Twenty Years of The Blue Album
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.