Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Art of the Album: Weezer – Weezer (The Blue Album)

weezer-blue-album What You Need to Know: Weezer coalesced as many bands do, a loose alliance of friends and acquaintances who had their own instruments and enough skills to play them. They were signed as many bands have been signed, after playing some gigs and attracting the attention of record company honchos. They even had a stereotypical Pete Best moment, when original guitarist Jason Cropper left/was kicked out of the group and replaced by Brian Bell during the recording of this album.

There was absolutely nothing to suggest that this by-the-numbers band, an unassuming group of self-described geeks, would one day be hocking an album called Raditude with Weezer-branded Snuggies, or that they would blight the airwaves with a song as stupid as “Beverly Hills.”

But I digress. I’m writing about the one Weezer album I actually like, after all.

The Songs You’ve Heard: Primary songwriter and frontman Rivers Cuomo has always had a knack for singles, even in the band’s twilight years, and that all started here: Weezer’s first Weezer, affectionately dubbed The Blue Album, had three singles, and anyone who has been in college since 1994 has heard them: “Undone (The Sweater Song)” succeeds on the strength of a hypnotic guitar riff and quirky near-nonsense lyrics, “Say It Ain’t So” is a mostly-mellow rocker with a good riff and bassline, and “Buddy Holly” is as relentlessly poppy a song as has ever been released.

Many singles eventually become tired from overplay after a year or two, but these three are still firm party favorites a decade and a half later.

The Songs You Haven’t: Most of my favorite Blue Album songs aren’t the singles – take the quiet-loud dynamics of “My Name is Jonas” (please!) or the melancholy of “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here,” a song which succeeds in spite of stealing the basslines from at least two different Pixies songs.

Even the songs that don’t leave as strong of an impression – the insubstantial “Surf Wax America” and the nondescript “Holiday” – are good clean fun, pleasant to listen to even if they don’t get stuck in your head as readily as the rest of the songs.

The album’s closer, “Only In Dreams,” needs no excuses. A beautiful song.

Why I Like It: You would be hard pressed to find a harsher critic of Weezer than myself – I have something critical to say of every one of their released albums (yes, even Pinkerton, because I stopped being fifteen). I think part of that is because I am upset with them for never equaling or even approaching the quality of this album.

I’ve been asked what it is about the Blue Album that I like, and I’ve only recently figured out how to explain it – there are few albums that are so unflinchingly honest. You can almost hear Cuomo looking at his feet when he sings the nerdy autobiographical lyrics of “In the Garage,” and when he sings “Only In Dreams” you can see the crepe paper that the party committee hung in the gym for prom. Everything here rings true for me in a way that none of Weezer’s music since has – there’s nothing relatable about the weird celebrity lifestyle Cuomo speak-sings about in “Beverly Hills.”

At the same time, the album isn’t too honest like the oft-acclaimed Pinkerton. Listening to the Blue Album is like listening to a friend tell you about things that have happened to him – listening to Pinkerton is like getting that same friend drunk enough to be entirely too honest with you, and you both wake up the next morning wishing he hadn’t said anything. That’s as close as I can come to describing it.

Point being, no matter how many Raditudes or Make Believes the band makes as it slides further into irrelevance, Weezer still can’t manage to ruin their debut for me liked they’ve retroactively tainted the lesser virtues of so-so entries like the Green Weezer or Maladroit. I probably have a pretty heavily tinted pair of glasses on, looking at this album, but to me it manages to sound just as good now as it did fifteen years ago, and that’s no small achievement.

Desert Island Tracks: My Name is Jonas,” “Say It Ain’t So,” Only In Dreams