Weezer (Blue Album)

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Weezer 1994 debut albumTwenty years ago this weekend, Weezer stormed into rock and roll consciousness with their potent, popular, and critically acclaimed self-titled debut, which has come to be known as simply the “Blue Album”. Over these past two decades, critics and fans have been contorting to place the group’s sound within a specific genre, with many coming up with blends that include 80s hair metal, 90s grunge, and punk with a “geek” element. No doubt, Weezer draws from these influences, but to my ears I hear more late sixties influence like the Velvet Underground and, especially, The Kinks in their structure combined with an early nineties inhibition which leaves it raw, unreserved and honest.

Formed in in Los Angeles in 1992, Weezer is led by principle songwriter and vocalist Rivers Cuomo, who had already composed some of the material on this album prior to the band’s formation. ue their lack of a definitive genre, they were not initially well received by an L.A. club scene which was in the thrawls of a love affair with grunge rock. Undeterred, the band self-produced a demo known as “The Kitchen Tapes” to try to create some buzz, which they eventually received and were signed to a Geffen Records subsidery in mid 1993.

While the band pushed for self-producing their official debut, the label wanted an established producer. Former Cars frontman Ric Ocasek was eventually enlisted and helped guide band to find a “brighter” sound. For their part, the quartet prepared for the studio sessions by practicing vocal interplay and barbershop-styled songs, as is evidenced in the non-album track “My Evaline”. Bassist Matt Sharp developed a falsetto-style backing vocal, which ultimately enhanced the material’s sonic depth and mood. Once the group arrived at Electric Lady studios in New York, some of their inital tracks were cut for the better quality ones which came later. These include the songs “Lullaby for Wayne”, “I Swear It’s True”, “Getting Up and Leaving”, and “Mykel and Carli”, which are all included in the deluxe edition of Weezer, released ten years after the original.


Weezer by Weezer
Released: May 10, 1994 (DGC)
Produced by: Ric Ocasek
Recorded: Electric Lady Studios, New York, August–September 1993
Track Listing Group Musicians
My Name Is Jonas
No One Else
The World Has Turned and Left Me Here
Buddy Holly
Undone – The Sweater Song
Surf Wax America
Say It Ain’t So
In the Garage
Holiday
Only in Dreams
Rivers Cuomo – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica
Brian Bell – Guitars, Vocals
Matt Sharp – Bass, Vocals
Patrick Wilson – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Weezer 1994 debut

 

The album got it’s nickname from the simplistic album cover featuring the band members lined up in front of a plain, blue background. This cover is actually an example of early Photoshop, as guitarist Brian Bell‘s head was added to a pose by original guitarist Jason Cropper, who left the band during recoding of the album. Cropper’s only songwriting credit is on the opening track, “My Name Is Jonas”, which quickly alternates between the folk-influenced picked acoustic notes and the thumping electric chords all while drilling in certain riffs and themes such as; “the workers are going home”. There is a slight harmonica lead late in the song before it comes full circle to the acoustic in the dissolve. The next two tracks are thematically linked with “No One Else” being about an obsessive relationship and “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here” about the aftermath when it’s over. The latter song contains a blend of electric and acoustic riff during the intro and remains steady throughout, methodically and precisely delivering the message of isolation and delusion in the wake of heartbreak.

The most popular song on Weezer is Cuomo’s “Buddy Holly”, a short and sweet song with a plethera of pop culture references lyrically and plenty of sonic riffs on guitars and keyboards. Cuomo was originally against the song’s inclusion on the album, saying it was “too cheesy”, but Ocasek saw its potential and lobbied hard for it’s inclusion. The result was a melody-driven tune which reached #2 on the mainstream rock chart after it was released on the 58th anniversary of Buddy Holly’s birth.

At first “Undone – The Sweater Song” seems a bit frivilous with spoken word interludes between first verses, but ultimately the song is one of the most original and rewarding on the album. Despite the party ambience, this is a song about detachment with the vivid lyrical imagery of a sweater unraveling. Musically, it contains good guitar lead and an excellent and original outro, which employs feedback, keyboards, and piano in bringing the song to an end. Co-written by drummer Patrick Wilson, “Surf Wax America” is a good-time party song with a punk rhythm and Beach Boys-like imagery, until the mood turns dark and tragic;

…All along the undertow is strengthening its hold, I never though it would come to this, now I can never go home…”

“Say It Ain’t So” is another top-notch song with funk and soul verses before the slow, grungy rock riff dominates for the chorus hook. The tune later seems to advance to a new level through the middle section with deeply personal lyrics and dualing lead guitars. Very popular among fans, “Say It Ain’t So” is a signature Weezer tune.

After a short acoustic and harmonica intro, “In the Garage” is quickly interuppted by a thick, droning electric riff. The lyrics seem to celebrate a nerd’s man cave, which he uses as an asylum away from the real world. “Holiday” has a steady, driving rock rhythm throughout with thick layered guitar and vocal harmonies, which all flourish on this track despite it being one of the weaker on the album. The nearly eight-minute closer
“Only in Dreams” is held down by Sharp’s bass riff with some light and surreal guitar textures throughout. This song has the least amount movement of any but does finish the album aptly with a clear and indelible message.

Peaking at number sixteen on the album charts, Weezer has gone multi-platinum since its release. They followed up with another fine effort, Pinkerton in 1996, and have gone on the release several more successful albums through the past two decades.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1994 albums.

1994 Images

 

The Cars

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The CarsQuite simply one of the best produced albums of the era, the 1978 self-titled debut album from The Cars was a unique sounding breakthrough which brought the group instant worldwide attention. This is due to the brilliant production by Roy Thomas Baker and the approachable compositions of group leader Ric Ocasek. Combined, these elements made for a potent mix of new wave cool and radio-friendly pop, which positioned The Cars as an unavoidable jewel to carry the day in the late seventies. The band would later jokingly refer to this as their “true greatest-hits album”, as just about all of the nine tracks have receive significant rotation on rock radio through the years.

Ocasek and bassist Benjamin Orr began performing as a duo in Columbus, Ohio before migrating to Boston in the early 1970s. There they joined with keyboardist Greg Hawkes, formed the folk band Milkwood, and released a 1973 album which failed to chart. After a few more Ocasek/Orr incarnations, including a jazz band, the group decided to go in a rock-oriented direction. Guitarist Elliot Easton and drummer David Robinson rounded out the quintet with Robinson coming up with the band’s simple name.

After a demo of the song “Just What I Needed” began getting heavy airplay on a Boston radio station, Elektra Records sent Baker across the ocean to scout the band. After seeing The Cars perform in a Boston school gymnasium, Baker instantly signed the group to a four album deal, all of which he would personally produce.


The Cars by The Cars
Released: June 14, 1978 (Elektra)
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker
Recorded: AIR Studios, London, February 1978
Side One Side Two
Good Times Roll
My Best Friend’s Girl
Just What I Needed
I’m in Touch with Your World
Don’t Cha Stop
You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
Bye Bye Love
Moving In Stereo
All Mixed Up
Band Musicians
Ric Ocasek – Guitars, Lead Vocals
Benjamin Orr – Bass, Lead Vocals
Elliot Easton – Guitars, Vocals
Greg Hawkes – Keyboards, Saxophone, Vocals
David Robinson – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The albums first three tracks each reached the Top 40 on the pop charts. “Good Times Roll” commences the album aptly with a slow-rocking guitar riff to draw in traditional rock fans while a full-fledged new wave band arrangement and production is attractive to fans on late 70s pop. Like many of the popular songs on the album, “Good Times Roll” is masterfully segmented with repeated choruses each containing different sonic elements – a guitar riff, a synth lead, chorus vocals, and creative counter-melodies. The song methodically sequences through musical passages on the journey to the song’s end. Ocasek’s lyrics and title are meant more as irony than a true pronouncement of celebration.

“My Best Friend’s Girl” follows with much of the same formula as “Good Times Roll”, building from a simple guitar riff to a full band arrangement. However, this song has more roots rock and blues elements than the opener, especially the cleanly picked guitar overdub and lead by Easton and the bouncy electric piano by Hawkes. While this recording pushes the song into new wave territory, it remains firmly a pop song with simple elements like handclaps and call-and-response vocal interplay. “Just What I Needed” may be the most purely new wave song on the album with spazzy guitars and square-wave synth lead. The only song on the first side which Orr sings instead of Ocasek, the song was the group’s first big hit regionally and internationally.

Aside from the cool but repetitive guitar riffing, “I’m in Touch with Your World” is really just a sound-effect-laden collage which tends to sound undercooked and a bit confused. Although not a terrible listen, the song is almost like an experimental piece which samples many synth-driven sound effects and uses other concise methods such as a saxophone solo that lasts all of five seconds. “Don’t Cha Stop” starts with a good guitar led verse which unfortunately gives way to the stale caricature of a chorus. Aside from drummer Robinson getting a chance to really wail on the drums, this side one closer one of the few tracks on the album which doesn’t hold up sonically three and a half decades later.

The flange-driven drum march of “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”, which later contains a few really good guitar jams. Beyond that, the song tends to lose steam as it gets repetitive during the body. Perhaps, the formula from side one goes a bit too far on this side two opener and by this point on the album Ocasek’s dry vocals seem to wear a little thin on the ears of the passive listener. Perhaps Baker had this in mind when sequencing the final three tracks which each feature Orr on lead vocals.

These final three also segue into each other, in an exhilarating mini-suite which may constitute the finest part of The Cars. “Bye Bye Love” is simply the best song on the album. A composition which dates back to the mid seventies, this tune has a driving rock energy and Orr not only handles lead vocals but also plays his best bass on the album. Aside from Orr, the song is a real showcase for Hawkes, who artfully uses the repetitive riffs between the verse lines with layered and building keyboard font which change with each iteration. A less in-your-face and more unassuming track than some of the more popular songs, “Bye Bye Love” starts and concludes with great energy with Easton’s brilliant guitar a head-banging, rudimentary rock riff.

The Cars, 1978

Hawkes co-wrote “Moving in Stereo”, making it the only song on the album not composed solely by Ocasek. A darker, theatrical, and more intense sonic experience which nearly lasts five minutes (a very long song for this album), the song carries a theme for audiophiles and stereo enthusiasts. Orr has a much smoother singer style which works well for this moody song and his bass is treated with an effects unit that doubles the bass line one octave higher. The closer “All Mixed Up” is the closest thing to a ballad on this album, with Orr singing in an almost folk-like method and with a higher range than anywhere else. While the song maintains some of the album’s new wave elements, it contains many other features such as some good faux synth orchestral horns, an actual saxophone, and a short, country-influenced guitar lead.

The Cars sold one million copies by the end of 1978 and remained on the charts for nearly three years. Although it only peaked at number 18, Billboard ranked it number 4 on their “Top Albums of the Year” countdown. Critically, the album has been labeled “a genuine rock masterpiece”. It launched a ten year charting career for the group which included several more hit albums and songs.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1978 albums.

1978 Images