teenage characteristic: It’s unpredictable.) Perhaps that’s why Weezer fans’ impressions of the band are suspended in amber: Eventually, most people grow out of these tendencies and have trouble relating to art that expresses them. Which is why Weezer will always have a self-replenishing fan base—so long as there are high-school juniors who feel like Rivers just, you know, gets them.
Yeah, I know. I know better than you can even conceive, kid.