By Sol Sussman
Our story begins in Los Angeles, 1989. A young, Connecticut native named Rivers Cuomo (Vocals/Guitar) had recently moved to the west coast with the members of his band, Zoom.
Soon after their arrival, the band broke up, leaving Rivers on his own. Soon after, he met Patrick Wilson (Drums) and Matt Sharp (Bass), and the three started living and playing together. Eventually, the band settled on a fourth member, Jason Cropper (Guitar), and a name, Weezer.
The name was based on a nickname Rivers’ father gave him after River developed asthma, their first gig under the new name was in March of 1992. Rivers was offered a scholarship to UC Berkeley, and gave Matt, who had effectively become the band’s manager, an offer: either he gets Weezer a record deal within the next year or Rivers quits and goes to Berkeley.
In November of 1992, the band released “The Kitchen Tape,” their first proper demo, featuring tracks that would end up on future records. The tape made its way to Todd Sullivan of Geffen Records, who took a liking to the band. The Band signed to Geffen Records, and Rivers dodged the bullet of higher education.
Weezer set up shop at Electric Lady Studios in New York City and began working on their debut record. While they initially wanted to produce the album themselves, they were convinced by Geffen to bring on Ric Ocasek to produce. (Some might recognize Ric from his role as front-man for the popular rock band The Cars.)
The process, from there, saw Weezer learn to play as a singular unit, whether it was studying barbershop quartets for vocal harmony inspiration, mixing guitars to be as loud as Radiohead’s “Creep,” or even banning reverb effects from their instruments.
Unfortunately, the sessions weren’t a total breeze. Jason Cropper was fired from the band right after recording, due to Jason bringing his girlfriend to sessions despite the band agreeing not to invite their partners. Rivers would end up re-recording all of his parts. As a quick replacement the group brought in Brian Bell on guitar, and in May of 1994, Weezer released their first self-titled album, colloquially known as “The Blue Album”.
The primary aspect that Weezer exemplified on this record is its nerdiness. Tracks like “In the Garage” describe being on your own and enjoying the dorky things that make you happy. “Surf Wax America” is an open love letter to the Beach Boys and the surfer creed. “Only in Dreams” makes asking a girl to dance sound like the most epic thing you can do. “Undone – The Sweater Song” uses the metaphor of an unraveling sweater nestled between spoken-word bits of California parties.
This album is genuinely, unabashedly uncool. That’s what makes it so cool. During a time in which bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers practically developed the sound of the ’90s, Weezer struck gold with a mix of unfeigned emotion, nerdy subject matter, and hooks worthy of a god.
Of course, that’s not to say that the whole record is lighthearted. When a song is called “The World Has Turned & Left Me Here,” it’s bound to be a little bit sad. And of course, I can’t forget to mention Rivers’ heart-wrenching ballad about alcoholism, “Say It Ain’t So”. It’s an incredibly emotional song about the battles with alcohol that both Rivers’ father and stepfather fought and how that ate away at his young self.
This was easily the emotional high point for me. On a personal note, my own father battled with alcoholism for a decent amount of my younger years, and it’s for that reason that the song hits very close to home for me.
The beauty of “The Blue Album” lies in its simplicity. It doesn’t have any lofty ambitions or any larger statements on society. It’s just cool dudes writing sick tunes. It’s an album with memorable hooks and the emotional weight to back them up.