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Sunday, 18 November 2012

Weezer - Weezer (1994)

When I was 13 I went on my first cadet camp to RAF Manston in Kent. It was in August 1995, the weather was gorgeous and I had one of the best weeks of my teenage years.

Aside from our usual cadet-based activities such as marching from one point to another, and shooting some guns, we also got to fly planes. Everyone got to take control of a Chipmunk aircraft for about half an hour and learn some rudimentary aerobatics.

During the week we were meant to do some shooting with some L-98 semi-automatic rifles, but I was told that I was too young to shoot them and would have to sit out. One of the RAF men who was sitting nearby overheard this and asked if I want to fly instead.

That week I clocked up over four hours in flying time, and learnt how to do all manner of tricks: Loop-the-Loops, Barrel Rolls, and the hair-raising Stall Turn, whereby you take your plane into an vertical ascent until its engine cuts out, then after dropping backwards in the sky without power, you turn the plane around and the engine starts up again. What made it particularly impressive for me was taking in the white cliffs of the south coast and the magnificence of being above the clouds.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the activities of the week, what made it special were the times when we would sit round in groups and laugh until the early hours of the morning. And because I tend to pack music before I pack my clothes, I was the only person who’d thought to bring a hand-held stereo, and although I only had one tape with me (Levelling the Land by the Levellers on one side, and Weezer’s debut on the other), people would always gravitate towards the music. The album that we listened to most during that week was Weezer’s untitled debut (known to many as the Blue Album).

The album opens with the charming picked acoustic notes of ‘My Name is Jonas’ before the song bursts open with chugging guitar chords, fuzzy bass and vocal harmonies to die for. It’s quite clear from the outset that Weezer were never the same after bassist Matt Sharp left, with his bass-lines and his part in what used to be Weezer’s trademark three-part vocal harmonies forming such an integral part of Weezer’s sound.

‘No One Else’ is a song about jealousy and control which defies its cheery chord progression. I love this song. Again, we see the chugging guitars, vocal harmonies and fuzzy bass working with a kind of raucous precision.

‘The World has Turned and Left me Here’ is stunning. It has one of those chord progressions that pull at your heart and make you feel that same sense of yearning and longing that is central to the song’s power. I’ve mentioned before how much I love guitar distortion when it’s used to create emotive effects, and is allowed to breathe and feedback around the mix – when it is warm and enveloping rather than heavy and noisy. The vocal harmonies are especially moving in this one, and again highlight what a keenly felt loss Sharp’s backing vocals are to Weezer’s sound.

‘Buddy Holly’, like with most people, is the song that introduced me to Weezer. For my 13th birthday I built my own PC. A friend of my dad’s gave me a dodgy copy of Windows 95 which included the music video to ‘Buddy Holly’ on the disc. I’d bought the single when it came out, but it was the strength of the Happy Days -inspired video that encouraged me to buy the album. The song still sounds great.

‘Undone (The Sweater Song)’ I’ve always found incredibly silly – but therein lies its charm. In terms of structure, it reminds me of something that the Pixies might do: quiet bit with talking, quiet verse with vocals, big distorted chorus, repeat. What separates it from the Pixies, however, is just how drunk the band sound, with the final chorus sounding like the end of a club night when the DJ has left, the lights have been turned out, and a group of drunkards are singing at the top of their lungs as they are being turfed out by a roid-head bouncer. It’s as if the three vocal parts are trying to compete with each other as to who can sound the loudest and most obnoxious.

‘Surf Wax America’ is fast and frantic, and has another great sing-along chorus. ‘Say It Ain’t So’ gives you a moment’s breather after the frenzied pace of ‘Surf Wax America’, with its chilled vocals, soft bass and downbeat pace.

‘In the Garage’ is full of innocent geekish charm, with its references to Dungeons and Dragons (“I’ve got the Dungeon Master’s guide / I’ve got my 12-sided die”), comics books (“I’ve got Kitty Pryde / And Nightcrawler too”) and everyone’s favourite face paint wearing glam rockers KISS (“I've got posters on the wall / My favourite rock group, KISS / I've got Ace Frehley / I've got Peter Criss”). It’s also a wonderful piece of music.

In ‘Holiday’ Rivers Cuorno’s guitar-work comes to the fore, with its fiddly guitar-riffs that give the song an anthemic quality. Album-closer ‘Only in Dreams’ is held together by a simple but gorgeous bass-line that can’t but help bring to mind songs like ‘Gigantic’ and ‘I Bleed’ by the Pixies. One of my best friends berates me for liking Weezer, complaining that their songs are bland and samey. Though it is undeniable that they have become rather stale and formulaic over the past decade, a song like ‘Only in Dreams’ should sweep any criticism away – this is an awesome way to end an awesome album – definitely a keeper.

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