Rene’s Picks

1994 was not only my year, but it was also the year American punk rock reached the mainstream. I remember a lot from this year. I feel like kid-René peaked this year. I was still totally into the Moomin trolls. There was a football world cup this year in the U.S and all I remember that the logo with the dog was on the coke bottles. Norway also hosted the Olympics for the second time. Again I only remember the logo. I don’t think I even knew what sports were. I did have a girlfriend at the time and was pretty stoked on that. Again, me and my parents went to Mallorca for sunshine in our dreary, rainy Norwegian lives. My fondest memory from the trip was going to a supermercado and buying a toy that was a surfer (thinking back I think it might have been a jetskier, but I thought it was a surfer) and a box of Cadbury’s Roses. At this time I had decided that I wanted to become a drummer and started drumming on the Cadbury’s Roses box after I ate the chocolate in it. I still have the box, all smashed up. I was, however, not very interested in music at all outside of that. And Green Day, The Offspring and Rancid were not in my radar at all. I didn’t pick any of the most famous punk records from the year, Smash by the Offspring, Dookie by Green Day and Punk in Drublic by NOFX, but I probably would have picked Punk in Drublic if I hadn’t written about it in the Pop Punk Picks column. The picks I’ve chosen from this year are Self-titled (The Blue Album) by Weezer, Let’s Go by Rancid.
Weezer-The Blue Album

weezer blue album

It’s something incredible to think about how great an album can be. From start to finish, Weezer’s Blue album is perfect, to me. Even the songs I like the least like “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and “Say It Ain’t So” are classics. The album starts with the folky fingerpicking of “My Name Is Jonas” and goes into one of the greatest power pop verses ever. The album ends with the beautiful “Only in Dreams”, with its weird intro and long-as-fuck outro. In between, we find the Neil Young-esque harmonica driven “In the Garage” and “The World Has Changed and Left Me Here”. “In the Garage” also has my favorite guitar solo of all time. The entire record seems like an emotional journey inside Rivers Cuomo’s mind, a preview to what we’d expect on Pinkerton. Many fans of both Weezer and rock music prefer Pinkerton, but I definitely prefer Blue. If I try to think of a perfect album, it’s probably the closest I think of. I remember at 14 seeing the Happy Days themed video of “Buddy Holly” without knowing who either Buddy Holly, Mary Tyler Moore or Fonzie were. Like “Hush” by Wax (mentioned in 1992), it was directed by Spike Jonze and it’s among his most famous music videos. A song that a lot of people seem to dislike is “Holiday”, but it’s actually one of my favorite songs on the album, but they all are basically.  Even the songs that didn’t make it to the album “Mykel & Carli”, “Suzanne” and “Jamie” are just as good as most of the songs on the actual album. Weezer tried to follow it up with a Green album in 2001, a Red album in 2008, a White album in 2016 and a Black album is coming up this year. None of these have been even close to touching Blue, we’ll see about the new one though.

Blink(-182)-Cheshire Cat

blink cheshire cat

It seems like the news in Ohio is saying that Blink-182 are being discussed as inductees to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame (https://www.cleveland.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2018/06/is_blink-182_rock_roll_hall_of.html). A big question is when they are eligible to be inducted. Their debut album Cheshire Cat was officially released in early 1995. Meaning they wouldn’t be eligible before 2020. The reason they might be eligible anyway is that it was recorded as early as 1994 and advanced copies were out in 1994. This was the time that the band was only called Blink. They had to change their name becomes of that Irish techno band, or alternative rock band, which they actually played. So, despite being released in 1995 on Grilled Cheese and Cargo Records, and re-released by Universal in 1998, the copyright said 1994 because that was when it was recorded and meant to be released, it’s usually regarded a 1994 album, which is why I take the liberty to include it here.

Since this column is called “The Years of Our Lives”, I can’t save too much up for the 2002 column, since I could probably write a book about that year and me discovering new Blink records. So I’ll share this memory here: I remember ordering the live album The Mark, Tom and Travis Show from the local chain record store, when I came back the next week when they said they’d have it, they said it hadn’t arrived. They had tons of other Blink records though, so I figured, why not buy another one? So I bought Cheshire Cat instead. The store never got in MTTS, and I could probably step by every Saturday and buy a new record, I called their bluff early and didn’t fall for the trick though. The purchase of CC was one I don’t regret, however. I loved it instantly. I remembered their performance on MTV Europe Music Award and I just thought they sounded awful and I find something quite charming about that. I think glossiness of music and every song sounding perfect was something that bored me with music so listening to these guys mess up their songs big time was great to me. On Cheshire Cat, I got the same feeling: that this wasn’t a mass produced rock album, this was the real shit. The fast drums and the somewhat low-fi production made me go wild. I also really loved the more slow-paced songs like “Cacophony” and I think it showed that the band had a talent for ballads really early on. I still think it’s one of their finest works. And not really cacophonous at all, like one might say about the following track “T.V”.

Another song that really struck me early on was “Romeo and Rebecca”. I was really impressed by the intro and Tom’s kind of terrible singing made it seem even more sincere to me. I guess I’ve always seen it as the perfect anti-love song. Referencing Shakespeare and creating a dissonance between his most famous play Romeo and Juliet and replacing the girl in the tragic love affair with another girl’s name. Maybe I’ve been overthinking it. Of course, other songs on the album are of course the singles “M+M’s” and “Wasting Time” and the live staple about loneliness “Carousel”. I also have a soft spot for “Does My Breath Smell?”. The joke tracks at the end are also great, except “Just About Done” (I don‘t think I’ll ever like that one). “Ben Wah Balls”, is a tale about family reunions (as most Blink fans know, their idea of family reunions are kinda weird), incest and sex toys. It goes from cheery, funny to sad and downright disturbing.

Rancid-Let’s Go

rancid lets go
Not to be super punk or anything, but Let’s Go is the ultimate Rancid album. Not only does it have that punk edge that we love, but it’s also super melodic. The songs are catchy as hell and shows quite a musicianship without being too wanky. Let’s Go was released on Epitaph June 21, 1994. Unlike later records, we don’t get many songs with lead vocals sung by Lars Frederiksen on Let’s Go, but “St. Mary” is sung primarily by Lars and it’s one of the best songs on the album. That being said, his back-up vocals are fantastic on most of the album. The song “St. Mary” is one of the darker songs on the album, it’s, I think, about a woman revenging the death of her murdered husband. One of my favorites is definitely “Side Kick”, a song about being Wolverine’s side kick and fighting crime as a vigilante and shooting cops in the head. I think “Radio” is the most well-known song from the album, co-written with Billie Joe from Green Day, and about the power of music. I think this is the album with the best Matt Freeman songs. Songs like “Gunshot”, “Black and Blue”, “Motorcycle Ride” and, of course, “Tenderloin” are catchy, but seem a lot more “punk” than Tim’s songs. That being said, the verses and bridge to “Gunshot” and the chorus of “Black and Blue” would be the perfect punk song together. The album starts with “Nihilism” and ends with “7 Years Down”, both dealing with substance abuse problems. Also, for some reason I sing the song “You Gave It Away” after the chorus to “Last Christmas” by Wham. I’ve always wanted to make a mash up of those two songs. A mash up of “Burn, “The Roof Is on Fire” by Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three and “Fire Water Burn” by the Bloodhound Gang (and a lot of other songs) as they all contain the line “We don’t need no water let the motherfucker burn”. The album peaked at #97 on the Billboard top 200. It also has the sort of Billy Bragg sounding track “Harry Bridges” about the American union leader with the same name.

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Dave’s Picks

Weezer- Blue Album

weezer blue album

When I look back at ‘90s alternative rock, Weezer’s Blue Album is one of the few things that really holds up and possibly even gets better with age. The strange thing is that I look at the Blue Album as such a classic, teen album, with the angst-y awkwardness just imbued in the record, as if to soundtrack a thousand teenage failings. At the same time, though, the album has only got stronger as I have got older. Although I always enjoyed it, I felt Weezer as a whole were a bit cheesy in my ‘only punk will do’ teen years. Now, though, I basically agree with Rene that it is a perfect record. The nadir of ‘90s alt-rock? Probably. There certainly isn’t any filler in sight on the Blue Album.

It such a fun record, but one that has soul, depth and meaning that are all too often lacking on Weezer’s more vapid, recent efforts. How can you not want to dance around to “Buddy Holly” or “Surf Wax America”? Or get a warm, tingling feeling when you hear the opening chords to “My Name is a Jonas”? Or cringe when you hear the lyrics to “No One Else”? Weezer’s energy and charm feels effortless, too. I think another issue with their later stuff is that they tried way too hard to be ‘quirky’ or ‘nerdy’, but at this stage of their career, it was pretty natural.

I think one of the best things about the Blue Album is that Weezer managed to bridge the gap between the harmonies of pop-punk/power-pop and the angst of alt.rock/grunge. Lead singer Rivers Cuomo had got swept up in the ‘90s alt-rock craze, but had clearly been brought up on pop music. With those super big hooks and self-aware lyrics, they tapped into a form of indie rock that wasn’t pretentious or self-indulgent. Not that there isn’t self-reflection on this thing of course: “No One Else” and “Say It Ain’t So” will attest to that. Indeed, the stark autobiographical details on the latter paved the way somewhat for Pinkerton.

“Say It Ain’t So” is definitely up there as one of my favourites from the album. It’s very Pixies-esque in its quiet-loud dynamics. A classic slow-burner with a loud, crunchy and cathartic chorus that is probably the most standard ‘alt-rock’ song on the record. “Surf Wax America” is a whole silly ball of fun. I think it’s the first song from the record I heard. It is essentially a pop-punk track that packs considerable oomph and has its tongue firmly in its cheek. The lines “You take your car to work, I’ll take my board” are so memorable, simply driving home a message of individualism- ‘yeah, I’m different, so what, fuck you’. There is a dichotomy on the Blue Album that is neatly encapsulated by these two: the bouncy confidence of “Surf Wax America” next to the angst and vulnerability of “Say It Ain’t So”.

What else? “My Name is Jonas” is probably one of the best album openers of all time, a quirky Beach Boys meets Pixies sing-a-long. I love Rivers ‘yeah!’ towards the end of the song and the neat guitar solo that follows. “In the Garage” is just about perfect in showcasing indie rock angst in all of its pomp. Meanwhile, when Weezer toned it down with tracks like “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here”, the results were just as good, with Rivers’ vulnerabilities left bare.

Weezer would never, ever come close to the heights reached on the Blue Album, with not an ounce of filler or fat in sight. Pinkerton? Good, but lost some of the hooks, charm and ‘fun’ that made the Blue Album such a classic. You take your Pinkerton to work; I’ll take my Blue Album.

Jawbreaker- 24 Hour Revenge Therapy

jawbreaker 24 hr

I am not going to talk about Jawbreaker’s best record. I will save that for the 1995 discussion (that’s right, Dear You, motherfuckers), but their third record 24 Hour Revenge Therapy is a classic pop-punk record of the ‘90s and evidences the quintessential Jawbreaker sound: gruff, raspy vocals and punchy, (relatively) lo-fi and hook-filled pop-punk goodness. Bivouac was an altogether different beast to 24 Hour and Unfun, an experimental record that shifted the Jawbreaker sound towards a noisier and more chaotic avenue. It turns out that Bivouac is the only Jawbreaker full-length that is not going to feature in these Years of Our Lives articles. I was never into it, really, and, for me, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy got things back on track, expanding on and enhancing the stuff on Unfun. Recorded with Steve Albini, this was Jawbreaker’s ‘breakthrough’ record, riding the crest of alt-rock’s rise to the mainstream.

Tracks like “Boxacar”, “Do you still hate me?” and “Condition Oakland” demonstrate Jawbreaker’s strengths: a heart-on-sleeve brand of punk that is sincere and romantic in the classic sense of the word. Blake Schwarzenbach’s emotive and Kerouac-esque songwriting (although I would hesitate to label them an ‘emo’ band) is a tour-de-force and rarely matched in punk. Jawbreaker’s raspy pop-punk sonics and romanticism laid the foundations for a ton of bands that emerged in the punk scene in the ‘00s, from Banner Pilot to the Credentials.

The ‘punk poetry’ on Unfun reached a new level on 24 Hour, amid tales of moving from place to place, heartbreak and drinking on porches. I mean, they were the original ‘fest’ band. Blake’s songwriting style is clearly influenced by Kerouac’s sentimentality, notably on “Do You Still Hate Me?”, one of the best slower pop-punk songs of all time (and has been brilliantly covered by Upset) with a series of questions filling up the chorus: “Are you out there?/ Do you hear me?/ Can I call you?/ Do you still hate me?” There is a reading from Kerouac on one of the tracks and Blake even self-mockingly references his Kerouacian influence on the record (“You don’t know what I’m all about/ Like killing cops and reading Kerouac”).

Elsewhere, Jawbreaker’s most memorable tracks on the record drifted towards ‘scene critique’, getting all meta and poking fun at the uptight and insular underground punk scene that they had emerged from. In the midst of Green Day moving to a major (see below!), the punk scene seemed obsessed with who was or wasn’t ‘selling out’ and laying down judgements based on a set of strict ideals. Blake laid into these on “Boxcar” and “Indictment”. On the latter, he sang of writing ‘dumb songs’ and ‘singalongs’, after which “all our friends will clap and sing/our enemies will laugh and be pointing”. It was tongue-in-cheek, but also a prediction of what was to come just the following year with the release of Dear You, when the punk scene turned its back on what was one of its most beloved bands at the time.

The anthemic “Boxcar”, meanwhile set out Blake’s stall, hitting back at the righteousness of the punk scene: “You’re not punk, and I’m telling everyone / Save your breath, I never was one.” On 24 Hour, Blake displayed a confidence in his band’s ability to do whatever the fuck they wanted, no matter the scene cred (“if you think we changed our tune, I hope we did”), but the fallout of Dear You would ultimately tear the band apart. In all honesty, though, while Dear You was more glossily produced and more angst-y, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy was already supplying the sing-a-long pop-punk goodness (see “Boxcar” for one thing), albeit rawer and raspier than what Green Day were offering.

Green Day- Dookie

green day dookie

Another classic ‘teen’ album of the era to fit alongside The Blue Album. Dookie is, of course, very different in tone and substance to that one; it perfectly captures that sense of disaffection and boredom that all teens feel at some point. The opening lines of the album set the tone for what is to come: “I declare I don’t care no more/ I’m burning up and out and growing bored/ In my smoked out boring room” (as with “My Name is Jonas”, “Burnout” is an absolutely perfect opening track). It is pop-punk with a shrug. I prefer Kerplunk’s idealism and romanticism, but Dookie still catches Green Day in that era when they could almost do no wrong.

Tracks like “Basket Case”, “Burnout” and “Coming Clean” were sharp, bouncy, hook-filled pop-punkers that lodged themselves in your brain for hours after. For all its surface level slackerdom, these engaged with deeper issues, too: questioning one’s sexuality at seventeen and living with anxiety. “Longview” is clearly a fan favourite, with its memorable baseline and tales of boredom-induced masturbation that suggests a kind of mental prison that Billie Joe had built for himself.

Nevertheless, these tracks evidence a teenage, self-mocking engagement with these issues: “do you have the time to listen to me whine?” That is, of course, why Dookie (and the stuff that preceded it) retains its charm. Everyone can relate to some extent with Billie Joe’s tales of boredom, discovering one’s identity and disaffection. As Jawbreaker did the following year, Green Day faced struggles with their Gilman St. fanbase after having signed with a major label. Green Day faced the same call of ‘sellouts’, but grew and grew in the face of adversity, in contrast with Jawbreaker. Also, as with Jawbreaker, it was on the following record that Green Day would move away from their straightforward pop-punk sound towards a more mature, indie sound that involved more serious, ‘grown-up’ discussions of mental health and addictions. In many ways, Dookie marked the beginning of the end of what we knew as Green Day, with Billie Joe shifting away from lovelorn, teenage tales towards a multitude of other beasts (mid-90s alt-rock angst, ‘mid-00s ‘political’ punk and whatever the fuck they are now).

Other 1994 albums I enjoy:

NOFX- Punk in Drublic/ Screeching Weasel- How to Make Enemies and Irritate People/ Sunny Day Real Estate- Diary