Friday, November 9, 2007

[031] "The Blue Album"

Album: Weezer
Artist: Weezer
Release Date: May 1994
Label: DGC/Geffen
Producer: Ric Ocasek

"I've got the Dungeon Master's Guide
I've got a 12-sided die
I've got Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler too
Waiting there for me, yes I do, I do
I've got posters on the wall
My favorite Rock group Kiss
I've got Ace Frehley, I've got Peter Criss
Waiting there for me, yes I do, I do
In the garage I feel safe
No one cares about my ways
In the garage where I belong
No one hears me sing this song"
- from "In The Garage"

It’s finally here!! OK OK everyone calm down. I know you’re excited, but if you don’t quiet down, I can’t tell you the story of how one of the most derided bands of the last twenty years became adored icons of nerd culture and Rock immortals. Weezer were initially voted unlikeliest to do anything; as it says in the booklet for the double-CD Deluxe Edition of this album, “The Blue Album” sold a whopping 90 copies in its first week in stores. It’s safe to say that no one ever thought Weezer’s debut would ever be considered a “classic” record when it was released. The world was knee deep in disposable Alterna-hipsters at the time, their A&R reps pulling the strings to reach for Nirvana’s brass ring. Novelty was king – Creeps with detachable penises wanted to be popular for talking about their thoughts on God in phone booths - and Irony had become a musical genre and fashion statement, continuing today with bedazzled hundred-dollar thrift-store elementary school field day t-shirts from 1982. The Nerd Chic fetish put forth by Rivers Cuomo – the Elvis Costello thick-rimmed glasses, the Kurt Cobain/Mr. Rogers cardigan, maybe whichever ringer tee on the bedroom floor was closest to the bed, and *gasp* khakis (on the cover!) – became an unfortunate costume in Rock the way it had in the movies and halls of schools everywhere. Critics played the bullies, mercilessly dispensing journalistic wedgies; it was Spin’s opinion that Rivers Cuomo’s love for bands like Kiss and Van Halen made Weezer worse than all the 80’s bands everyone had decided to hate. The funny thing was that the media wrongly assumed that this part of the band’s persona was ironic, their alternately heartbroken and smirking lyrics, knowing odes to RPGs and X-Men. But Rivers and Weezer were serious. Sure there’s plenty of humor in there, but overall it wasn’t an act, it was the way they were; DGC had to watch the Star Wars Trilogy back-to-back in one sitting in order to sign them. Patrick Wilson played like John Bonham because he wanted to be him, not because he wanted to make fun of Zeppelin’s (wonderful) excesses.

As musicians, Weezer’s playing was super tight. The esteemed Mr. Wilson played Big Drums, but he never resorted to the lockstep of the post-Hardcore movement. He was one of the loosest drummers in years, one of those “sloppy thunder” types, swinging like a wrecking ball; in videos he was the clown, but on stage he was all business. He was an economical genius, playing it strictly by feel, only playing what was dictated by the mood and movement of the song. He united with Weezer’s secret weapon, bassist Matt Sharp, to lay down some of the most simple, yet memorable rhythms of the 90’s. Sharp’s backing vocals and unsure harmonies with Rivers Cuomo in a lot of ways made the record, in the same way that those same barbershop quartet flourishes helped make Van Halen’s debut stand out 16 years earlier; the Star Wars viewing in a way became ironic, because when Weezer returned to making albums, but without Sharp, it doomed their new material to the same fate as Episodes I-III. Rivers and Brian Bell wrote guitar parts that overlapped en masse, but revealed their diversions precisely when needed, adding melodic highlights and color to every song. They raised the bar even higher when they put their heads together with producer Ric Ocasek; the band was blessed to be working with a Power-Pop tunesmith in Ocasek, whose band The Cars’ debut holds the same place in its era that “The Blue Album” would come to occupy in the 90’s, packed with songs so immediately lovable that they all were hit singles in a perfect world. Ocasek’s production for Weezer suited the band’s songs so well, it would be unfathomable to hear them recorded, produced, or mixed any other way. Think of all the faceless and forgotten Alternative Rock one-album wonders of the mid-90’s, and attempt to name one so perfectly molded in sound. You can’t because no one other than Weezer, with Ric Ocasek at the boards, ever nestled themselves, so cozily, in the vortex of guitar onslaught history midway between the ear-shredding fuzz of Hüsker Dü, Dinosaur Jr, & My Bloody Valentine, and the compressed riff majesty of Cheap Trick, their disciples Smashing Pumpkins, and the aforementioned Cars, Kiss & Van Halen.

Listening to “The Blue Album” now, it’s amazing that it wasn’t taken at least a little seriously. I guess it has to do with the fact that the first two (successful) singles were the most flippant songs on the record – “Buddy Holly” with its fronting homies and “Undone” with its brah’s and Superman skivvies - but the rest of the record was the sound of a band ready to carve out their own niche in the developing commercial landscape for “underground” bands by pushing the sound back towards the arena Rock that they loved as kids. “No One Else”, “Holiday”, and “Surf Wax America” were Pop-Punk done right, with the rocket-engine rush of “America” ascending to the Rock Valhalla of classic anthems; when I saw them in 2000 on their comeback tour, I thought the floor of NYC’s Irving Plaza was going to cave in during that song from the thousand people simultaneously pogoing. “No One Else” was the flip side of “The World Has Turned…”, with Rivers showing both sides of a painful break-up. The third, and best single, “Say It Ain’t So” was, like “Undone”, a child of the Pixies, but with a sunny California disposition; even when pouring his heart out about family alcoholism, Rivers made it sound sweet enough to give you a cavity. And then, there were the Big Three. On paper, musically, the structures of “My Name Is Jonas”, “In The Garage”, and “Only In Dreams” don’t seem so out of the ordinary. “Jonas” and “Garage” are basically folk songs with an overdrive pedal, and “Dreams” is the requisite 8-minute epic. But the reality of these songs is something far more. With “In The Garage”, Rivers gave you the hard truth – yes, I am a Nerd, and you bought my record…AND you love it, so eat that! “In The Garage” is the Microsoft of Rock & Roll, the ultimate triumph of the loser, singing his song, about what he wants, his way. “My Name Is Jonas” is one of the oddest opening tracks in Rock history, supposedly about Rivers’ brother getting in a car accident, but you’d never know it from the lyrics, something about Jonas and Wepeel and workers going home; it really doesn’t matter, because it whips you into such a Rock frenzy that you forget to check back with the lyric sheet. “Only In Dreams” is the “Kashmir ”of the 90’s, a lumbering Frankenstein's Monster of a song, bowling over anything in its path, and at least Weezer knew that you put your encore at the end of the record, not in the middle. If you know of a better dramatic Rock crescendo than the one at the end of this album, you come and let me know, then I’ll tell you you’re wrong.

The intangible that no one knew in 1994 was the album’s charm would equal staying power. I’d love to see the figures on the percentage of the album’s 3 million domestic copies that were sold to second-hand stores following the commercial meltdown of Pinkerton, cuz I bet all those copies have been bought up by now; I got my original copy from my friend Chris when he didn’t want it anymore. I think “The Blue Album” endures because it’s the type of album you attach memories to. One thing that contributes to this is that it’s the quintessential air-instrument record. Whether you like your guitar or drums is up to you, but we’ve all jumped around our room to this record. The second factor is that Rivers sang in an unaffected voice which allowed the listener to feel comfortable bellowing along. You take these things and experience life with them, and the album becomes your soundtrack. For me, I have a specific memory for almost every song, but overall I will forever associate the album with my younger brother, that would be Ian, who co-starred in yesterday’s Daft Punk mini-play. Ian was a massive fan of the “original trilogy” Weezer; when he saw them in ’96, he managed to get Pat Wilson’s drumsticks, and he slept with those things next to his bed for months. Every great party thrown by him or his friends inevitably featured that moment when everyone was smashed enough that the acoustic guitars came out, and Ian and his friend Elias would play “The Blue Album” in its entirety, with a room full of drunken people singing their hearts out. For me, when I jump around the room to this album, my Rock fantasy is that I could one day have a band just so I could cover “My Name Is Jonas” as an encore, and bring Ian up, and sing that line, "...words of deep concern from my little brother”. Rivers, Pat, Matt & Brian had those kind of dreams too, and “The Blue Album” was their Rock fantasy come true, and that comes through in the music. Weezer is so loved because it lets everyone who listens to it find their Rock fantasy, critics and bullies be damned.

Happy Birthday, Ian
Love, your older brother
This one was for you

01. "My Name Is Jonas"
02. "No One Else"
03. "The World Has Turned And Left Me Here"
04. "Buddy Holly"
05. "Undone - The Sweater Song"
06. "Surf Wax America"
07. "Say It Ain't So"
08. "In The Garage"
09. "Holiday"
10. "Only In Dreams"

"My Name Is Jonas" [live in New Jersey, 10.94]

"Surf Wax America" [live at the Warped Tour, 06.00]

"In The Garage" [live, 08.94]

"Only In Dreams" ["Blue Album" rehearsal in NYC, 08.93]
with original guitarist Jason Cropper

- BONUS: "My Name Is Jonas" [live in Lupos, 08.00]
- BONUS: "No One Else" [live in Lupos, 08.00]
- BONUS: "The World Has Turned And Left Me Here" [live in London, 02.95]
- BONUS: "Buddy Holly" [video]
- BONUS: "Buddy Holly" [video w/DVD commentary]
- BONUS: "Buddy Holly" [live in Lupos, 08.00]
- BONUS: "Undone - The Sweater Song" [video]
- BONUS: "Undone - The Sweater Song" [live on 120 Minutes, 08.94]
- BONUS: "Say It Ain't So" [video]
- BONUS: "Say It Ain't So" [live on Letterman, 08.95]
- BONUS: "In The Garage" [live in Lupos, 08.00]
- BONUS: "Holiday" [live in Lupos, 08.00]
- BONUS: "Only In Dreams" [live in Lupos, 08.00]


Joel said...

I got my copy of the Blue Album from a kid in my english class who didn't want it anymore.

Blog Rock in Roll said...

very good

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