21 Years Ago: Weezer Make Their Debut With the ‘Blue Album’
This is the one you want.
Pinkerton is great. Maladroit is awesome. Okay, you probably want them all, but if for whatever reason you are allowed only one Weezer album, make it their self-titled debut, also known as the Blue Album.
We weren't in the best of shape musically in May 1994. New albums from Kenny G, Huey Lewis and the Indigo Girls all dropped that month (full disclosure: So did a new disc from Beastie Boys and Sonic Youth -- it wasn't all bad news), but more importantly we were still reeling from Kurt Cobain's suicide just one month prior.
That event felt like the abrupt end to an all too brief alternative golden age, much like Altamont struck the previous generation as the end of the '60s.
Did I mention that Jimmy Buffett released a new album that May? These were truly dark times.
They must have seemed particularly dark over at DGC Records, home of Nirvana. The label enjoyed tremendous success thanks to the band's two previous albums, Nevermind and In Utero, so the label bosses must have grimaced at the thought of how losing Cobain was going to affect their bottom line. Who would carry the DGC baton now? Who would carry on the tradition of slacker cool? Who would wear the sweater?
Weezer, that's who.
The band was barely a year old when it signed with DGC, its leader and (via a childhood nickname) namesake only 23. Shortly thereafter they found themselves at Electric Lady, the New York studio built by Jimi Hendrix, ready to work on their debut album with Cars frontman Ric Ocasek producing. (If that mix of names doesn't sum up Weezer's eclectic sound I don't know what does.)
That mash-up of metal, alternative and power pop is what makes Weezer unique. Rivers Cuomo was a bit of an "unabashed metalhead" prior to Weezer, according to Scott Heisel over at Alt Press, who was "doing his best to make it in the Sunset Strip hair-metal scene." In a 2009 conversation with Rolling Stone, Cuomo nailed the duality of Weezer's sound:
It wasn't until years after I wrote ["Undone"] that I realized it's almost a complete rip-off of 'Sanitarium' by Metallica. It just perfectly encapsulates Weezer to me – you're trying to be cool like Velvet Underground but your metal roots just pump through unconsciously.
Neither V.U. nor Metallica came to most listeners minds, though. Cheap Trick, maybe, or Big Star -- the Knack. Weezer brought fun back to rock and roll, a sorely needed attribute in '94. And future Oscar winner Spike Jonze provided an able assist with his clever videos.
There was darkness lurking beneath the fun, though, especially in the album's third and last single, "Say It Ain't So." Cuomo's lyrics speak to a family history of alcoholism extending back to his biological father, who left the family when he was only four. As the Weezerpedia (yes, there's a Weezerpedia) states: "In the song, Cuomo draws parallels between his own drinking and his family falling apart, which is evident in the climax of the bridge section in which Cuomo states, 'Like father, stepfather, the son is drowning in the flood.'"
Recording of the album wasn't without its drama. Guitarist Jason Cropper quit the band during the sessions and was replaced by Brian Bell. Bell is credited on the sleeve as guitarist, but allegedly Cuomo rerecorded all of Cropper's guitar parts during a single session. Cropper receives one co-writing credit on the album for his acoustic intro to "My Name Is Jonas."
Critical reception was surprisingly good for a debut album, but popular reception was even better: The album eventually sold 3.5 million copies. Follow-up Pinkerton, released in 1996, sold about a quarter of that, but like many albums has aged into a critical and fan favorite.
The core of the band -- Cuomo, Bell and drummer-turned-guitarist Patrick Wilson -- have remained together since their debut album, and they're still out on the road (including a headlining slot at the first annual Loudwire Music Festival). They even reunited with producer Ocasek for album number nine, 2014's Everything Will Be Alright.
There's only one way to wrap up a look back at Weezer's debut, and that's the same way they wrapped up the album -- with the epic "Only in Dreams":