When Weezer's self-titled debut album peaked on the Billboard 200 chart in February 1995 — nearly nine months after its release on May 10, 1994, exactly 25 years ago today — it didn't quite fit in with its fellow rock offerings on the tally at the time. There was Green Day's Dookie at No. 2, Pearl Jam's Vitalogy at No. 5, The Offspring's Smash at No. 9, Nirvana's MTV Unplugged at No. 10 and R.E.M.'s Monster at No. 14… and then at No. 16 sat the 10-song, 41-minute opus known as The Blue Album, which could comfortably be labeled geek rock, power pop, early emo — any number of genres, really, but definitely not the then-dominant grunge.
And that's precisely why we're still thinking and talking about this album all these years later: It didn't chase any current trends or templates, but took an entirely new, decidedly uncool path. With the help of The Cars' Ric Ocasek, who produced the album, Weezer went against the mumbled-lyrics-and-muddled-colors grain to offer up songs that are fun and funny (think "Buddy Holly" and its revelatory Spike Jonze-directed video) and a distinct melancholy that isn't far from the surface (third single "Say It Ain't So" or the histrionic "The World Has Turned and Left Me Here").
It also spoke to a whole new audience. Yes, grunge had its fair share of angst, but there were no mentions of Dungeons & Dragons or X-Men in any Alice in Chains songs. If grunge was the response to the pretty boys of hair metal, Weezer was a response to the druggy darkness of grunge. Its electric-blue cover announced a brand-new sound that coaxed pop culture nerds out of the garage and onto the Billboard charts.
Below, Billboard staffers break down each track on the seminal album to spell out just what makes it live on, 25 years later. — Katie Atkinson
"My Name Is Jonas"
In a car with two friends you think are cooler than you is an ideal way to discover Weezer. “Discover” is a bit of a fib — I knew the big singles by the time of this road trip through northern Virginia on a clear fall morning but had never heard the Blue Album in full. “My Name Is Jonas” is as good as black coffee for starting your day, the finger-picked intro a calm fake-out before the gnarly riff drops like a brick. The lyrics are the kind that sound better when you squint — in other words, the fansite I just encountered claiming it was inspired by The Giver and offering line-by-line explication is something I could do without. There are children’s toys, family members, a construction site and that perfectly evocative phrase: “The workers are going home.” Add it up and you have a big-hearted but hesitant yearning for, I guess, adulthood. A car ride necessarily means you’re in between, and letting your cooler friends share something with you makes you feel just as liminal. Didn’t quite understand it at the time, but that’s Weezer’s sweet spot. – Ross Scarano
"No One Else"
"No One Else" is a jealous, petty, confessional blurt that'll roll the eyeballs right out of your head, sure — but that's kind of the point, and damned if it isn't one of Weezer's catchiest cuts. In 2019, the lyrics of "No One Else" read like a text that should never be sent or a Tinder profile in need of a desperate revision: the details sketch a portrait of a scorned Cuomo whose dream girl won't flirt with other guys or have a life when he's not in it, unlike his girlfriend. The words are bitter and the music is buoyant, all barreling power chords and a shout-along chorus before the 30-second mark. "No One Else" remains a notable crowdpleaser in their set, one that's often met with fists pumping and groups of friends jumping up and down in time with Cuomo's strumming. To enjoy it is to laugh off its absurdity — good luck finding a girl who won't see through your "only wear mascara on date night!!!" rule, my dude — while bouncing along with one of the Blue Album's most irresistible beats. — Hilary Hughes
"The World Has Turned and Left Me Here"
Weezer’s Blue Album was the perfect emo antidote to the raging alternative rock that dominated the airwaves in 1994. Power-dweeb frontman Rivers Cuomo could do angry, but he was much more fun when playing melodramatic, as he did with gusto on “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here.” Atop a bed of crispy-crunchy power chords, Cuomo wallows over getting dumped. “I talked for hours to your wallet photograph / And you just listened / You laughed enchanted by my intellect,” he smugly reminisces. But then his confidence buckles — “Or maybe you didn't” — and he throws himself into the desperate chorus: “The world has turned and left me here / Just where I was before you appeared.” If you’re old enough to have had a mail-order CD of the album arrive from Columbia House that summer, hearing this pathetic breakup anthem will make you wish you could go back in time, curl up in your favorite beanbag chair and wail over the injustice of your isolation. — Christine Werthman
Weezer were masters of retromania long before they recognized the meme-ability of a 36-year-old soft rock hit and flipped it into their first Billboard Hot 100 appearance in nine years. “Buddy Holly” found Rivers Cuomo recognizing his own likeness to the titular rocker, then doubling down on ‘50s nostalgia with a now-iconic Spike Jonze music video that had the band boogying with the cast of Happy Days. “Buddy Holly” earned Weezer its first top five radio hit and set the tone for the quirky power pop they'd work to perfect for the rest of their careers: the 4/4 stomp and verse-chorus framework are as traditional as Arnold’s Drive-In, yet it's hard to imagine another band pulling off bassist Matt Sharp's adorkable pre-chorus falsetto or Cuomo's absurd rap-along bridge. — Chris Payne
"Undone — The Sweater Song"
“Undone,” the band’s debut single, is seen as quirky and goofy these days, but Rivers Cuomo has said that it was meant to be a “sad song.” Peaking at No. 57 on the Hot 100 (chart dated October 29, 1994), the punchy rock track features some pretty obvious imagery, but as Cuomo sings, "Watch me unravel, I'll soon be naked," he’s more likely referencing his emotional vulnerability than an actual sweater. The most interesting aspect of the song? After the first chorus, there is a dialogue between unofficial fifth bandmember Karl Koch and Mykel Allan, during which she infamously asks for a lift to the party (“Um, I think I’m gonna go but, um, my friends don’t really wanna go. Could I get a ride?”). A quick history lesson: Mykel and her sister Carli were early supporters and friends of the band and founded the Weezer Fan Club; the sisters played such a big role in the band's lives that the song "Mykel & Carli” — the b-side to "Undone” — was written for them. Tragically, the Allan sisters died in a car accident (along with their younger sister Trysta) after a Weezer show in Colorado on the Pinkerton Tour in 1997. The band’s 2001 record The Green Album is dedicated to the Allans' memory, and of course, Mykel lives on every time someone gives “Undone” a spin. Still, when listening to “Undone” with that in mind, it becomes a very sad song indeed. — Gab Ginsberg
"Surf Wax America"
No idea if it's a good song to surf to or not, but one thing's for sure: "Surf Wax America" contains the best fake-out on the entire Blue Album, perhaps even across Weezer's entire discography. After nearly two minutes as a punk guitar-powered powder keg careening toward an inevitably explosive finish, the song grinds to a near-halt, the only instruments left in the mix so quiet that during live performances, at least according to Weezer festival footage from the mid-'90s, crowds farthest from the stage applauded a song that was clearly complete. Right? But no, not only does "Surf Wax America" return to the course following a brief variation on the chorus — it also provides the promised fireworks in the form of Rivers' "let's go!" battle cry that leads into an outro worthy of impassioned headbanging. Honorable mention: that bridge, which features a melody that could easily be plucked from its present position and Frankenstein'd into another song to become a hit all its own. — Kevin Rutherford
"Say It Ain't So"
After at least a decade of Rivers turning his band into a four-man meme factory, the difference between Weezer and Smash Mouth might no longer be immediately obvious to a younger onlooker. "Say It Ain't So" was one of the defining power ballads of the '90s, but 25 years and a million Rock Band plays and "Wrestle With Jimmy" supercuts later, it can be hard to tell where the generational cry of abandonment and emotional disconnect ends and the plug-and-play Twitter memes begin — and which will be the song's ultimate legacy. Luckily, even a quarter-century later, one listen to the song should clear up any confusion pretty quickly.
Whether by design or happenstance, the first guitar licks and chorus crunches of "Say It Ain't So" hit with the same emotional rush that Cuomo's Proustian cold one gives him in its lyrics. It's a song that earns its visceral response because it never misses an opportunity to grab an even tighter hold on the listener — from the second verse's jump in meter and octave to the "YEAH, YEAH!!"s that connect the bridge to the solo to the feedback squalls that cap the outro. It didn't make sense for Weezer not to live for fun in the 2010s, but none of their meme-rock peers ever managed a '90s classic this eternally resonant. – Andrew Unterberger
"In the Garage"
With a rumbling guitar fuzz tone worthy of Link Wray (and a harmonica portion that Dylan probably would've judged if he ever came across it, TBH), "In the Garage" is Rivers Cuomo's unabashed admission of dorkdom well before that was even vaguely cool. Really and truly, back in 1994, copping to playing Dungeons & Dragons and reading comic books was one way of saying "I'd like to be remove myself from the gene pool, thanks." And sure enough, Cuomo sounds full of self-loathing ("I play my stupid songs") and nervous as hell delivering these lyrics (his voice practically shakes owning up to possessing a 12-sided die). Well, Weezer had the last laugh in the long run – Blue and songs like this helped plant the seed of the Cool Dork mythos that would eventually cross into the mainstream at the turn of the millennium when Marvel took over Hollywood, being socially awkward became synonymous with being interesting (hello, Ghost World) and so-called four-eyed freaks were suddenly fashion. – Joe Lynch
The parallels between between Weezer and the Beach Boys — and their respective brilliant and not always transparently logical frontmen — have been irresistible since the group's first album, a collection of sun-baked SoCal rock jams with odes to wave catching, romantic insecurity, and personal cocoons. Nowhere on The Blue Album is the quartet's debt to the Wilsons more obvious than on "Holiday," a waltzing travelogue with gorgeous harmonies and singalong melodies that echoes the Beach Boys' most famous album from its very first line: "Let's go away for a while, you and I…" But the real lesson imparted by the original BBoys is to include the creeping undertow of doubt and collapse in every line promising romance and adventure on the surface, evident in the feedback quaking underneath Rivers' quivering delivery on the bridge: "On this road, we'll never die." He'd make similar promises on the band's first classic of the 21st century, and both times he sounds as convincing as Brian trying to persuade his baby to let him go drag racing a generation earlier. — AU
"Only In Dreams"
Not just Weezer's longest at eight minutes, but one of the few songs in their catalog that doesn't stylistically bring to mind about 5-6 other Weezer tunes. Matt Sharp's bass line is deep but noncommittal; it sounds like it might disappear at any moment, not unlike the subject of Cuomo's fixation ("But when we wake / It's all been erased"). But it's those cataclysmic guitars in the latter half of the song that convey the band's exhausted surrender to adolescent desperation in a way that lyrics simply can't. The anguished crescendo is one of the band's most cathartic moments, the ultimate soundtrack to accepting that you are not gonna get what you want this time — or perhaps ever. Even when you do get a few years older and realize things aren't quite as hopeless as they seem growing up, "Only In Dreams" remains the ultimate testament to screaming-into-the-void teenage frustration. — JL