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Twenty Years of The Blue Album

Posted 2 days, 15 hours ago by Carley B

This past March, I took a road trip down to California with some friends. In true 21st-century style, we brought all of our music in phones and iPods, but I grabbed a few CDs anyway: music made by friends of mine, music recommended to me by others, and the Blue Album by Weezer.

First, some context: my introduction to Weezer came in the mid-90s via my best friend, who was one year older than me and really into their second album, Pinkerton. I was so drawn to the combination of crunchy guitars and offbeat lyrics that I gathered up my allowance money and headed straight to the mall to buy a copy of my own. Once I stepped through the doorway of Sam Goody, though, a desire to differentiate myself from my best friend took hold. I didn't want to be a total copycat, so instead of Pinkerton, I would buy this blue album instead. -

I took it home and popped it into my CD player and was hooked from the moment the acoustic guitar kicked off the intro to "My Name Is Jonas." Fast-forward almost twenty years later, and here I was, headed to L.A. with friends from different cities and backgrounds, all of us singing along to every word and note for the entire 41:17 duration. And the funny thing is, that's not even the first time this has happened to me with this album.

So what is it about the Blue Album that gives it such staying power?

For one thing, it carries none of the gravitas of the grunge era that preceded it; lead singer Rivers Cuomo has angst, to be sure, but it's a more relatable, less clinically-depressed angst. Perhaps that's why it's so endeared itself to listeners and music critics alike. After weighty offerings from the rain-soaked likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Weezer was like a blast of Southern California sunshine. Even songs about love gone wrong ("No One Else", "The World Has Turned And Left Me Here") have a toe-tapping appeal to them.

Then there's the unabashed geekiness, which was a major factor cited by participants in an informal poll I conducted while writing this article. Especially for those of us who were in our awkward adolescent stage at the time, still testing the waters of cool-vs.-not-cool, we loved this album's lack of pretension. Cuomo could sing things like, "I play my stupid songs/ I write these stupid words/ And I love everyone...", and we understood those simultaneous feelings of self-conscious inadequacy and earnest affection because we felt them too.

Incidentally, that lyric comes from the album's hands-down geekiest track, "In The Garage", in which Cuomo describes his safe haven, complete with a Dungeon Master's guide, X-Men comics, and KISS posters. Meanwhile, "Buddy Holly" paints a picture of a bespectacled underdog protagonist defending his equally dorky love interest from the torment of bullies, ultimately speaking the magic words we all learned when we decided to be ourselves in the face of those who would berate us for it: "I don't care what they say about us anyway." Take that, bullies.

Underpinning it all is a happy-go-lucky musicianship that's dynamically competent but still completely accessible. It says a lot that, even by Cuomo's account, "Undone - The Sweater Song" was "supposed to be a sad song, but everyone thinks it's hilarious." As someone who has listened to that song probably a hundred times by now, I have never once heard it as a sad song. On this album, even the apathy is ebullient.

There is a heavy moment, in the form of "Say It Ain't So," a song that deals with the fears and confrontations arising from a family history of alcoholism-- but even here, the song is such a well-crafted piece of pop-rock that it defies its own weight, enduring instead as one of the '90s's greatest sing-alongs.

Taking all these factors into account, it's not really that surprising that the Blue Album still holds up after twenty years. It's fun. It's quirky and unpretentious. It's enthusiastic, even when it tries not to be. And it's more interesting, musically and dynamically, than your typical power-pop album. It'll be fun to see if it maintains its place in the pop music pantheon as time goes by, although my guess is that we'll still be dancing to "Surf Wax America" in another twenty years.

Superstar Duets That Were Anything But

Posted 1 week, 3 days ago by Jon O'Brien

With Shakira and Rihanna's status as two of the biggest hitmakers of their generation, expectations for their recently-unveiled collaboration were understandably high. But while "Can't Remember To Forget You" is by no means the nadir of each act's career, it's fair to say that its 'No Doubt B-side circa-1997' sound slightly underwhelmed. However, it's certainly not the first A-list hook-up which has failed to live up to its promise. Here's a look at five underwhelming 'superstar' duets which turned out to be anything but.

Britney Spears-& Madonna-- "Me Against The Music"

Both parties might not have been firing on all cylinders at the time - Madonna had just released the lowest-selling album of her career, American Life, while Britney hadn't scored a US Top 10 hit in three years. But still, the Queen and Princess of Pop together should surely have produced something more remarkable than this limp, lifeless and instantly forgettable slice of dance-pop. Indeed, far from the baton-passing affair most expected, "Me Against The Music" suggested that both parties wanted to surrender their crowns as its tepid R&B-lite production flailed around for four minutes in search of a vaguely memorable tune. Even Britney's tragic MTV VMA performance seemed less half-hearted.

Michael Jackson-& Paul McCartney-- "The Girl Is Mine"

Despite kicking off the campaign for the biggest-selling album of all time, the two Kings of Pop's collaboration seems to have been all but forgotten about since its 1982 release. It was never given a video, Jacko never performed it live while even in the wall-to-wall coverage of his death, it was barely given an airing. It's with good reason too. Far from the ground-breaking pop that dominated the rest of Thriller, "The Girl Is Mine" is a schmaltzy, sappy and sluggish MOR ballad which sounds like it belongs to a different record altogether. The pair redeemed themselves a year later with the far more enjoyable "Say Say Say" but this remains one of their most disappointing missteps.

Beyonce-& Lady Gaga-- "Video Phone"

Beyonce & Lady Gaga's "Telephone" is arguably a masterclass in how to produce a top-notch superstar duet which plays to both artists' strengths. "Video Phone" is the total opposite. Indeed, originally featured on Mrs Carter's I Am... Sasha Fierce, its aimless blend of tinny beats and smutty innuendo-laden lyrics sounded like they'd been dug up from the dreaded crunk era. While even a 'at the peak of her powers' Gaga failed to make any lasting impression as she struggled to make her voice heard above the utterly generic production. Pointless in the extreme.

Mick Jagger & David Bowie-- "Dancing In The Street"

Martha & The Vandellas' "Dancing In The Street" is so effortlessly joyous that you think it would be impossible for even the most musically-challenged to massacre, let alone two cornerstones of British rock. And yet hamming it up as if they were auditioning for a pantomime, David Bowie and Mick Jagger somehow manage to make the Motown classic sound cheap and nasty. -Recorded specifically for Live Aid, the pair's intentions might have been good but the results were nothing short of horrific.

Girls Aloud vs Sugababes-- "Walk This Way"

Also recorded in the name of charity, the biggest two UK girlbands of the 21st-Century hooked up in 2007 in order to raise money for Comic Relief. Between them, Sugababes and Girls Aloud had racked up over two dozen gloriously inventive pop singles. However, produced by Dallas Austin rather than their usual hit factory, Xenomania, "Walk This Way" was a 'will-this-do' cover of the Aerosmith/Run-D.M.C. classic which suggested that the two rivals couldn't get out of the studio quick enough.

5 Best Original Song Nominees That Were Robbed Of An Oscar

Posted on 8/3/14 by Jon O'Brien

From the carefree funk of Pharrell's "Happy" to the emotive stadium rock of U2's "Ordinary Love" to the intimate lullaby of Karen O's "Moon Song," the Academy can't really go wrong with whichever Best Original Song nominee they choose to award this year's Oscar to. But over the last 20 years, the category has become renowned -for ignoring anything vaguely contemporary in favour of the mawkish, the middle-of-the-road and the mediocre. Here's a look at five tracks that were robbed of a golden statuette.

Bjork--"I've Seen It All" (Dancer In The Dark,2002)

Her bizarre-but-brilliant white swan dress may have grabbed all the attention back in 2001 but Bjork didn't arrive at the Oscars merely to lay an egg on the red carpet. Indeed, she should have been there to pick up a gong for the standout number from Lars Von Trier's harrowing musical, a breath-taking blend of Vespertine-esque strings, digital beats and Gregorian chants which helped her tragic character Selma to come to terms with her blindness. But instead, the Icelandic maverick was denied the chance to make another 'grateful grapefruit' speech and had to watch Bob Dylan and the unremarkable grizzly blues-rock of Wonder Boys' "Things Have Changed" pick up the trophy instead. -

South Park - "Blame Canada" (South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, 2000)

You have to give some credit to the traditionally conservative voting panel for at least acknowledging a song which describes Anne Murray as a bitch, uses the F-word as a punchline and satirically trashes a whole nation. But performed by Robin Williams at the 2000 ceremony, the Broadway pastiche that is "Blame Canada" was perhaps just too big a curveball to receive the actual prize and Phil Collins' dreary Tarzan ballad "You'll Be In My Heart" was given the nod instead. Unsurprisingly, Trey Parker and Matt Stone didn't let the matter lie, later mocking the former Genesis frontman in an episode of South Park which concluded with the Oscar being inserted into his rear end.

Bird York - "In The Deep" (Crash, 2006)

Famously leading to host Jon Stewart's quip that Three 6 Mafia had more Oscars than Martin Scorsese, the Academy unexpectedly got down with the kids in 2006 when they rewarded the Memphis hip-hop outfit's contribution to the Hustle & Flow soundtrack. But far from the triumphant Rocky-esque anthem of the Oscars' first hip-hop winner, Eminem's "Lose Yourself," "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp" was a disappointingly formulaic affair. And although Jack Nicholson expressed surprise at Crash's victory over Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture, few would have complained if Bird York's gorgeously atmospheric ballad, "In The Deep," had boosted the controversial interweaving drama's awards tally.

Ray Parker Jr - "Ghostbusters" (Ghostbusters, 1985)

Possibly one of the most entertaining songs ever to be nominated for an Oscar, Ray Parker Jr's US Hot 100 chart-topper "Ghostbusters" was the perfect theme for the 1984 supernatural comedy, has become a staple of Halloween and has since been covered by everyone from Run-D.M.C. to Hoobastank. But alongside another classic 80s soundtrack hit, Kenny Loggins' "Footloose," the ghoulish synth-pop classic was denied a gong by arguably the lowest point of Stevie Wonder's career, The Woman In Red's soppy and over-sentimental love song, "I Just Called To Say I Love You."

A Mighty Wind - "A Kiss At The End Of The Rainbow" (A Mighty Wind, 2004)

The likes of "Smell The Glove" and "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" might have been criminally overlooked but the team behind This Is Spinal Tap finally got the chance to get their hands on an Oscar when "A Kiss At The End Of The Rainbow" received a nomination in 2004. Performed by Eugene Levy and Katherine O'Hara at a pivotal point in A Mighty Wind, the folk parody was the perfect mix of sincerity and satire. But the Oscar jury presumably suffered a sense of humour bypass and instead gave the award to Annie Lennox's pompous Lord Of The Rings lament, "Into The West."

 

Totally Bizarre Opening Acts

Posted on 25/2/14 by Jon O'Brien

Following last year's vitriol-spewing memoir, it appeared as though Morrissey may have finally used up all of his power to shock. But proving that you should under-estimate the eternal miserablist at your peril, he stunned everyone this month when he confirmed that veteran Vegas crooner Tom Jones and even more bizarrely, goody-two-shoes Cliff Richard, would be joining him for two US shows later this year. But he's certainly not the only artist to throw a curveball when it comes to support acts. Here's a look at five of the most bewildering mismatches.

We Are Scientists/We Are Scientists

New York trio We Are Scientists positioned themselves as indie-rock's most limelight-hogging outfit in 2007 when they embarked on their UK tour across the university circuit. Indeed, in a move which suggested they may soon change their name to We Are Scientologists, the band first took to the stage to deliver a 'Brain Thrust Mastery' seminar which aimed to show their fans the path towards 'taking instantaneous control of their physical, academic, sexual, medical, psychological, historical, emotional, intellectual, financial, theoretical and automotive destiny.'

Eels/Ventriloquists

Mark Oliver Everett and co. could take up this whole list, having tested the patience of their fans with a number of surreal and random opening acts over the years. In 2003, they invited a balding elderly funk DJ named MC Honky to warm up the crowd. In 2008, they screened the BBC documentary, Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, in full before coming on stage. While in 2013, they were supported by a demented clown called Puddles Pity Party. But it was their penchant for low-rent unconvincing ventriloquists during their 2010 tour which appeared to baffle audiences the most.

Einsturzende Neubauten/Showaddywaddy

German outfit Einsturzende Neubauten became industrial music pioneers with their abrasive blend of unlistenable vocals, white noise and percussion produced by various scrap metal objects. So who better to open for them at a London show in 1987 than a bunch of old-fashioned Teddy Boy revivalists. Many presumed that the strange choice was merely a tactic to make the Berlin quintet look better. If true, then it was a tactic which backfired when Showaddywaddy reportedly blew them off the stage.

The Monkees/Jimi Hendrix

Keen to be accepted as serious musicians, The Monkees invited the then-virtual unknown Jimi Hendrix Experience to open for the band during their 1967 US tour in a blatant bid to gain some credibility. Incredibly, despite believing that the cheeky chappies' infectious brand of pop was 'dishwater,' the future psychedelic rock god took up the offer and went onto confuse and bewilder a whole army of teenyboppers before walking away from Monkeemania having played just eight of the 29 scheduled dates.

Van Halen/Kool & The Gang

Funk legends Kool & The Gang appeared somewhat bemused themselves when they were asked to open for hard rock icons Van Halen on their 2012 North American reunion tour, revealing to Billboard that it was 'an interesting combination which caught us by surprise.' David Lee Roth's idea to bring together two wildly different 80s charts acts may have sounded slightly absurd on paper but with both bands' back catalogues tailor-made for partying, the odd pairing proved to be so successful that the tour was extended to an additional 18 dates.

 

Brutal Legend - The metelest of metal games

Posted on 14/2/14 by Penguin Pete

This may come as jaw-dropping news to some of you minions, but there's a heck of a crossover between video game players and metal fans. Who'da thunk it? Ever since Nine Inch Nails did the soundtrack for Quake, video game companies have been snuggling up to the harder side of the rock category - you'll also notice that when you find somebody playing Guitar Hero, they're almost never playing Neil Diamond.

So, Brutal Legend, whole title is slathered with umlauts that we'd just as soon not belabor your browser with:

Brutal Legend came out in 2009 and was kind of a lungfish of a game. It mixes elements of RTS, driving, a little bit of rhythm, and a whole lot of cut scenes. Gamers were divided on how well the playstyles blended. But this is a music blog; who cares about game play? We're here for Lemmy Kilmister as the "Kill Master," Rob Halford as "General Lionwhyte," Lita Ford as "Rima," and nothing less than Ozzy Osbourne as the "Guardian of Metal." Oh, and we almost forgot, Jack Black voicing the lead character Eddie Riggs.

Interested now?

Wait, we didn't mention the soundtrack contributions:

In fact, that's just scratching the surface! There's over a hundred songs in here by the top metal acts, some original, some licensed. Which makes it pretty amazing that this game ever got made, what with all the band licensing hassles.

The experience as a whole makes a stunning showcase of the metal music experience, but as a video game, it makes... did we mention "a stunning showcase of the metal music experience"? Well, the play-throughs on YouTube alone are fun to watch...

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