My earliest experience with Weezer began in seventh grade. I discovered the band by hearing “Hash Pipe” on the radio, and at the time, I thought it was one of the best songs ever made. It had a weird video, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t catchy. I was so convinced of this band’s greatness, I remember saving part of my birthday money to buy The Green Album (Which I still own). And once I popped that sucker in, that album never left my Discman.
Reflecting on this discovery, I recognize that I had no perspective on The Green Album being a major step down from the work the band had put out prior to it. In fact, I had no real conception for what was good, I just liked the pop melodies. Nor was I even aware Weezer had been releasing catchy, melancholy pop songs since the mid-’90s. Through high school and on up to graduating college, my tastes had changed and by that time I came to discover that all of Weezer’s best material was on their first two releases. As a teen, I listened to both The Blue Album and Pinkerton from time to time, but neither album really resonated with me. I only knew them to be sets of carefully crafted power pop songs, one a little more raw and noisy than the other. I was also aware of Rivers Cuomo’s reputation as an odd frontman (lot of hang-ups, obsessions with Japanese women), which I had mostly gleaned from a few interviews I read.
When looked at from one angle, Weezer is a band whose almost entire existence is defined by questionable career moves. Audiences often find themselves caught between two different sides, torn between loving them or hating them. Who can really blame them, especially with the last string of albums they’ve had: From chart topping to weird and just flat-out bizarre.
Because of the success of The Blue Album, and the critical re-evaluation of Pinkerton, the band were able to carry on, though they didn’t actually bring the early energy from their first two records with them for the ride. Instead, their career from 2001 on mostly consisted of lazy and generic pop ideas that have now culminated in boat cruises. Yet Rivers Cuomo still remains as a beacon for many young outsiders, especially those experiencing teenage angst in real time. Cuomo’s early songwriting skills found an audience who were able to interpret and accept the deep emotional feelings written into their most popular hits.
The Blue Album is a particularly interesting album, considering it was made during the ’90s grunge era, but released after the grime on the flannel started to wash off. The type of rock music on their debut made Weezer a hard band to take too seriously. The cover itself (reminiscent of The Feelies’ Crazy Rhythms), a cheap Adobe Photoshop job, is laughable at best — but there stand four men, confident in their music and message to be shared with the world. If you pay close attention, then yes, these songs are captivating — and much darker than the charming, nerdy image they put forth. They may sound cheerful, but beneath the surface, it’s quite the opposite.
The songs on The Blue Album are carefully disguised with great production from The Cars frontman Ric Ocasek, yet deal heavily topics of isolation, depression, heartbreak and self-loathing. In fact, Cuomo comes across like a slightly unstable, emotionally fragile person with all the claims he harps about throughout the album. Though, like many heartbroken and angry men, he’s likely exaggerating a lot of his feelings. Maybe that’s why Weezer resonates with certain audiences and people — that feeling of losing out to someone and being left behind, as if the whole weight of the world crushed them entirely. If Pinkerton is — for all intents and purposes — about complete failure in love, The Blue Album’s songs set the stage for what led to that failure.
The Blue Album is an album of anthems for losers, Cuomo tapping into the emotions of feeling both sorry for yourself and bitter about a shitty, unfulfilling life. “In The Garage” is representative of that, a song where Cuomo escapes into fantasy, painting a picture of a room filled with KISS posters, Dungeon & Dragons and Marvel Comics superheroes: “In the garage, I feel safe/No one cares about my ways.” Every teen has, at some point, taken shelter in their rooms at a young age, hiding away from the rest of the world. Cuomo just lays it out, layered with some awesome guitar shredding, paying homage to one of his other nerdy loves — ’80s metal. Similarly, “The World Has Turned And Left Me Here,” a song whose title already gives away its subject, echoes similar sentiments. Here, Cuomo, left alone and heartbroken sings, “I just made love to your sweet memory one thousand times in my head,” further explaining, “I talked for hours to your wallet photograph and you just listened.” It seems a bit more uncomfortable and even a little disturbing after further inspection, but Cuomo is putting it all on the table — the effect of heartbreak, and the memory of a person whose love is gone.
Similarly, “Undone (The Sweater Song)” carries some of the sentiments, though it’s really just another of Cuomo’s exaggerated feelings of probably being dumped, made a little sillier. Cuomo explained that this was his attempt at writing a Velvet Underground type song, but concedes it ended up being a rip-off of Metallica’s “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”. In addition to all the heartbreak, Cuomo also includes pieces of his home life integrated into some songs. “Say It Ain’t So” explores Cuomo’s parents’ divorce because of his father’s alcoholism, and his belief that his mother’s new marriage to his stepfather would end the same way after finding a bottle of beer in the fridge. Album opener “My Name Is Jonas” is a tribute to Cuomo’s brother Leaves, describing a car accident he had at Oberlin College and the aftermath of dealing with the insurance company — which was mostly about his brother getting screwed over.
Then there’s “Buddy Holly,” one of the album’s most popular tracks and a staple single of the ’90s, which is essentially the opposite of all the other tracks in terms of subject matter. Rather than detailing a romantic relationship, it instead is about a very close friendship between Cuomo and another woman. Despite the warm reception, “Buddy Holly” ended being a curse for Cuomo and his band. In a 2008 Blender article, Ocasek said that Cuomo was strongly considering leaving it off the album because he felt it was “too cheesy.” He ended up keeping it after some persuasion by his producer, and it’s a much better song than Cuomo gave it credit for, helping propel the success of the band. Part of that is thanks to its Happy Days themed music video, which helped put Spike Jonze on the map as one of the most creative directors of the music video format (along with his other big video from that year, Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”). It turns out the video also ended up marking the point at which Cuomo felt the band wasn’t being taken seriously.
It’s unfortunate that Weezer’s career took a strange turn after the ’90s came to an end. Their new work doesn’t really capture the creative focus and energy they once had. Even the B-Sides from The Blue Album sound more cohesive and inspired than any of their ’00s output put together. While the band’s early songs depicted honest, unfiltered portraits of Cuomo and his internal torment, the band has seemingly run out of ideas. It’s not that Weezer need be too concerned about being regarded as a serious band, but rather about not obstructing their own success. The Blue Album is in fact, lightning in a bottle; the energy and inspiration of power pop at its best. For a time, Cuomo capturing some very real and familiar emotions in his lyrics (which led some to dub him responsible for the birth of emo), a skill that only the most excellent musicians can pull off while simultaneously keeping the music itself challenging and fun. Until there’s evidence to the contrary, critics will likely continue to argue that this album and Pinkerton are really the only ones that need to be heard. I still believe Weezer are capable of making another great album. When that will happen, however, I’m not so sure.
You might also like: