[13 August 2014]
Weezer from the 1990s holds a very special place in the hearts of many, having released two landmark albums that have gone on to influence innumerable acts over the last 20 years. Regardless of the good will they’ve long since squandered following their comeback in 2001, both their 1994 self-titled debut (affectionately referred to as “the Blue Album”) and 1997’s Pinkerton continue to resonate with bands across a myriad genres with echoes of their influence found within countless grooves on records released by both major and independent labels.
Pinkerton, with its raw emotionality and cathartic approach to songwriting, became an emo touchstone and, following Weezer’s more pop-leaning, radio-friendly material, proved to be a commercial failure that, over time, has garnered cult status. As ground zero for the second and most culturally significant wave of emo at the turn of the millennium, Pinkerton’s songs served as a sonic template from which a multitude of bands created albums aping its heartfelt sentiments, straining their vocal cords and frayed nerves in the process. This heart-on-sleeve approach found favor with a number of musicians who sought to bring their diary-ready lyrical approach to songwriting out of the more acoustic-friendly coffee houses and into rock clubs across the country.
Of course as with any such movement, it eventually became more and more watered down, eventually becoming a pale imitation of the original and little more than a cultural punch line and shorthand for something less than favorable. Now some seventeen years removed from Pinkerton’s release and on the twentieth anniversary of the arrival of Weezer, a new emo movement is afoot with a number of bands taking queues from both Weezer and its progeny to create a muscular brand of indie rock heavy on emotion and, unlike previous iterations, fond of shorter song times, getting to the point with maximum impact and quickly moving on with things.
Ranking near the top of the heap of the latest crop of emo bands, Tampa, Florida’s You Blew It! started off 2014 with a bang in the form of their exceptional release, Keep Doing What You’re Doing. With its anguished vocal delivery, twining guitars, and booming bass, Keep Doing What You’re Doing raised the bar for bands subscribing to the newest wave of emo, delivering an album of emotional grandeur without relying too heavily on staid lyrical tropes that too often weigh down others in the genre, instead delivering an album worthy of its predecessors: simultaneously sounding timeless and very much of the moment.
An homage to their musical lineage in the form of an album of Weezer covers then would not seem too far beyond the realm of possibility or entirely out of You Blew It!’s wheelhouse. The fact that they eschewed Pinkerton’s like-minded, raw emotionality in favor of the Blue Album’s more pop-leaning sensibilities, however, comes as a bit of a surprise. The homonymic title and humorously spot-on cover recreation aside (down to the color combinations and awkward hand poses), there would be little that would draw these two more than tangentially together.
But here we are with an EP’s worth of Weezer covers, all of which are derived from the Blue Album (with the exception of the beloved Blue Album-era B-side “Susanne”). Faithfully attempting to recreate each with a reverence that ultimately lessens the potential impact of the tracks themselves, You Blew It! take a far too subdued and respectful approach to the source material, failing to fully stamp their youthful musical voice on well-loved classics. Opting to select tracks seemingly at random instead of creating something more faithful to the original, You Blue It plays more like a competent cover band running through the Blue Album as the songs come to them in the moment more than based on the original running order. A minor qualm, this reshuffling clearly aims to establish You Blue It as something separate from the original and with its own distinct voice.
Opening with “In The Garage”, You Blew It! show a competency for recognizing the original’s basic components, swapping only the harmonica for a melodica on the intro. Further in, the harder edges displayed to maximum effect on Keep Doing What You’re Doing have been shown to be fully sanded away in favor of a lighter, more delicate approach that borders on overly-respectful, white-glove treatment as if these were priceless artifacts rather than simple pop songs. Even the guitars favor softer tones that lessen the overall impact of the chorus when it lands, creating little differentiation in the song’s structure and thus missing the point of Rivers Cuomo’s Nirvana-cribbed loud/soft dynamics. With a note-for-note recreation of the original’s guitar solo, You Blew It! somehow manage to turn what was once an homage to great guitar rock into something almost twee and overall feels more like a pleasant recitation, a civic players recreation that, while hitting all the right beats, doesn’t quite compare to the original.
Finding itself second in the running order, Weezer’s original opening statement “My Name Is Jonas” here is delivered solely through electric guitars, forgoing the original’s delicate finger-plucked intro in favor of slightly distorted electric work that, like “In The Garage”, misses the loud/soft dynamic when the full band and vocals arrive. One doesn’t generally think of Rivers Cuomo as possessing a hard-edged vocal style, but You Blew It!’s readings tend to highlight the harshness with which the original vocal performances were delivered. Listening to Weezer you felt as though Cuomo meant every last word, whereas these seem more like careful, loving recreations; the emotional vocal cracks are still here and there, but more as an affectation than out of desperation.
Emo touchstone and epic album closer “Only In Dreams” is presented here with the aforementioned brevity and, in lieu of the original’s opening bass riff, begins with a delicate keyboard treatment that ultimately carries none of the original’s weight. The bass itself fails to make an appearance until nearly a full minute into the track, by which time the song is nearly a quarter of the way over. That said, these deviations from the original make “Only In Dreams” one of the more compelling recreations on You Blue It. Using the original’s structure as a suggested template, You Blew It! create something new and beautiful. This becomes most evident when, rather than exploding on the choruses, they choose to invert the sound, creating something small and delicate and largely keyboard-based, setting up a jarring anti-climax of sorts that is weirdly exhilarating coming from the original’s proto-emo bombast. Like much of the album, the same basic sentiment is there, simply turned a bit on its ear and filtered through the past twenty years of indie rock created since Weezer’s release.
Like “Only In Dreams”, “Surf Wax America” is given a softer treatment. Varying slightly from the original’s driving guitar line, You Blew It! craft a line more akin to mid-period Death Cab For Cutie in its fluid melodicism. The vocals follow suit with a softer edge under which the bass outlines a descending figure not present in the original. Overall, instrumentally You Blew It!’s reading of “Surf Wax America” plays a bit more compellingly than the original with a lovely keyboard and mallet break on the bridge during which choir-boy vocals display a vocal agility far surpassing that of the original’s struggling and straining. An “oh shit” follows a flubbed “let’s go” that fails to hit the original’s scream before the song simply runs out of steam and collapses in on itself.
Album closer “Susanne” strips away the full-band trappings and instead leaves just struggling falsetto vocals, guitar, and melodica, presented in an appropriately lo-fi manner. Sounding like a lost reading from Cuomo’s recent Alone series, it serves as a fair way to end this brief tribute to a once-great band that, despite numerous dubious musical transgressions in the intervening years, still holds a special place in the hearts of many. In attempting to convey their reverence and appreciation for the material and its influence, You Blew It! aim high, but ultimately fall just short of the mark. Had they adhered more stylistically to what they do best, this could very well have capped a banner year for the group. Instead it simply reminds listeners how good both Weezer and Keep Doing What You’re Doing are.