Let’s face it, 1994 was a perplexing year in music. With Generation X still obsessing over the ever-nearing self-destruction of grunge, while narrowly worshiping their unofficial spokesperson Kurt Cobain and his growing, even if not entirely intended popularity in the music community. We rejoiced in his ruinous disheartenment and anger, clamoring to him like seagulls in a trash yard, as if we knew it wouldn’t last.
And last it did not. With Cobain’s untimely death on April 8, the devastation of which spelled an almost certain doom over the music industry trying desperately to replace the idol of a generation.
Reluctant to take on another basket case like Cobain, the music industry began to heavily promote alternative music. Bands like Green Day and The Offspring offered a punk/alternative fusion where The Smashing Pumpkins made epic layers of guitars and raging solos. Despite their differences, all of these bands still had one thing in common; they were still holding on to the thematic direction of grunge, anguish. Then along came Weezer.
Signed to Nirvana’s same label, David Geffen Records, Weezer released their eponymous first album -the first of three, this one being code named “Blue”- in May of 94 and offered a very different idea of alternative music. Whereas other alternative acts looked and sounded like Rock Stars, Weezer looked like nerds, but that rare variety of nerds; happy ones.
From the first seconds of the opening track, “My Name is Jonas” Weezer was a different album from its competitors by beginning with an acoustic guitar. Recorded by Cars producer, Ric Ocasek, much of the album has the same thick Butch Vigg-wall-of-guitar sound that Nevermind and Siamese Dream featured, but without the screeching vocals, and in its place, beautifully piled harmonies or singer and chief songwriter Rivers Cuomo’s sweet, almost brittle croon.
Given its guitar-driven production style, Weezer was sonically similar to many bands of the time, yet it was with Cuomo’s lyrics that they were separable. Where other bands lyrically recalled nostalgia with a despairing dagger, Cuomo reminisced with a homesick adoration and an extended hand. In the more melancholy arrangements such as “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here” and “Say it Ain’t So,” the messages are of love, an unwillingness to let go of his golden-age, even though she might have split his heart in two.
What differentiated Weezer most from their depressive alternative counterparts was their unabashed geekiness. Trivial songs such as “Surf Wax America” and “Buddy Holly” with its practically inane chorus almost chanting, “I look just like Buddy Holly, and you’re Mary Tyler Moore” make it difficult not to want to smile and hug Cuomo for being so damn endearing.
Of course no review of Weezer would be complete without mentioning the eerie purr of “Undone – The Sweater Song” with the background drone of a concert acting as a verse and the somehow un-cringeworthy lyrics detailing how to destroy his sweater posing as the chorus. Its peculiar nature is complimented by its equally enthralling allegory of how to break a heart. While certainly the strangest song on the album, it is almost as certainly one of its most rewarding.
The band’s ability to not always take itself completely seriously was just one of their many charms. Even when being trite, Weezer’s compositions are brilliantly crafted, and executed with a mathematical precision that defied their teenage looks. The guitars are piled in neatly harmonious stacks, drifting effortlessly at the albums decidedly mid-tempo pace.
This is possibly best elucidated with “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here,” where they accomplish the chillingly minor progressions while maintaining the hopeful theme of the album, as Cuomo bashfully sings “I just made love to your sweet memory, one thousand times in my head.” Cuomo is an absolute romantic, even if he seems to think a hopeless one, and perhaps that is why his lyrics feel so genuine.
In a similar vein, Weezer offered one of the band’s most memorable tracks, the achingly beautiful release of “Say it Ain’t So.” The simplicity of the reggae guitars with the downright groovy bass line flow into Cuomo’s almost cathartic cry of “Say it ain’t so, your drug is a heartbreaker. Say it ain’t so, my love is a life-taker.” The bittersweet release of the bridge and subsequent guitar solo show Cuomo at his most fragile; a boy who thinks his parents are going to split because of his father’s alcoholism.
Certainly deserving of its current multi-platinum status, Weezer is at its worst; a joyously unambitious collection of nerdy name-dropping, and at its best; an astute and honest display of the human condition of loving something that perhaps you can’t have, but being fine with it nonetheless.
Weezer is a first-rate debut from an undeniably gifted band, but with a flavor that, unlike the Pork and Beans Cuomo currently swoons, will last with repeated listens.