Music Features

Used Adventures in Hi-Fi #8

 Weezer, Weezer (St Francis Hospice Chesham, £1.49)

Someone in this Chiltern market town has clearly fallen out of love with his/her 90's indie rock. CD's of Nirvana and the Pixies line the shelves of the St Francis Hospice, and one suspects the Tricky collection has come from the same source. Fertile picking grounds for me then, until I realise I already have most of it, and haven't listened to it for about a decade. I haven't listened to Weezer's eponymous blue album for about the same length of time either, but for different reasons: the album disappeared some time ago, and I've been waiting until I could replace it - purchased from a charity shop, of course.

The album itself is an oddity. Standing alone in their little corner in 1994, Rivers Cuomo et al constructed an album which has become synonymous with geek-rock and the mid-nineties: for some Weezer are the archetypal MTV sell-outs, to others it's a perfectly constructed gem. I'm of the latter camp: while a record mixing pop-punk with surf vocal harmonies, NWOBHM and Kiss guitar chops was hardly zeitgeist-capturing stuff, the album has found its place in rock'n'roll history as a gem and forerunner of its ilk.

From the opening guitar arpeggios of My Name Is Jonas, the dynamics that the Pixies perfected have been cranked up to 11 with the addition of Kiss-esque slabs of overdriven guitar; Cuomo's impassioned bark about some doggerel related to a building site screams over the top, and this and the next two tracks carry on a lyrical and musical uniformity which build up the core of Weezer's sound.

Then we get two of the defining singles of the mid-nineties. Amidst the chaos and confusion in the alt.rock community in 1994, some gems were thrown up: Soundgarden's Superunknown raised the bar for psychedelic grunge, Jeff Buckley released Grace, Portishead released Dummy, changing the British music scene forever, and Green Day and Offspring went head to head for the So.Cal punk rock crown. Amidst the earnestness of these offerings and the trauma of Kurt Cobain's death, Weezer released Buddy Holly, a wide-eyed pastiche of a pop song, concerned with the drama of adolescence not through the hair-covered eyes of the Seattle crowd but the gum-chewing, jitterbugging American teen of the fifties. The album centrepiece is completed by Undone - The Sweater Song, a rambling, bizarre number that became the band's first big hit. (Incidentally, did you know that Weezer's first gig was in support of Keanu Reeves' horrific Dogstar? That's an eye-opener.)

The remaining tracks are more of the band's proto-emo, hard-rock singalongs, all harmonising Californians, teenage angst and abundant pop-culture references. Cuomo manages to tread a delicate line between playing the bubblegum, throwaway pop that the band references and is clearly in some thrall to, and something more meaningful, meant to encapsulate the spirit of this pop culture and expand it, focus it into a setting relevant to the 1990's and make it a little bit timeless. What Weezer's debut accomplished that none of their subsequent albums did, is this exact balance: fun without being throwaway, emotional without being over-earnest, rocking without falling into cliché. As such the record is pretty much essential as a timepiece, but remains essential for the nature of the songs, its cohesion as an album, and most of all: because it's wonderfully, endlessly enjoyable.