photo & text by nacrowe
it is often written about to the point of cliche that the success of NIRVANA's NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) was a paradigm shift in the music industry, but the truth is in the bands that followed in their wake that arguably would never have had an opportunity from a major label pre-1991. specifically i am thinking about bands like GREEN DAY, THE OFFSPRING and especially WEEZER.
that is not to say that their eponymous debut WEEZER (DGC, 1994), widely known as THE BLUE ALBUM, had much to do with NIRVANA in sound or substance. NIRVANA frontman/songwriter KURT COBAIN came out of the parallel INDIE ROCK / HARDCORE scenes of the 1980s whereas WEEZER frontman/songwriter RIVERS CUOMO decidedly was more influenced by the concurrent NEW WAVE and METAL scenes of the same era. where i feel the two align is in a presentation of an alternative MASCULINITY that wasnt based on caveman-like caricatures of unbridled machismo that dominated the 1980s.
with that being said, WEEZER is an absolutely seminal ALTERNATIVE ROCK record. beyond hits such as "BUDDY HOLLY," "UNDONE (THE SWEATER SONG)" and "SAY IT AIN'T SO," which were all the soundtrack to my elementary school years in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, there are melodic, bittersweet paeans to all things summer, girls, social isolation and KISS. these include personal favorites like "IN THE GARAGE," "SURF WAX AMERICA" and "THE WORLD HAS TURNED AND LEFT ME HERE." to my ears this is a perfect record in that it combines a preternatural sense of MELODY with pop sensibilities and a lyrical stance that is as much about NOSTALGIA as it is about LONELINESS. whereas COBAIN takes this core sense of alienation and seemingly gets caught up in a vortex of self-flagellation, CUOMO takes that same intimate sense of self-loathing and turns it on its head. makes it something beautiful as it still conveys PAIN and SOCIAL ISOLATION.
part of that bubblegum sheen comes from producer RIC OCASEK (R.I.P.) of BOSTON NEW WAVE band THE CARS-fame who created a work that updated his signature style for a younger, more angsty generation. in my mind there is a definite through line between "BUDDY HOLLY" and classic CARS songs like "LET'S GO" or "DANGEROUS TYPE." both are just fun to listen to and dont feel dated in the least. i should also mention the vocal contributions of original bassist MATT SHARP and his incredible background harmonies which adds an almost BRIAN WILSON-esque depth on songs like "IN THE GARAGE" and "HOLIDAY." this element has long been missed since his departure years after the release of this album after the band's first break-up.
WEEZER is also an interesting record in how it compares to its much adored follow-up PINKERTON (DGC, 1996), which is decidedly more personal to the point of being uncomfortable and unhinged. WEEZER is the sound of a upstart band firing on all cylinders. it still sounds great and is basically required listening to anyone who is a fan of rock music of any era. unlike other subsequent records, this hasnt aged at all. it is absolutely still relevant.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
JOSH FREESE is renowned as a studio musician of the first order having recorded and/or toured with the likes of everyone from A PERFECT CIRCLE, STING, NINE INCH NAILS, PARAMORE, THE REPLACEMENTS, WEEZER and GUNS N ROSES to BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE. and that credits list literally goes on. and on. but id argue that primarily he is known as the longstanding drummer of both the LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK band THE VANDALS and the legendary NEW WAVE band DEVO.
less known or celebrated are his solo records and the one-off songs hes done over the past few years. they are often very brief, super catchy and hilarious. they are also normally off-the-cuff affairs with an almost FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE-esque POWER POP sense of melodicism and pop construction that seem designed to primarily embarrass his friends or make an ass of himself.
FREESE is an uber-talented musician that is literally capable of anything. i just love the fact that when he chooses to write and release his own material that it literally has nothing to do with his day job in tone or demeanor. definitely an artist worth checking out.
photo manupulation by nacrowe
WEEZER gets a lot of love and deservedly so. RIVERS CUOMO is a talented (if trouble and inconsistent) songwriter and a generational talent.
but i always felt that MATT SHARP got overlooked. he was WEEZER's founding bassist whose falsetto was as much a part of the sound of those iconic first two records as CUOMO's nervous croon and his idiosyncratic lyrics celebrating KISS, SURFING and DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.
THE RENTALS was SHARP's side project that later turned into his main creative vehicle after later leaving WEEZER during their extended hiatus following PINKERTON (DGC, 1996).
their debut album, RETURN OF THE RENTALS (MAVERICK RECORDS, 1995) plays on the POWER POP-indebted sound that WEEZER mined to great effect, yet has a decidedly more droll, assured tone and demeanor. fun fact: MAYA RUDOLPH was a touring member for this album's tour cycle.
regardless, THE RENTALS are definitely worth checking out.