With a few notable exceptions, the popular music of the 1980’s did very little for me. My decade was the 90’s, after the “Alternative” scene came above ground.
Many of my faves from the 80’s — most of whom I heard on “college radio” — came along with the newer bands. Most of them fit in nicely with the music of the new decade.
St. Louis, Missouri got in touch with the Alternative movement in February of ’93 with the installation of KPNT (“The Point”), an FM radio station offering (at the time) the widest variety of music you would ever hear on commercial radio. It was an absolute godsend to people like me who weren’t digging R&B (too plastic and synth driven) or “Classic Rock” formats (I mean, one can only hear “Stairway to Heaven” so many times). Salvation, it would seem, lay at 105.7 on your radio dial.
It was nothing to hear Liz Phair, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Suzanne Vega, Peter Gabriel, R.E.M., U2, and so many others on The Point in its infancy. “Heavy rotation” wasn’t quite a thing for them early on, to my great joy.
Naturally, the consultants swept in and ruined the station. It was still listenable, but the variety was significantly reduced, making long-term listens less enjoyable because you slowly started to hear the same songs again and again.
Band after band was kicked to the curb as The Point tightened its musical reigns. But one band survived the cut, and continues to be played to this very day. That band is Weezer, who released a self-titled album in 1994. They have since released other self-titled recordings, so this one became known as The Blue Album because of its background of the same color behind a photo of the band. Why this particular album is still being played becomes more and more obvious with each play. There’s nothing not to like here!
Admittedly, I didn’t buy the album right away. The radio more than had it covered, as something from the album would inevitably makes its way on the air while I was listening. In all honesty, I don’t remember when I bought my copy. It’s just there, on the shelf, where it will remain until the end of my time on Earth. The Blue Album is what we call a “mainstay.”
What makes this record special? Well, a variety of things. The record clocks in at a tight 41 minutes and change. Each song is well written and performed, with no excess or filler to be found. Someone might argue that many of the songs sound similar. While I won’t argue that point, I will say there is just enough difference in each to to make them stand out in their own way.
The record also sounds remarkable, which led to the surprise revelation (for me) that it was produced by Ric Ocasek of The Cars. My association with that band was casual, at best. This is to say I never turned away from them on the radio, and I have a copy of their greatest hits. I never disrespected Ocasek, but my regard for him improved by leaps and bounds due to his work on The Blue Album. He and Weezer were clearly dialed into one another.
While I would never call the opening track, “My Name is Jonas,” a Cars song, I would argue that they’re cousins. Ocasek wasted no time making his presence felt. Weezer also establishes the album’s sound right away. It’s guitar driven, earnestly sung, and fired at you in short, controlled bursts. I often look at the Fender Stratocasters hanging on my wall as this music plays, since I know that’s the guitar I would use to bring these songs to life. I really appreciated lead vocalist/guitarist Rovers Cuomo validating my thought process on the Happy Days-inspired music video for the single “Buddy Holly.”
I hate using the word “catchy” to describe my favorite songs. But where this album is concerned, there’s no getting around it. The hooks jump right off the disc and grab ahold of you with no intention of letting go. Next thing you know, you’re singing right along with nearly every track!
And the hooks have staying power, which is no doubt one of the main reasons they survived the Alternative purge brought forth by radio consultants. After all, “catchy” equates to record sales and repeated airplay. That lends to solid ratings, which leads to advertising revenue. And make no mistake: revenue was, is, and always will be the driving force behind commercial radio.
Weezer is everything you wanted your garage band to be. Their songs are playable, yet timeless. They are what you want pop music to be, as opposed to the trendy, highly stylized and instantly disposable songs that tend to populate the airwaves. They engage the audience, inducing an almost instant response to every song.
Playing the music at home can also reveal little bits and pieces that never make their way to radio airwaves, like the feedback-laden distortion and noise that closes out “Undone — the Sweater song.” I nearly forget about it every time until bam! There it is again, inducing a grin every time.
While there is most certainly a degree of familiarity in each Blue Album song, my favorite steps outside the format just a bit in the form of the (slightly) reggae-driven tearjerker “Say it Ain’t So.” Great songwriting, a great hook, solid rhythm and a guitar solo made this the one tune on the album I had to learn how to play. In my guitar-playing prime, I almost had it. I’ll have to revisit it one day.
The Blue Album is one of the faster moving albums in my collection. But it’s a highly energetic album, so there’s no real need for it to slow down. If not for the seven-plus minute finale, “Only in dreams,” this album would have struggled to break 37 or so minutes. Hardly uncommon in the 70’s, but not in the era of albums known to go on for at least 50 minutes.
But as I said before, this is a TIGHT 10 songs and 41 minutes. Nothing is wasted, each song has value, and show what a talented band with great songs and a producer who knows how to give each song what it needs adds up to a fantastic record.
No doubt someone will ask me if I put The Blue Album in the Pantheon of records like Revolver or Pet Sounds. My short answer is yes, but in a different way. Unfortunately, I can’t quite define what that way is. Perhaps that’s because I was aware of this album when it was released, unlike the other two because I wasn’t quite born when they came out. Listening is all about context, and that context is distinctly different for me where this album is concerned.
Not that any of that matters. This album stands nearly alone amongst well-known albums of the 90’s. It. Is. PERFECT.
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