Counterbalance: Weezer (Blue Album)

Oo-ee-oo I look just like Buddy Holly. Oh-oh, and you're Mary Tyler Moore. I don't care what they say about the 352nd most acclaimed album anyway. I don't care bout that.

Mendelsohn: For the next round of Counterbalance, I picked two albums from 1994. One I listened to non-stop and the other I never bothered with. We will get to the record I loved dearly in my formative years, but this week we are going to talk about the record (and the band) I have managed to ignore for 20 years — Weezer and their self-titled debut (also known as The Blue Album).

Twenty years, Klinger. I’ve gotten this far without ever giving a second thought to Weezer. Sure, they have been a pop mainstay, somehow eking out record sales as the tastes have shifted from grunge, to boys bands, to pop divas, to garage rock, back to pop divas, etc., ad infinitum. Before this week, if you had asked me about Weezer I may answer would have been, “Yeah sure, Weezer, they are that band with those songs about Buddy Holly, Sweaters, Hash Pipes and Beans. Good for them.” And now I’m listening to The Blue Album and kind of cursing myself for not ignoring them for thirty years. But then, this record is on the Great List, sitting at a respectable no. 352.

As much as I want to just toss this record aside, it isn’t completely without merit. It spawned three hit singles — one of which I find completely hypnotic. I was convinced that Weezer’s success had more to do with the music videos than anything else (this was back in the day when MTV had the power to influence music and make people pay attention instead of the endless parade of drunken teen ethnic stereotypes). After listening to the record again I’m much more willing to admit it has some staying power but is it really worthy of its placement in the Great List?

Klinger: Personally, I don’t think so, but I am on record as having no nostalgia whatsoever for this stupid decade at all. In fact, I can’t for the life of me understand how anyone could. Maybe it’s because I was broke for like the entire decade. I don’t know. Anyway, this is a power-pop record, and it could have been a much better power-pop record if it weren’t for those layers upon layers of guitars that are slathered all over everything like mayonnaise on a Cracker Barrel cheeseburger. But that’s what they did back then, and I think that’s why I can’t get my ears engaged. Musically, it doesn’t offer texture to keep me listening.

Is there much going here lyrically? I got a little squicked out by that “No One Else” song, which someone really needs to explain to me is in fact a preternaturally nuanced satire of a guy a with ridiculously retrograde views of male-female relations, because I can’t stop thinking that it’s fuel for the fire of maybe a few too many of those MRA guys who are currently flooding a comments section somewhere near us right now. Anyway, I figured it might be best if I just kind of checked out on the lyrics for a while. I can check back in if you think that will help.

Mendelsohn: No. I applaud your decision. I would have done the same. The problem is, if I check out as well, there will be no one left to rake Weezer over the coals. You’re searing indictment isn’t that far off. The Blue Album is a flat exhibition of feedback-soaked chords. A simplistic assault from every direction. Not that there is anything wrong with simple and lots of distortion. The Ramones were simple and had a penchant keeping it that way. Lyrically, this record sounds like it was written by a maladjusted thirteen year old, which, I suppose it was. But we’ve seen maladjusted misfits pen worse. Iggy Pop and AC/DC spring to mind. No one is going make them poet laureate.

But this band refuses to go away. They have two records on the Great List, The Blue Album and Pinkerton, and seem to score a hit every couple of years following the same power pop path. I was baffled by this record until it I remembered something you told me a long, long time ago. Rock critics are sad pop geeks. Rivers Cuomo is a sad pop geek. This whole record is tailor made to score points with the maladjusted, socially inept criteratti. It is nothing but heartache, bewilderment and uncomfortable social ideals. Now that I’ve thought about it, I’m surprised this record isn’t higher on the Great List.

Klinger: No, now that you put it that way this number seems about right to me, since it seemed awfully high to me. I guess what’s always made power-pop such an irresistible force for critics is the notion that, at its best, it’s written from the perspective of some basically adorkable schlub-a-dub who just can’t quite figure out these girls. Cuomo never quite pulls that shtick off, and as a result he just sounds bitter and disaffected lyrically (and maybe more like someone playing the role of a sad pop geek) and more than a little careerist musically.

And it’s that careerism that partly explains why Weezer has kept popping up from time to time. I remember when Pinkerton came out and promptly flopped (mainly, I suspect, due to the lack of Happy Days-themed videos), and a small cadre of fans on the nascent internet widely hailed it as an underrated masterpiece. Since then, the group has relied on undeniable hooks and increasingly bigger sounds to occasionally force the hand of the mainstream. But nevertheless, I’m curious: If you’re indifferent at best to Weezer, what caused you to pick this record this week? And what are the positives (which you alluded to earlier) that you’re drawing from it?

Mendelsohn: I picked the record to see if I would remain indifferent or if I might gain some insight into a band I never really understood. Weezer was huge in the 1990s. Half of my social circle had a copy of this record, and I just didn’t get it. Later these same people were the ones listening to Blink 182 and Sum 41, so I suppose its a good thing I never tried. I had decidedly different musical tastes at the time — we will get to that later. With that in mind, I just wanted to go back and revisit the past. What I found on Weezer as a rather uninspired power pop record with too much feedback. But despite my distaste for such things, I couldn’t help but notice the well placed pop licks and the awkward but engaging harmonizing, between Cuomo and bassist Matt Sharp, and that seemed like enough to keep bringing me back. That and “Say It Ain’t So.” I have listened to that song over and over again for the past week and I can’t get sick of it. Weezer managed to write a bonafide hit (without the aid of a Happy Days-themed video) and for my money, that song still stands the test of time. They were able to temper the overblown distortion and that balance between the wall of feed back and Sharp’s rolling bass draws me in every time.

At first glance it is kind of a goofy song. Cuomo is having a panic attack about finding a beer in his fridge. But it reveals a deeper layer to his songwriting. The simplicity belies a depth of anguish. Cuomo finds the beer and begins to see his life unravel as he makes the connection between his father leaving due to alcoholism and now he fears his step-father falling into that trap as well. Looking over the whole of the record reveals a catalogue of failed relationships and strained personal relations. In “No One Else”, Cuomo comes off as sexist, for that poor behavior he gets dumped and laments what could have been in “The World has Turned and Left Me Here”. That follows into “Buddy Holly”, as another relationship starts and he feels the need to protect his new girlfriend. Transition into the “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and we find Cuomo documenting the demise of that relationship as he goes from being over confident to giving control of the relationship to his partner, letting her know that she can walk away, destroy the relationship but come back at any time by following the thread and he’ll be waiting.

I hadn’t expected this type of depth.

Klinger: Hmm. Me neither. And perhaps I’ve been a little rash in my assessment, and perhaps Weezer’s checkered output in the years since their initial breakthrough has clouded my judgment. Or maybe I’m just a grouch, especially when it comes to the stupid ’90s that you keep making me remember. Maybe I need to think about Weezer as the heir to the thrones of Cheap Trick, who managed to crank out a series of power-pop gems (with a surprising facility for lyrics) despite only being half adorkable schlub-a-dubs.

Part of being a critic (even though we’re going on about albums that are pretty much settled business, we are kind of critics, aren’t we?) involves having a visceral reaction to music — or in my case, a visceral non-reaction. An album hits you in a certain way, and it’s hard to shake off that initial perception. Weezer seemed like a flash in the pan when I first heard them. Even though they’ve revealed themselves to be more than that, I’m still thinking of them in that way, and it’s entirely possible that I could stand to rethink my position on these first couple albums. Have I been wrong? Wouldn’t be the first time.