Roughly a month after Kurt Cobain's 1994 suicide, bummed-out rocker kids everywhere met a new potential hero. His name was Rivers Cuomo, and he was a Connecticut-born L.A. transplant with a fetish for melody and secret love of cheesy metal. He worshipped Nirvana but also shredding Swedish guitar god Yngwie Malmsteen, and as he set about combining those influences and creating his unique brand of overdriven power-pop, he dredged up a whole mess of feelings about his hippie family and struggles with girls. The result: Weezer's self-titled debut, aka "The Blue Album," released 20 years ago this week on May 10, 1994.
"Blue" quickly established Weezer as unashamed nerd rockers — an image they've used to their advantage ever since. Not as immediately influential as "Nevermind," the album spawned hundreds, if not thousands, of emo and pop-punk bands in the late '90s and early '00s, and while some fans prefer the commercially doomed follow-up, "Pinkerton," "Blue" is the easier listen—a feel-good record about not feeling all that great.
Produced by Cars frontman Ric Ocasek, "Blue" features lots of heavily distorted guitars and plodding, behind-the-beat rhythms, courtesy of underrated drummer Patrick Wilson. Inexplicably, ff the three singles— "Undone – The Sweater Song," "Buddy Holly" and "Say It Ain't So" — only "Buddy Holly" broke through at top 40 radio, reaching No. 17 on the Pop Songs airplay chart. But, all three were top 10 Alternative Songs hits, and the album reached no. 16 on the Billboard 200.
In the 20 years since, Weezer have dropped higher-charting records of varying degrees of quality, and they remain wildly popular—even among listeners too young to really remember this, the band's first and finest album. Keep reading for our track-by-track take on this must-own '90s classic.
"My Name Is Jonas": The opening track is something of an outlier—an obtuse family drama prefaced with fiddly acoustic guitar and capped off with harmonica. Apparently, "words of deep concern from my little brother" is a reference to Rivers' younger sibling Leaves (no, really), who was having some trouble with his car insurance company.
"No One Else": That bright melody masks a pretty sinister sentiment: "I want a girl who will laugh for no one else." Whether he's psychotic or just young and immature, the narrator doesn't even want his lady leaving the house, lest she talk and giggle and generally enjoy life as 20-somethings are wont to do. The closer you read the lyrics, the more foreboding those guitars sound.
"The World Has Turned and Left Me Here": At first blush, the narrator here is more sympathetic than the guy in "No One Else," but according to Rivers, it's the same dude a little further down the line. Regardless, there's a wounded tone here, and the return of the acoustic guitar makes lines like "I talked for hours to your wallet photograph" sound kind of pathetically sweet—until you realize how crazy they are.
"Buddy Holly": In just 2:39, Weezer presents the essence of their sound (heavy yet hooky) and overall aesthetic (nerdy yet strangely cool). In the first verse, Rivers and his girl get picked on by bullies, and even though he can't be her physical protector, he promises later to be her "guardian." It's almost reads creepy, like another dispatch from Mr. No One Else, but that "woo-ee-oo" chorus—not to mention the "Happy Days"-themed video—casts aside all darkness.
"Undone – The Sweater Song": Just as "Buddy Holly" made it cool to wear glasses, the band's debut single started a knitwear revolution. In between verses that read like stanzas of refrigerator-magnet poetry, snippets of dialogue sketch the story of a guy at a rock show who keeps getting bugged about some party going down later in the evening. We never find out if he goes—unless he's the dude in the chorus whose garment gets wrecked. It's not clear what's going on, and the Pixies-esque finale only adds to the confusion.
"Surf Wax America": Following in the footsteps of hero Brian Wilson, who wrote dozens of classic surf songs despite having never stepped foot on a board, Rivers imagines himself as a carefree beach bum who checks out of society and rides the waves all day. It's almost certainly sarcastic — the famously non-boozing Cuomo twice compares the water to beer — but it's too infectious a tune to suggest any real contempt. Maybe Rivers really wants to shut his brain off for a while. Has he heard about that party happening in "Sweater Song?"
"Say It Ain't So": A teetotaling child of divorce finds a Heineken in the fridge, and just like that, the most wooden white reggae song of all time is off and skanking. Our hero is sure his stepfather is a drunk, just like his biological dad was, and that paranoia fuels the monster chorus. Grunge was supposed to be rock 'n' roll made for and by kids from broken homes, so it figures this was the highest-charting of the three "Blue" singles.
"In the Garage": Weezer's version of the Beach Boys' "In My Room" is a celebration of dweeby pleasures, and the sweetest line comes when Rivers— totally stoked to own an electric guitar—sings of how he loves all the "stupid songs" he's written for himself. He neglects to mention the distortion pedal that really makes this thing crunch.
"Holiday": If "Surf Wax America" was ironic escapism, "Holiday" plays like a genuine call to cast aside worries and hunker down someplace warm. It's the closest "Blue" has to a throwaway, and you'd never think of skipping it.
"Only In Dreams": If the girl in this song were real and not just a figment of Rivers' imagination, she'd love the sleepy bass groove — a simple pattern novice players in the mid-'90s picked up right after Krist Novoselic's "Come As You Are" line. And she'd totally flip out over the last two minutes, when everything builds and builds and Cuomo noodles away like a kid trying to impress the clerks at Guitar Center. And what if she weren't moved by such things? Then she wouldn't be perfect, would she?