Weezer’s self-titled debut album came out 20 years ago today. I wrote about this watershed anniversary in the pages of this week’s issue, but here are a lot more thoughts I had while paying homage to one of the best rock debuts in the history of the medium.
1. It’s stunning to think that Weezer came out less than a month after Kurt Cobain’s suicide. It was obviously recorded well before that incident, but it retrospectively represents a vividly clear line of demarcation between the old grunge and the new grunge. It was as if Hole’s Live Through This was the last alt album that was allowed to be about heavy pathos; from Weezer on, people were going to have fun with this modern rock thing. It played out in the charts: By the time the summer was over, Green Day’s snot-nosed caterwauling breakout single “Basket Case” was a dominant Alternative number one.
2. That’s not to say Weezer is an entirely whimsical affair. It often gets remembered as a wacky outing because of “Buddy Holly” and that lyric about taking a surfboard to work, but at least half of Weezer’s debut is crushingly sad. The sentiment of “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here” is exactly the type of itchy adolescent angst Cobain was tapping into, and frontman Rivers Cuomo just happened to croon more sweetly.
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3. Weezer is always way harder than I remember it. Though the production—courtesy of Cars mastermind Ric Ocasek—is aerodynamically slick, there’s a ton of crunch and feedback winding its way through the songs. The bridge on “Buddy Holly” is proper metal.
4. The first single from Weezer’s debut was “Undone – The Sweater Song,” but the bulk of the rock audience found Weezer via “Buddy Holly” (and specifically through its Spike Jonze-directed, Happy Days-loving heavy rotation video). “Buddy Holly” is an awesome song, with chunky guitars, a perfect melody, and a lyric sheet that is equal parts astute and absurd. As a seventh grader, I didn’t really understand the meta-narrative going on underneath the song, and I really didn’t understand who Mary Tyler Moore was, but I did love that a dude who looked like Cuomo could open up his hit rock song with the line, “What’s with these homies dissing my girl? Why do they gotta front?”
5. Of course, the iconic video for “Buddy Holly” elevated Weezer from promising alt-rockers to mainstream monsters, and it helped Spike Jonze make a name for himself as well. Jonze had been making waves in the music video world already, scoring positive marks for his clips for Sonic Youth’s “100%” and the Breeders’ “Cannonball.” At the beginning of ’94, the Beastie Boys tapped him to craft their legendary clip for “Sabotage,” which effectively made him the biggest name in videos. But “Buddy Holly” was his true star-making moment, as it not only allowed him to flex his technical muscles (the blending of the new footage with the Happy Days clips, now an easy afterthought available to anybody with iMovie, was jaw-dropping at the time), but also galvanized his position as a member of the cool kids’ club. Jonze could have easily been borrowing the Beasties caché with “Sabotage,” but with “Buddy Holly,” Weezer were still a (relatively) clean slate.
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Talk about this iconic album and how hard Weezer fell off in this post