by: Michael Shields
Twenty years after its release Weezer’s self-titled debut still persists as the crowning achievement in geek-rock…..
Roughly one score ago this day (c’mon – how often do you get to appropriately use the word score!), an album was released that instantaneously changed the face of indie rock1. An album whose identifiable and honest anthems, paired with the eccentric nature of the artists behind them, convinced an entire generation of rock fans that they too had hope. An album, christened by the band’s fans as simply ‘The Blue Album’, served as an introductory course for many into the genres of indie and emo rock. That album, Weezer’s self-titled debut, remains one of the most influential and important albums of the past two decades.
Sure, Weezer wasn’t the first indie or emo band. They weren’t even on an indie label2. But what they did was soften the genres edges, and make this brand of music accessible to the masses. And it was this accessibility that made Weezer so special, and so transcendent. A band with a front man in Rivers Cuomo who in an odd way mirrored ourselves. A scrawny kid in thick glasses who emanated geekiness, yet was bonafide as a rock star. Weezer’s bizarre brand of quirky rock felt authentic. It was non-threatening, unusual and fun. And as idiosyncratic as the band appeared to be, they were also cool. A detached sort of alternative chic, that made us feel like we were part of a club; a gang of underdogs who could shred and conceive music with the most loutish of rockers.
Dropped in May 1994, The Blue Album consisted of ten tracks, highlighted by a bevy of hits including, “Buddy Holly,” “Undone – The Sweater Song,” and “Say it Ain’t So.” But while flush with unforgettable showpieces, this album is one best discussed and digested in en masse. A piece of art so balanced and complex, and so consummately outstanding that it is incongruous that those of us who admire it the most refer to it by simply invoking the album’s predominant color, blue.
There are few introductory notes as welcoming as the bubbly commencement of “My Name is Jonas,”3 a hospitable entrance vivaciously interrupted by a series of blunt riffs signifying not only the arrival of one of the most influential bands of the 90’s, but of a movement. A variety of alternative pop that while lighthearted, rocks the fuck out. The fuzzed-out power chords present in “My Name is Jonas” sounded familiar enough to blend in with the radio rock of the day, but there was something different there. Something off-beat that spoke to an era of MTV junkies and wannabe rock stars.
“Jonas” was followed up by two songs, “No One Else” and “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here”, both tracks acquainting us with a more introspective and anguished Cuomo. With these songs he became an artist, painting for us a journey of lyrical emotion against a backdrop of spirited pop backgrounds that somehow made you feel good despite lamenting about your most recent of break-ups. No paltry feat when it comes to the emotions of the heart.
“What’s with these homies dissin my girl / why do they got to front,” begins the crunch pop classic, “Buddy Holly.” A song that has lingered in our collective consciousness for decades now. Cuomo wondered if perhaps “Buddy Holly” was too cheesy for the album, and that the song didn’t properly reflect Weezer’s sound. But at the undeterred insistence of the album’s producer, The Cars’s Ric Ocasek4, it made the album, and created a splash within the psyche of a nation. As did the song that followed it, “Undone – The Sweater Song.”
“Undone” was originally intended as another example of the melancholy residing deep within the heart of Rivers Cuomo, but it certainly wasn’t received that way. As Rivers explained, “Undone is the feeling you get when the train stops and the little guy comes knockin’ on your door. It was supposed to be a sad song, but everyone thinks it’s hilarious.” More than hilarious, “Undone” became an anthem of the underdog, an unexpectedly empowering hymn that, twenty years later, still invokes overjoyed sing-a-longs.
“Surf Wax America,” an ode to straight-up surf punk, had a bluesy driving power to it with a stick-it-to-the man type message that segued perfectly into the tender and robust anthem of teen angst that was “Say it Ain’t So.” A song inspired by alcohol-fueled family turmoil, “Say it Ain’t So” is to this day one of Weezer’s most revered songs, and with good reason – it feels as fresh as it did in 1994, and its message resonates just as steady.
The self-deprecating “In the Garage” plays as a confessional, and is the closest thing to conventional 90’s rock on the album. Lore recounts that along with “Holiday,” “In the Garage” was written out of an abrupt burst of emotion and creativity following Weezer’s signing to Geffen Record. Both tracks, in their own way, delve into the emotional toll of one’s dreams finally coming true.
And finally, one of the most impressive debuts in musical history winds down with the crescendoing guitar riffs of the eight minute emotive, “Only in Dreams.” A capable end, to an impressive beginning, for a band with a bright future ahead of it.
It is impossible, when discussing The Blue Album, not to talk about the videos that accompanied the hits. These pieces of visual art were directed by a then unknown skate punk photographer named Spike Jonze – and were the keyhole through which we viewed the eccentric cast of characters of Weezer. Whether performing in The Garage5, in front of a blue backdrop, or in Al’s Restaurant from the TV show Happy Days, Spike Jonze presented a group of rockers in a light we had yet to see, and these whimsical montages sublimely enhanced the magical allure of the band.
It wouldn’t have been unimaginable for a band that referenced dungeon master’s guides and Nightcrawler – and whose initial hits had the sort of catchy hook that, over time, could grind at a person’s mental stability – that they would potentially relish in their fifteen minutes of fame and then vanish from the face of the earth. But Weezer is a band far greater than the sum of its parts. There has always been a certain je ne sais quoi that embodied Weezer, that perpetuated them as that oddity that remains fascinating, with their talents propelling them beyond becoming a mere novelty act. Weezer would later go on to release eight more albums after The Blue Album6, but it is The Blue Album that persists as a timeless achievement in terms of album debuts that continues, to this day, to ignite the fires of youth upon each and every listen.
It is remarkable to think of all the bands that Weezer has influenced, ranging from the superb (Real Estate, Cymbals Eat Guitars, etc.) to the flat out god-awful (too many to list, and if you can’t say anything nice….). Cuomo’s songs, while quirky, were often heartfelt and relatable. And Matt Sharp’s7 falsetto, campy background vocals rounded out a radio-friendly pop sound that just couldn’t be ignored. Weezer were proud geeks, shameless jesters, and purveyors of a big, vibrant pop sound that took hold of a generation. And it all began way back in 1994, when four dorky kids in thick specs, draped in thrift store garb, were climbing the Billboard Charts, selling 50,000 albums weekly, and enthralling its legions of fans with mammoth choruses and enduring harmonies.
- The Blue Album was released May 10, 1994. We decided to get a jump on this discussion! [↩]
- Weezer signed with Geffen Records in June, 1993 and recorded The Blue Album at Electric Lady Studios in New York City. [↩]
- “My Name Is Jonas” was inspired by Rivers’s brother who was involved in a car accident at Oberlin College and was having a problem with his insurance. [↩]
- Weezer are currently working on an album with Ric, who also produced The Green Album. [↩]
- The Garage is the location in the Amherst House where Weezer wrote, rehearsed, and recorded their early songs. [↩]
- Pinkerton inarguably their greatest achievement alongside The Blue Album. [↩]
- Matt is no longer with the band. He is also a founding member of The Rentals. [↩]