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Smile

Although The Green Album is almost universally considered Weezer’s strongest offering of the past decade — some fans even ascribe it the “classic” status usually reserved for the band’s first two albums — there remains a consensus that the record is a bit of a missed opportunity. In 2002, not even a year removed from the record’s release, Rivers Cuomo himself wrote an email to Weezer fan Ridd Sorenson with the following thought:

Do you think it’s possible that the songs on Green are actually really good and that we just choked in the studio? I mean, not just me, but all four of us in Weezer. I feel like if we had managed to attack the songs with more conviction, people wouldn’t have noticed the things like impersonal lyrics or repetitive song structures as much.

It’s a bit crass of Cuomo to have chalked the blame up to “all four of us in Weezer” since Green is the Weezer album over which he asserted the most dictatorial control, but his concerns here ring true: simply put, the pointedly undercooked and dashed-off vibe of the album compromises the immense potential of its material. “Hash Pipe,” “Island In The Sun,” “Photograph” and “Knock-Down Drag-Out” are about as fleshed-out as they need to be, but there’s a definite sense of the incomplete and undeveloped in the other six tracks on the record (and not in an artful, Kafkan sense). It’s no coincidence that most Weezer fans can agree that until the fourth or fifth attentive listen of the record, about half of the tunes are hard to distinguish from one another.

For my money, “Smile” is the song that most embodies this deepest flaw in the album’s design. It is perhaps the standout melody on an album full of truly great ones, wedded to a chord progression to match; the lyrics, although a little obtuse (more on that later), are befitting and quite gorgeous; and the double-Cuomo, stadium-reverbed harmonies provide an epic majesty to the song’s delivery. But the arrangement is characterized by the same overdriven guitars, buried bass presence and barely-interesting drumming as is the rest of the record — and the super-compressed production quality is just as flat and sterile. It’s a beautiful song, but it feels like it’s smothering itself in the trappings of Green, which would explain why it takes much longer to enter the listener’s consciousness as a highlight track before, say, “Island In The Sun” or “Photograph” — though I would argue that the potential wrapped inside of “Smile” is much greater than that of either of those songs.

To wit? Well, we have two examples. The first comes from this montage of footage from the recording of The Green Album:

The clip is an odd and entertaining one (it’s very endearing to see the band acting like a bunch of teenagers at the sunset of their twenties, as if getting the last of their adolescent giggles out), but fast forward to the 7:15 mark and you’ll be treated to a rather muffled take of Cuomo playing “Smile” by his lonesome on the piano (an instrument that makes not one appearance on Green). Because of the atmospherics of the room, it’s instrumental as far as we can hear for the most of its duration, but the true beauty of those chord changes comes to light when you shear away all the chugging guitars and vacuum-sealed compression. At around 7:44 you can hear Cuomo singing very beautifully, and as he shifts into the bridge I hear a resemblance to “Hey Jude” that would otherwise be completely undetectable in the song. It’s a very moving little clip, and one that makes me hope that a pared down recording of this song exists in some form or another — and that we might eventually get to hear it.

Another example is a cover by the Japanese band Sumrus, which can be found on the Across the Sea tribute album. If you can get by the absolutely awful accent of the lead singer (“Oben tha door and let stuff come down / Ober tha warl you’re spinnin’ lound ‘n louw…”) and appreciate the brilliance of the arrangement, the fact that Weezer practically murdered this song’s potential in the studio becomes difficult to deny. The ethereal quality and slow build of the first minute is breathtaking — from angelic clean arpeggios to overlaid acoustic harmonies, feedback squall and sinewy bass, the song evokes a perfect blend between Weezer and Jesus and the Mary Chain before the drums even enter. The lovely brief instrumental break, the orgasmic Pinkerton shredding of the guitar solo, and the quiet piano outro are all relatively obvious moves, but they’re fucking perfect for the song, and if Weezer had spent the couple extra days they would’ve needed to come up with arrangements like these for this and the other five blatantly undercooked songs on Green, we would have had an album truly worthy of “classic” status. A take on this version performed with the mastery of a clear-headed Weezer and the beauty (and, erm, enunciation) of a Cuomo lead vocal would be absolutely stunning.

The MP3 of “Smile” as covered by Sumrus, for a limited time only!

I’d be remiss in not mentioning a few of the other versions of this song floating around out there. First of all, there’s an “Early Green Album Leak” version of “Smile” that goes by its original title “Inside A Smile.” But the title isn’t the only thing that’s longer, as it reveals that the concise 2:39 of the officially released version was once 3:21 — though I think the band were wise to trim the recording down to its essentials. Also noteworthy is that the album version lyrics of “Standing there deep in front of you / Take a look inbetween my eyes” was formerly “Standing there in the ocean blue / Take a look deep within my eyes,” and I can’t quite decide which I prefer: I like the obtuse quality to “deep in front of you” (what’s “deep in front of you” mean, exactly?), but the dream-like associations of standing “in the ocean blue” — while a little cliched — are quite nice, and do fit that epic/majestic vibe of the recording I mentioned earlier. Perhaps it would’ve been nice to have both on the record, alternating between the two, but that’s a point almost too minor to fuss over.

The band also posted several live versions of this song on their official website during the Extended Hyper Midget Tour of 2002, including the one from their appearance on HBO’s Reverb program. The solo’s slightly improved, it’s nice to hear Brian Bell on the harmony instead of a second Cuomo, Pat Wilson’s drums are a little more alive and it’s cool to have more bass presence, even if it’s Scott Shriner playing the thing and not Mikey Welsh. There’s also a pretty funny 12/02/01 take that begins with Cuomo asking the crowd for requests, and replying to the unintelligible din of screams with a simple, “Cool. This is probably not what you want to hear” — very typical of his Maladroit asshole phase (as is the directionless solo). Lastly, I have a performance from what I believe is a 2005 tour, in which guitarist Bell inexplicably takes to lead vocals and the piano for a rather cheesy, wanking performance that is far from the beautiful sound of Cuomo rehearsing it on piano some four or five years prior.

Lastly, I can’t get out of this post without mentioning the popular fan theory that this song is at least partially about oral sex. Lines like “The way you wanna wrap me up / Inside a smile” and especially “Water me, girl, and let me ease the drought” (really, what other context would that second one make sense in?) lend the claim some legitimacy…Making such a pretty ballad into a hidden ode to fellatio might be unprecedented in the Weezer canon, but it’s not something I’d put past the mischievous Cuomo of the early aughts. (For a blunter insight into this theory, listen carefully to the line “Your fine face I can’t take” and think of what it might be commonly misheard as…)

43 Comments

  1. David wrote:

    Yeah, this song loses a fair bit by being on green. It sounds awful – the compression is just ridiculous. The instrumentals of the Japanese one are awesome, but yeah, the accent is awful.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Permalink
  2. s.o.s. wrote:

    One of my favorites off Green. I think you could add “O Girlfriend” to that list of fully fleshed-out songs on Green that don’t need much more. Smile’s melody is beautiful…it really suffers from the production and arrangement.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Permalink
  3. noobcakesmcgee wrote:

    Wow, the piano bit was really good. Smile consistently seems to disappoint whenever it pops up on Green, despite my enjoying of its disparate parts (i.e., lyrics, melody etc.). As a whole it’s just meh. Hope for an O&E release for this one.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Permalink
  4. Allpwrtoslaves wrote:

    a piano version like the one in the Hijinks video has been one of my most wanted Weezer things for a long ass time.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink
  5. clonus wrote:

    the melody is really what carries this song, so to have it so buried and compressed really kills it. oh, and I LOVE that “across the sea” tribute album-weird but fun.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink
  6. ThomYorke wrote:

    Like all of Green, the song’s melody is just bullet-proof. I’d agree that Smile’s melody is one of its finest to boot, and as usual, Weezer utilized the studio has a butcher knife rather than a scalpel when attempting to improve whatever demo they must have had.

    I had never heard that Japanese version…wow. That accent is hard to get by, but you’re right, the band does a pretty nice job.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 6:53 pm | Permalink
  7. s.o.s. wrote:

    I’d also like to comment on the piano clip — it just makes you realize how good the song is at its core

    Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Permalink
  8. arfentul wrote:

    Great post, soy. I never really saw smile in that light before, so thanks!

    Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 10:27 pm | Permalink
  9. Melack wrote:

    Even though I can see the missed potential in the song it doesn’t stop me from totally enjoying the song when it comes up on TGA.

    If I let the melody sway me and don’t think or analyse too much it really shines for me. A piano version would have been gorgeous.

    “Smile” is one of the reasons I love TGA so much. Missed opportunity or not.

    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 12:11 am | Permalink
  10. Joel wrote:

    Another voice of agreement here – “Smile” has a fantastic melody. Do we have any insight into how/why the “Green sound” came to be what it was, production-wise? There is just no room to let the songs breathe anywhere, with the possible exception of “Island in the Sun.”

    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 9:21 am | Permalink
  11. nate wrote:

    Not that anyone cares, I’ll take the time here to brag that I own the an actual copy of the Across The Sea tribute album.

    Also, apparently, the correct English spelling (according to the band) is “Thmules.”
    Because, according to their website, they took the “thm” from “rhythm” and “ules” from “blues, despite not them being in that genre… at all.

    Here’s their website if anyone cares:

    http://inumani.chu.jp/

    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 9:29 am | Permalink
  12. Ludicrosity wrote:

    That is, by far, the strangest cover I have ever heard. That accent makes it sound ridiculously absurd but I have to agree, the arrangement in that version is quite stellar. I think it’d need to be tweaked a bit to sound more like Weezer’s style but it’s a big improvement on what showed up on TGA.

    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink
  13. clore wrote:

    Great post! I had completely forgotten about that clip of Rivers playing this song on piano. This song is beautiful stripped down like that.

    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink
  14. Soyrev wrote:

    I agree with you Melack, Green is a great listen to my ears by this point (though I couldn’t care for most of it the first few times I heard it — granted I was much younger then). But yeah, as you’re not contesting, it could’ve been much much more with just a nominal amount of extra effort.

    Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 11:43 pm | Permalink
  15. clonus wrote:

    what’s weird is that it seems like Rivers put forth a lot of effort to get that specific Green “sound” and it doesn’t really suit the songs he was writing. Either really stripped down (like the piano clip) or really well arranged (like the cover) would have fit perfectly.
    oh, and the “not in an artful, Kafkan sense” line made me laugh.

    Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink
  16. Dennis Moore wrote:

    It would have been a gross oversight to not mention to BJ interpretation of the lyrics. While undeniably hilarious (and at least half-credible), I think I’ve been ruined on Smile because of it. I can’t take it seriously at all anymore. But that’s not a terrible loss, and I still giggle every time I hear it.

    Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Permalink
  17. Dennis Moore wrote:

    Also, somehow Jay Leno and Pat being in the same room was not the most surreal thing in that video.

    Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Permalink
  18. blueguy wrote:

    i remember seeing that piano clip when it was posted back in 99-00 (i can’t remember when they posted it) and it got me really excited….we had just come out of the SS2K and this hinted at some more depth lacking from those tunes. even the original title was intriguing (“inside a smile”).

    i can barely make it through this song now. it’s not that it’s horrible, it’s just “blah”.

    i’m still enjoying the blog and impressed by how far you’ve come. i would have abandoned something like this long ago. keep it up!!!

    Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 8:30 pm | Permalink
  19. noobcakesmcgee wrote:

    I remember a comment runnersdialzero made on the boards about Green’s sound. It was something akin to : Rivers spent all Green era learning from other artists and basically heavily borrowing their sounds to imitate their pop success. What resulted is oddly a very unique sound (regardless of how good it is).

    Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 9:48 pm | Permalink
  20. Soyrev wrote:

    Blueguy: Thanks. I’m surprised I’ve come so far, as well. Although sadly, I’m not even halfway there, and Weezer keeps putting stuff out…

    Noob: That’s true. It’s kind of unique in its aggressive blandness.

    Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 10:06 pm | Permalink
  21. nate wrote:

    The thing I like least about Green, is that terrible faux-accent Rivers puts on in most of the songs.

    I have no idea what the hell he’s trying to do by using it.

    Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 10:30 pm | Permalink
  22. Soyrev wrote:

    I would guess that’s just another symptom of the Billy Joe Armstrong influence (Rivers didn’t make it the Green album for nothing). So you’re hearing Rivers imitating Billy Joe imitating a British singing accent.

    That said, I’ve never really noticed it too much, let alone had it bother me.

    Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 11:22 pm | Permalink
  23. GuessWho wrote:

    Rivers himself actually figured the faux-accent was caused by listening to Oasis, according to the old asschun emails. That explanation makes more sense to me than Green Day.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  24. Wentlyman wrote:

    What a great post. Smile is a solid song with an amazing melody, as previously mentioned, but I think it’s the monotony of Green that bears down on it. While I am a huge fan of the Green-esque and pop music in general, I feel like the simplified arrangements and huge similarities between songs are the key elements that don’t allow Smile to shine. However, Green is still my Weezer of choice for party shuffles and such, as they all fit easily into the same vein and mood.

    Monday, February 15, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  25. HMC wrote:

    Ohhh OHHHHH
    ‘Your fine face suckin’ dick.’
    I get it now. Gee, that only took me two weeks. Now I will never listen to this song the same way again.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 9:35 pm | Permalink
  26. Soyrev wrote:

    GuessWho: That makes sense, too. The “Island In The Sun” demo definitely shows a Liam influence from an early point in time…

    Wentlyman: Yeah, Green makes a great driving mix, or a good thing to throw on in the gym. Good, static, reliable pop.

    HMC: Hahah, nice! It’s commendable that you figured it out without bothering to ask, even after all this time!

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 10:24 pm | Permalink
  27. Buz Smith wrote:

    I have always loved this song from the very first moment I heard it. The melody is without a doubt, beautiful. Could it have reached a higher level? Hell yeah. The same can be said for so many of the tracks from this or any other ppe track. I realize the weight for what I am about to say, but for what it is, I liken it to our generation’s “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Permalink
  28. Ludicrosity wrote:

    This is the point where I must admit that I couldn’t figure it out but felt too silly to ask… so thanks HMC! lol

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 10:29 am | Permalink
  29. HMC wrote:

    In the song ‘Dull Life’ by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs someone pointed out to me that when Karen O says ‘the beast’ it sounds like she’s saying ‘boobies’. SONG = RUINED (or possibly made better)

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  30. Soyrev wrote:

    Buz Smith, how in the hell do you relate this song to “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in any way? I mean, first of all, you can’t compare these two songs (“Smile” as “our generation’s” version of that song) simply for matter of popularity and cultural import…But musically, where do you see the connect? The BPMs are totally different. The lyrics, aside from both being about girls, are quite different in nature, as well…Care to elaborate?

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink
  31. Ludicrosity wrote:

    I am going to guess that, aside from the veiled BJ reference, he means it’s similar lyrically… thematically to be more accurate. Aside from that I am totally stumped as well.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Permalink
  32. Ludicrosity wrote:

    BTW, I am visually-impaired and have never seen Karen O but I’ll take your word for it that associating her with boobies = good thing HMC. 😛

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Permalink
  33. Soyrev wrote:

    Haha, I dunno Ludicrosity…Think of a taller, whiter Yoko Ono, a little more American Apparel-looking, and with a better voice.

    And HMC, please check your email!

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Permalink
  34. Ludicrosity wrote:

    That is slightly disturbing Soy, hearing her “Oh oh oh ohs” at the end of Zero has just gotten a little bit more unsettling.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink
  35. OOS wrote:

    YYY reminded me, is Revanent ever going back up Soy? Still waiting.

    Anyway, this is one of my Weezer favs. I would compare it to Dont Worry Baby; a really great, simply melody, not much else.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 10:28 pm | Permalink
  36. Soyrev wrote:

    Ahah! Revenant will certainly be back some day, in some form or another. Just probably not this year. 😛

    Thanks for showing some love, though! That was definitely a fun, cool little website.

    Friday, February 19, 2010 at 12:29 am | Permalink
  37. ben wrote:

    the live show you reference was actually a year earlier, 12/2/01.

    Monday, February 22, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
  38. Soyrev wrote:

    Ah, thanks Ben! The post has been amended.

    Monday, February 22, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Permalink
  39. Michelle wrote:

    Buz Smith, how in the hell do you relate this song to “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in any way? I mean, first of all, you can’t compare these two songs (“Smile” as “our generation’s” version of that song) simply for matter of popularity and cultural import…But musically, where do you see the connect? The BPMs are totally different. The lyrics, aside from both being about girls, are quite different in nature, as well…Care to elaborate?

    Monday, April 19, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Permalink
  40. Soyrev wrote:

    Shit. It looks like somebody sunk the Green recording session montage from Youtube. Does anyone have a link to a fresher upload?

    Friday, May 14, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Permalink
  41. Madcap wrote:

    is that on VCD? Haven’t watched it in years but I can rip and upload if it is..

    Friday, May 14, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Permalink
  42. OOS wrote:

    After listening to this again, I think that this has one of the worst guitar tones on the album. Its upsetting, really. You can hear how great that layered, fuzzy aesthetic could’ve been had the whole thing not been compressed into a jumble of noise.

    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 9:13 am | Permalink
  43. Casey wrote:

    I think he’s actually singing “Standing there TEETH in front of you,” not “deep.” “Teeth” makes a lot more sense in a song called “Smile.”

    Overall, I think the lyrics are not as “obtuse” as people tend to make them out to be. The song seems to be pretty clearly about giving in romantically or sexually to someone against his instincts in order not to make the other person feel bad (“your fine face I can’t break”). It’s sort of classically Weezer-ish in that way.

    Friday, June 14, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

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