Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Favourite LPs #2 - Nathan Crouch

Weezer - Weezer (or, The Blue Album) (1994)

By Nathan Crouch

You can’t write about Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ without talking about ‘grunge’. You can’t discuss King Crimson without saying ‘prog’. No overview of either Oasis or Blur could ever be complete without reference to the journalist-fuelled battle for ‘Britpop’ glory that dominated their early history, despite how different they were, and how little either cared for the crown. Some albums are so synonymous with a certain sound that it becomes impossible to write a retrospective review without taking this into account. This can prove frustrating for the artists themselves, as almost all of these musical buzzwords are the pigeon-holing brainchildren of journalists, and a lot of the time these buzzwords place far more focus on the look of a band than its sound.

Unfortunately for Weezer, this proved to be the case, for when their debut album emerged in 1994, the pigeonhole parade took one look at the cover and cast them as ‘Nerd Rock’ until their dying days. Within their sound may be contained the gain-heavy power chord freak outs of Pixies, the sweetly acoustic serenading of Cat Stevens, and a fair few (simplified) solos stolen from the glory days of Glen Danzig, but despite all of this, they wore glasses. Not only in public, but on stage, and in music videos. In addition, not a single one of their songs was about drug addiction – no winking references to spoons, no reports on visits to Dr Greenthumb, not even a passing mention of anything ‘brown’. Indeed, it seems that when lead singer Rivers Cuomo chimes about how much he enjoys hanging out ‘In The Garage’, it’s less for its hot-boxing potential and more about an irony-free desire for Dungeons and Dragons and X-Men comics. 

Wherein lies Weezer’s main appeal on their debut ten-track pop masterpiece: as with all great music, it’s incredibly honest. All the best musicians find the best ways to convey where they come from, be it Compton, Trench Town, Outer Space (google ‘Sun Ra’), or in this case, Suburban Nowheresville, Connecticut. No band who puts a couplet like ‘Come sit next to me, pour yourself some tea’ in the opening song of their first album could be aiming for street-cred, and it would almost be embarrassing to sing along to on the bus with your headphones were it not for the magic of Weezer: they sang infectiously catchy songs that make you not care about how lame you may look dancing to them, because you’re having too much fun. They would often recall the crooning pop numbers of Buddy Holly, with a modern post-Pixies adherence to loud-quiet-loud that gels perfectly - take the distortion out of ‘Holiday’ and you’ve got the sound of a hit 50’s 7 inch. From Holly to glam rock, at its best the Weezer sound is a compendium of every music that teenagers at various points enjoyed putting on in their bedrooms and turning up loud for the pure joy of rocking out, free of inhibition.

What differs ‘The Blue Album’ from the later, suckier work of Weezer on albums like ‘Make Believe’ is the subtle blend of angst and insecurity that infuses ostensibly happy numbers like ‘In The Garage’, and conversely the notes of hope and optimism that run through more miserable titles like ‘The World Has Turned and Left Me Here’. Latter-era Weezer are a little too content to wear their emotions on their sleeves, picking one feeling per song from the emotional spectrum and sticking to it, but the Weezer of yore had a wonderful way of making sad songs sound happy, and vice versa.

Thus, the success of ‘The Blue Album’ is a simple formula: ten perfectly crafted pop songs, from bouncy 3/4 opener ‘My Name Is Jonas ‘ to the dreamy walking bassline that fuels closing 8 minute wonder ‘Only In Dreams’, that encapsulate the main advantage of being a nerd: the ability to enjoy cheesy nerd things without giving a shit. And that’s pretty cool. 

Interesting side-note: The influence of this album has stretched far and wide, to bands as bizarrely un-weezer-ish as Deftones and Biffy Clyro, who have both covered tracks from this album – it is certainly worth seeking out the latter’s rendition of ‘Buddy Holly’ as an example of artistic license gone magnificently insane. Remember that episode of ‘Family Guy’ where Peter turns a production of ‘The King and I’ into a war epic about robots from Space? This is the audio equivalent of that: 

Track list:

2. No One Else
3. The World Has Turned And Left Me Here
5. Undone - The Sweater Song
6. Surf Wax America
7. Say It Ain't So
8. In The Garage
9. Holiday

Wanna write about your own favourite record? Just holla, yo.

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