Why Weezer’s Blue Album is the Best Album of the 90’s


Conall Coats

Weezer’s first album is a popular and iconic album on the internet, but does it deserve its fame?

The guitars are colossal and fuzzy, but brimming with brightness. The bass is low, playing in unison with the guitars. The drums are simplistic, not straying too much from their repetitive rhythm. The vocals sound regular, but familiar, like your best friend is singing. They’re sweetened by awkward falsetto harmonies that occasionally coalesce into beauty. The lyrics sound disconcertingly personal at times, and when not in this style they revolve around out-of-left-field topics such as construction, garages, and surfing. It might seem like a recipe for disaster. And some would argue it was. But for many, Weezer’s debut album remains one of the most enduring and popular albums of all time. Its songs are still played on the radio, its cover is endlessly parodied on the internet, and its overwhelming success would cast a burden on the band that would follow it forever. 

But how did four self-proclaimed nerds with nothing but an unremarkable past in the metal scene create one of Rolling Stone’s 300 greatest albums of all time? The journey certainly wasn’t without its hiccups. As he flunked out of the Guitar Institute of Technology, Rivers Cuomo, lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter for the band, watched band member after band member trickle away from his failing metal band, Zoom. His dream of becoming a rock star was crumbling before his eyes. But after being introduced to the broader music scene by a friend, his horizons broadened and he began to write some of the songs that would eventually debut with Weezer, this time alongside his future bandmates. Two bands, at least one move, and a gig alongside Keanu Reeves’ band Dogstar later, Weezer was born. Cuomo told  Rolling Stone that when it released its first album in 1994, Weezer “could not have been more hated.” Many music fans of the day questioned the sudden appearance of Cuomo and his bandmates. Some compared them to cheap copies of “real” rock bands. But despite serious resistance from rock fans, plenty of young listeners loved the music. And eventually, even those original critics would be won over by Weezer’s lasting sound. In the US, the classic would peak at number 16 on the Billboard 200 in 1995. And by 2009, Weezer aka The Blue Album had already sold 15 million copies worldwide. 

At the start of the sessions, Weezer had a lineup consisting of Cuomo, bassist Matt Sharp, Drummer Patrick Wilson, and second guitarist Jason Cropper. But after suffering various mental health maladies, Cropper would exit the band, with his parts on the album being replaced by Cuomo’s playing. To maintain the veneer of a quartet, a friend of the band named Brian Bell was hastily hired to perform on tour and appear in the music videos, but in terms of actual contribution to the album, Bell would only add backing vocals and no actual instrumentation. Indeed, without the presence of a second guitarist, Cuomo would mastermind the album, his distinctive voice, and songwriting dominating the final record. That’s not to say he was the only distinct character on the final recording. Wilson co-wrote three of the songs, and Sharp provides unique and high-pitched backing vocals to a number of the songs. Today his amateurish singing is considered a hallmark of the record’s sound. Even the departed Cropper would contribute, having previously written the guitar riff that opens the album on My Name Is Jonas

Beyond the quintet at the center of the album’s sound was producer Ric Ocasek. Ocasek was the primary singer, songwriter, and guitarist for The Cars, a hugely popular band renowned for their radio hits in the late 70s and early 80s. Listen to The Cars’ hits like Just What I Needed and Shake It Up and you can easily hear the mark Ocasek brought to the band. The geeky vocals and crunchy guitars that Ocasek would port over from his old band would provide the album with a slightly retro vibe. And it’s this old-school cuddliness that set the record apart from its contemporaries – as grunge was disappearing faster and faster into its own navel, Weezer provided a sunnier alternative. Rock music grew increasingly brooding, but Weezer kept a positive disposition while not sacrificing emotional honesty – indeed, many of these songs pack an emotional weight while still remaining upbeat in musical style. But an album can have a great sound and still be lacking in songwriting. Luckily, Cuomo delivered with an evergreen collection of 10 songs that could all easily have been hits. 

My Name Is Jonas is the ideal start to the album, an excellent opening track, and a masterpiece of arrangement and lyricism. Opening with a fast-paced acoustic guitar arpeggio, the calm is quickly broken with a crushing salvo of guitar and drums. Rivers sweetly spins a tale of construction work intrigue – the overarching theme of insurance is an odd one, but it works surprisingly well. My Name Is Jonas is a fantastic start to the record, and it just might be the best track on the album.

No One Else may be one of the least musically interesting songs on the album, but it still holds a special place on the track, if only for its lyrics. No One Else tells the story of a frustrated man whose girlfriend isn’t showing enough discretion, and increasingly cares more about the opinions of other people and less about him. The resulting song sees the man express his desire for a girl who will “laugh for no one else” and who won’t ever “leave the house” when he’s away. While it’s clearly jealous and selfish, it’s also sympathetic. The song taps into a deep human desire for the exclusive attention of someone else, especially after emotional harm. On the music side, the song retains the classic guitar performances of the rest of the album but doesn’t stay firmly in memory like some of its counterparts.

The World Has Turned And Left Me Here is the breakup anthem of the Blue Album. Cuomo himself experienced several nasty breakups before his time with Weezer, so this song comes straight from the heart. The lyrics swing from easily definable to variably interpretable, which makes the song both universal and specific. And the power of Brian Bell and Matt Sharp’s backup vocals is rarely more evident than in The World has Turned, where it adds a deep layer of emotion and sincerity. Cuomo’s vocals are similarly powerful. Music-wise, the song is oddly pleasant to listen to for a breakup song. In both lyrics and tone, The World Has Turned seems more like the story of a sad and slightly bitter going-of-ways than an angry blame game. With catchy lyrics and pleasingly sung and layered vocals, this song is an unforgettable part of the album. 

Undeniably the most iconic song on the album, Buddy Holly has remained a cultural landmark for decades. Its nostalgic sound and homage to rock icon Buddy Holly still resonate with audiences today, but perhaps more influential in Buddy Holly’s success was the music video for the song. In the now-iconic clip, Weezer plays the song in a mock-up of the diner from the iconic 70’s sitcom Happy Days. The song and music video were so popular that Cuomo became nervous, imagining that music fans were starting to picture Weezer as a “gimmick” band who preyed upon the nostalgia of their fanbase. But aside from its nostalgic sound and music video, what has made Buddy Holly such a classic? Well, it’s immediately obvious that the guitar performances on the song are stellar. The song’s best riffs have become iconic, and catchy lyrics complete the big-hit package. At the end of the day, Buddy Holly is a fun listen that will draw you in with its catchy tune and well-paced rhythm. It’s also the thesis of the kind of music that Weezer put on the Blue Album: if you don’t like Buddy Holly, you probably won’t like many of the other songs on the album. 

Although Only In Dreams probably wins the title of “black sheep” of the album, if there was a second place it might go to Undone (The Sweater Song). For example, Undone starts with weird background conversations between fans about attending (assumedly) a Weezer concert. These conversations make up a notable portion of the song, as the band plays buildup. For another, the slow and plodding “Oh no, it go, it gone, bye bye,” is kind of a weird piece of an otherwise consistently paced album (besides just being weird lyrics). Certainly no other song will mention being left in “superman skivvies”. But although the song doesn’t quite fit some of it’s other Blue Album counterparts, it received commercial and critical success. Musically, the song boasts plenty of soft buildup in between passionate choruses. Although it’s definitely a change of pace, it’s a welcome one: coupled with quirky lyrics, the song holds a prevalent place in memory long after the album finishes. And once again, the guitar performances are wonderful, if more subtle, when compared with other songs like Buddy Holly

Surf Wax America continues the unusual lyrical theme of Undone and extols the virtues of surfing, an activity which we haven’t found any evidence of Weezer participating in. Despite their lack of experience with the subject matter, the band plays as great as ever, and this song remains one of the album’s most beloved non-single songs. The soaring chorus is instantly classic, and the Beach-Boys-go-punk vibe is addictive. But this is Matt Sharp’s time to shine – his steady bass playing is mixed louder than usual and best of all, he gets a short singing solo after the bridge, his awkward falsetto unburdened by the rest of the band, accompanied only by a rumbling organ. His voice might be squeaky, but his delicate phrasing and harmonies with Bell and Cuomo are legitimately beautiful, one of the album’s most powerful moments. It’s spine-tingling, despite the silly subject matter and the band’s goofy reputation. It’s these quiet moments that hold the most power on the Blue Album, and Sharp’s exit from the band after the second album would prove a big blow to the band. 

Say It Ain’t So stands as one of this album’s holy trinity of hits, and it might be the best. At the very least it’s the most epic and by far the most emotional. The lyrics spin a heart-wrenching tale of generational alcoholism wrapped in an irresistibly sweet verse melody that quickly explodes into a cathartic chorus. Cuomo practically screams the lyrics on the chorus and coos the verses and the difference between these two halves is emblematic of the band’s sophisticated grasp of genre. The lyrics hit close to home even if you can’t relate to any of them, and the song’s reappropriation as a singalong anthem is slightly worrisome given its harrowing subject matter. 

If The World Has Turned and Left Me Here is the breakup anthem of the album, then In The Garage is the nerd’s anthem. Chock full of nods to KISS, Dungeons and Dragons, and Marvel comic heroes, this song is tailor-made for 70s-80s nerds. On the guitar side, it has (appropriately) a very garage-band grunge feel. This is very intentional on the band’s part, as Cuomo sings about the “stupid songs” that he writes along in his garage where “no hears me sing this song.” This song will probably win over fantasy, music, and comic nerds (especially those from Weezer’s time). If you happen not to be part of the “target audience” here, just listen and enjoy a soulful, honest, and passionate vocal performance coupled with a fitting chord progression.

Holiday gets our vote for the album’s most underrated track, and it just might be our favorite. The singsong rhythm and overdriven guitars are classic Weezer, as are the harmonies and Cuomo’s punky vocals. The lyrics evoke tropical escapism, one of the band’s most frequently revisited themes (see Island in the Sun, a far more popular song that has the exact same lyrical theme). But the best part comes a minute and thirty seconds in, with Sharp, Bell, and Cuomo creating an ingenious doo-wop vocal line, complete with crisp snaps, before ramping up into the full band’s attack with some rising feedback. It’s an emotional sound rollercoaster, even if the lyrics are inane, and while it has a similar structure to Surf Wax America, they stand as the twin pillars of the album’s lesser-known songs – brilliant in their melody and flawless in their execution both quiet and loud. 

In stark contrast to the short, concise other songs on the album, Only In Dreams is an eight-minute-long epic that just keeps building to an explosive climax. Opening with a rumbling bassline (Sharp’s finest bass-playing moment on the album) and ending with a fast-paced assault filled with screaming guitars that quickly slows down and slides back into that classic opening bassline. Only In Dreams isn’t as popular as the album’s other songs but it’s almost as good – its lengthy run time just makes it hard to enjoy on repeat listens. 

Throughout these 10 songs, Weezer takes us through a stylistically similar but musically diverse collection of pop masterpieces, and the public agreed. Although it had a slow start, the album would start a slow burn of sales, leading to its status today as one of the most beloved and well-remembered albums of the 90s and of all time. It’s increasingly common to see Weezer memes on social media, and this album is usually at the center of it. Sure, a part of that is the iconic and simple cover (reminiscent of Crazy Rhythms by The Feelies) but it wouldn’t be nearly as known or as memed if not for the incredible music contained behind that art. Even Weezer’s later albums can’t diminish its power. Yes, their track record since then has been spotty and no album has truly scaled the heights of their debut, but that just makes it all the better – a true lightning-in-a-bottle moment. They’ve tried to recapture the magic, most obviously on their third record (The Green Album) but it sounds lifeless and boring, the songs lacking the emotional depth found on Blue. Only the immediate follow-up Pinkerton can be considered anywhere near the Blue Album’s acclaim or quality, and even then it was released to little fanfare and only became retroactively popular and loved. But the Blue Album remains a titan in their discography and of 90s rock overall. The album’s grunge guitars are distinct of their time, yes, but the lyrics are universal and the melodies timeless. If you haven’t heard the blue album, give it a shot. It’s more than just a meme and deserves a listen, no matter what bad things people might say about Weezer.