Old School Reviews: Weezer – The Blue Album

8 08 2007

by mr. travis

As a lead in to the upcoming August 14th street release of the new Rentals E.P., The Last Little Life, Cacophony looks back at some of the major works featuring Rentals frontman Matt Sharp. Part I takes us back to 1994 with the debut album by the influential alternative rock band (and some say emo originator) Weezer.

weezer-blue album

If Nirvana’s Nevermind was the album that broke alternative rock into the mainstream, then Weezer’s self-titled debut (affectionately dubbed The Blue Album by its fans) was the one that took alt-rock, mixed it with a bit of Kiss and added a dash of Beach Boys harmonies to create a sort of infectious hybrid that would prove to be far more influential than Nevermind could hope. For better or worse, Weezer’s debut paved the way for the next fifteen years of rock music, influencing a myriad of artists both musically and in a business sense by returning to the game five years after their break up solely for the opportunity to make more money.

It’s hard not to be cynical about Weezer, given their career trajectory after their five year hiatus, but there is no doubting the greatness of the Blue Album, arguably one of the best debuts of all time (and the first part of their equally great one-two punch of this record and its even better followup, Pinkerton). The band sounds confident of their abilities, melding their pop sensibilities with a sort of Pixies-esque alternative sound that sounded both current, yet ultimately timeless. While this was obviously frontman River Cuomo’s band from the start (he has sole ownership of songwriting credits for seven of the ten songs), there is a loose, off the cuff feel to many of the songs, as well as to the videos which are far more fun and off the wall than the current stale videos the band produces.

Much of this loosness can be attributed to bassist Matt Sharp who seems to be battling Cuomo for time in the spotlight. Whether it be the backing vocals on the different album tracks (which are turned up far more than they would be on subsequent albums), or the constant mugging for the camera, Sharp seems to be challenging Cuomo, both as the leader of the band and as the focus of attention by the viewer. Perhaps it is this tension that challenged Cuomo enough to write songs that told a story, to create music that is timeless instead of the radio friendly pap he would churn out in the 21st century. Weezer at this point may have been a dictatorship, but there was obviously some anarchy within the ranks giving the group an edge they would eventually lose.

If Weezer only released an album with their three singles (“Undone: The Sweater Song”, “Buddy Holly”, and “Say it Ain’t So”), the album already would’ve been a hit But, there is no filler here, just song after song of some of the best music from the nineties. Opening with the acoustic finger picking of “My Name is Jonas” the album bursts into a wall of sound, mixing the sludge of mid-90’s guitar heroics with a tale of a letter from Cuomo’s younger brother. The followup “No One Else” comes across as a bit new wave, the obvious handiwork of producer Ric Ocasek, the ex-lead singer of the Cars.

Throughout Weezer’s career they would eventually become associated with the burdgeoning emo scene, something of which the band has tried to no avail to seperate from. Some of these ties comes from the more confessional lyricism within the Blue Album (though, Pinkerton would give much of the justification for the emo label). “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here”, “Say It Ain’t So,” and “In the Garage” all deal with themes of heartbreak, self doubt, and regret, the hallmarks of the emo genre. But, these numbers never become pandering or whiny as most of Weezer’s followers tend to do. Instead, they are as strong as the songs before them, detailing whatever personal ailments suffered by Cuomo with respect and maturity, the signs of a songwriter that is at an understanding with his craft.

The album closes with the seven minute opus “Only in Dreams,” a beautiful number about dancing with the one unattainable girl at the ball, which soon deevolves into instrumental chaos powered by the drumming skills of Patrick Wilson. In a lot of ways, the deevolution into a jam session is representive of the chaos within the band. Sharp and Wilson were obviously uncomfortable with the attention given to Cuomo, as they both would start their own band The Rentals which would become a hit and equally influential in their own right. Cuomo would go through a painful leg surgery before leaving for Harvard to finish his degree, in the process writing what would eventually be his masterpiece, Pinkerton, an album so frought with tension that it would tear the band apart. But, tension is what creates greatness: when the tension leaves, there is no reason to fight, thus apathy sets in. Such apathy would set in for Weezer, after Sharp left there was no one left challenge Cuomo and his decisions, leaving the band stale (though they would sell quite a few records). With these two releases, you see a band at the height of their prowess, ready to fall over the edge of the cliff into mediocrity. Luckily, they managed to release two great albums before taking the plunge.

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