THIS IS PART OF AN ONGOING SERIES CALLED RETHINK THURSDAY, IN WHICH I REVISIT ALBUMS THAT I REMEMBER EITHER LOVING OR HATING, TO SEE IF TIME AND EXPERIENCE HAVE CHANGED MY OPINION. OR HECK, MAYBE THE DIFFERENCE IS JUST THE DAY THAT I’M LISTENING. AS I LISTEN I REVIEW THE ALBUM, TRACK BY TRACK PLUS OVERALL COMMENTARY, AND YOU GET TO THINK IT’S SO AWESOME THAT YOU GIFT ME ALL YOUR SHARES IN APPLE.
Today I’m listening to Weezer‘s 1994 self-titled album, which is called Weezer because it’s self-titled, but which everyone calls The Blue Album. I’m going to say some things that Weezer fans will think are mean. Know that I’m being extra caustic for effect, but that the core of what I’m about to say is still true.
I don’t get my friends’ obsession with Weezer. Every time the band puts out a new album, aren’t you kind of surprised? Like not surprised by the release, surprised by their existence. Doesn’t it always feel like a reunion album?
That’s how I feel about them. And The Shins.
That’s the truth about me.
Here’s an extra dose of truth: in my mind, Weezer is the second-most overappreciated band out there. (I still see you, Chicago.) A handful of memorable tunes from The Blue Album and what else? I can’t think of anything they’ve done that’s resonated with me.
(Except those cruises for Weezer fans to hang out with the band. Great move. Which has nothing to do with the music.)
What’s more, I’m not even convinced that the band itself has much to do with its breakout success. I have a friend, who is relatively prominent and who will remain unnamed lest I risk his reputation, who thinks that not a single one of this album’s megasweet guitar solos was actually played by any member of the band. Then who played them, you may ask? None other than producer Ric Ocasek himself, who was also frontman for The Cars.
Once my buddy told me his theory, all I could think was how perfectly power pop-y every solo was on all the singles released from The Blue Album. And all I could hear was The Cars. And my opinion of Weezer went downhill with every radio play. This is the part where we have Weezer tied up with rope and someone pulls off Rivers Cuomo‘s mask and there’s — GASP! — Old Man Ocasek screaming “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for you kids and your lousy dog!”
Which is not to say these are dumb guys. Rivers Cuomo is pretty famously smart. He went to Harvard, kids. And he seems forward thinking and super creative in all kinds of free ways that I genuinely envy.
But The Blue Album. It’s always left me with a bitter taste in my mouth that wouldn’t let me take it seriously, since it was first released. Everything about it was trying too hard — its cover strikes me as a little too minimalist, too honest; the misspelled name was a little too clever; and that darn contrived Happy Days video for Buddy Holly. It was like some Wizard of Oz (Weezard of Oz?) (I’m sorry.) was hiding behind a marketing curtain, pulling levers and collecting money hand and fist. If this band was actually talented and not a flash in the pan, I wasn’t able to get past the smoke and mirrors enough to actually see that.
Anyway, look, you get the point. And you know the deal by now. I think I hate it, I think I’m gonna listen and keep hating it except for the singles that everyone loves because they’re part of our collective consciousness. Or maybe I’ll hate it all. Or maybe — just maybe — it’ll make me love Weezer.
What I think I’ll say when it’s over:
Yup. The Cars. Move along folks, nothing to see here.
Track 1 – “My Name Is Jonas”: I want to play Guitar Hero. Right. Now. Actually that acoustic line at the beginning is really nice, and the fuzz and the feedback and the lead vocals work out great. The quiet-to-loud juxtaposition is to be expected on a 90s album. Great tension on the “workers are going home” buildup going into the section where the snare and high hat hit every beat, which feels super apropos for the period when 90s punk was beginning to strike hard. The guitar solo at the end sounds like a harmonica. Cool.
2 – “No One Else”: This is just enough punk to work. And (you might think I’m crazy, but) it’s also just enough Cars to be The Cars. So many knee slappers in today’s post. You’re welcome.
3 – “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here”: I like that these guys used acoustic guitars without sounding like Hootie & the Blowfish. Also, I like Hootie & the Blowfish. Actually I haven’t listened to Hootie since the 90s. Future #RethinkThursday? Watch out. Back to the music. Great-sounding generic southern-California punk-inspired drones. It’s all right. The minor B section is a nice breath of fresh air. So far this is still sounding like the very nondescript band I’ve always believed they were. Or maybe they were descript(?) until everybody else crowded the space they carved out in pop music. I would have liked to listen to it at the 2nd Woodstock in a shirt that said Dookie.
4 – “Buddy Holly”: This is a perfect track. This is 90s Beatles. (Plus Cars synths. Sorry, it’s true.) Also I’ve always loved the feedback that peppers the bridge. I can’t listen to the song without seeing poodle skirts.
5 – “Undone – The Sweater Song”: Is this really great tongue-in-cheek social commentary, or just drivel? By the way there’s no way to resist yelling “AS I WALK AWAY” and “LYING ON THE FLOOR” when this is playing. Which is admirable, and I hope to record a song with that kind of mind-controlling power. The dissonance on the last “come undone” makes you think these guys were genuinely having fun, and maybe actually embodying a punk ethos behind all the pop perfection. Jeez this is a loud album. My ears are starting to hurt.
6 – “Surf Wax America”: So we’ve gone from 90s Beatles to 90s Beach Boys. Except I like this more than the Beach Boys. Sigh. Fine, Weezer. Show that you have a real sense of musical history. And write a fantastic pop-punk chorus that’s a romping call to join the movement. Fine. Just do it all perfectly. I bet The Aquabats started out covering this song.
7 – “Say It Ain’t So”: Whose piece of genius was it to take the laid-back weekend of these verses and twist it into an outlandish faux-hair-band chorus? I’m starting to get jealous. I want to see this live so I can shout the chorus with a really big crowd. And then the bridge hits and you realize this whole thing packs a mess of gravitas and I actually need to go back and listen to the track again and again.
8 – “In the Garage”: Dungeon Master’s guide and a 12-sided die, huh? Wonder why teenagers who felt out of place loved this album. I swear Ric Ocasek could’ve written this chorus: that first change is brilliant. And I’m starting to decide that if I’m going to write any successful pop progressions I’m going to have to listen to a lot more Cars and Weezer, and I feel sad. But I feel hopeful. It’s ok man. No, I’ll be all right.
9 – “Holiday”: I’m learning that power pop requires loud, reckless, abandon. Like it needs to not care about anything or anyone, it just needs to take over your ears. The louder the guitars the better. For being one of the weakest tracks on the album, this one’s pretty strong. The changes are totally outside of my writing repertoire. Listening to this album is making me a better listener, which is something I wasn’t expecting.
10 – “Only in Dreams”: I like how the melody and the guitar go from unison rhythm to call-and-response in the verses. That modulation halfway through the chorus is great. At first I thought this track, the album closer, was going to be a sleeping pill. But in true 90s fashion, subdued gave way to garish, and I’m kind of liking it. Not one but three layers of feedback before the last chorus, in case you were wondering if it’s Weezer. Like three Jedi brothers unleashing their light sabers in turn. Because Weezer is kind of nerdy. Ok now the bass forever. Fade out? FADE OUT? … No. This song isn’t going to end, is it? I’ve been sucked into some weird Weezer universe where all I hear is this bassline while guitar lines and feedback swirl around me. Then it explodes into one last solo jam… and the bassline… and this isn’t fun anymore… ok land on DO. Thank you.
What I’m saying now that it’s done:
New found respect. I’m going to have to learn these songs. It’ll make me a better pop writer. This album takes the best from a lot of great bands and makes it Weezer’s own, which I respect — and sometimes like. Some of the tracks are still snoozefests, and I still think these guys are stuck on being whatever it is they are. Too good for the glamour, to real for the scene maybe. Which is fine, and sometimes it sounds like they’re genuinely just having fun making music. But after this listening I still feel like they wear their idea of themselves on their sleeve just enough to make their music often feel stiff and stodgy. I’m not a fan. I don’t love. But yeah, now, I can respect.