The world has turned and left me here," sang Rivers Cuomo on Weezer's self-titled debut album. In the years since that double-platinum 1994 CD, that's exactly what happened, not only to Weezer but to an entire generation of rock bands that emerged in the early to mid-'90s. In that era, grunge, punk and "alternative" bands--Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots--ruled the hearts and wallets of young listeners. Then, almost without exception, they dropped from the top of the charts, replaced by rap acts and, later, boy bands and girl divas. Some lingered but grew less relevant (Nine Inch Nails' 1999 The Fragile was a critical smash but a sales disappointment) or less edgy (a Foo Fighters song became the theme music for the NBC romantic comedy-drama Ed, for cripes' sake).
Weezer released the ruinously unpopular Pinkerton in 1996, then vanished long enough for lead singer Cuomo to enroll at Harvard and nearly complete a bachelor's degree. So before the release of the band's new (and also self-titled) record, Cuomo flatly predicted, "I think it's going to fail in every sense of the word."
If rock is good at one thing, it's dying, as it did, cyclically, with the rise of disco and new wave. But if rock is good at two things, it's dying and coming back to life. And so last month Weezer found itself making its debut at No. 4 on the Billboard charts, its video for Hash Pipe--an eccentric, grinding single about a transvestite hooker--breaking onto MTV's Total Request Live. Last week Break the Cycle (Flip Records/Elektra), an angsty slab of dysfunction-metal from Staind, entered the charts at No. 1, selling a surprising 716,000 copies in one week. Right behind it was Lateralus (Tool Dissectional/Volcano), from arty gloom rockers Tool, which came out at No. 1 a week before, displacing red-hot girl group Destiny's Child. (Weezer hangs in at No. 9.) Overnight--Hello, Cleveland!--kids were ready to rock again.
Well, not overnight. Rock never really died--after the alternative-rock craze bottomed out in the late '90s, rap-rock hybrids like Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock as well as more straightforward rock bands like Creed have clicked with audiences and gone multiplatinum. And record-company executives, like anxious analysts anticipating a tech bubble burst, have been anticipating a correction in teeny-pop's long boom. They have devoted more resources in the past year to signing and developing rock acts, believing the tweens who flocked to pop would soon be ready for a different sound. "They want [their music] to evolve into something else as they grow older and mature," says John Davis, vice president of Loud Records, a division of Columbia.