Unfortunately, there is no substitute for early Weezer. Thanks to the songwriting chops and sheer kookiness of mastermind Rivers Cuomo—a Harvard-educated metal apologist with Rick Moranis style and Brian Wilson’s way with melody—no band has ever really copied their sound or general character. This is not for lack of effort. In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, suburbs all across America shat out Weezer-influenced emo and pop-punk bands, and that meant lots and lots of harrowing songs about heartbreak set to heavy guitars and dressed up with radio-friendly melodies. Even at the time, you kind of hated yourself for liking it, and 10 or 15 years later, much of it sounds truly embarrassing. But there were some decent groups, and as we mark the 20th anniversary of Weezer’s self-titled debut, the super influential set known as the “Blue Album”, we’re celebrating seven emo bands you don’t have to hate yourself for digging. (If you’re still listening to this stuff, you presumably hate yourself for other reasons.)
Hot Rod Circuit
These Alabama-bred, Connecticut-based angst merchants didn’t have Weezer’s quirky flare, but on standouts “Two Hand Touch” and “Chinese Cuts”, they use touchstones of suburban adolescence—sandlot football and that old trick where you sneak your buddy into line behind you—as metaphors for their romantic misadventures. That’s a totally “Blue” move, and “Low”, the closing track on their 1999 debut, If I Knew Now What I Knew Then, is basically their “In the Garage”, though singer Andy Jackson is actually in communication with a member of the opposite sex. Even if the relationship fails, he’s one up on Rivers.
“She Don’t Even Know My Name”, from this Kansas trio’s 1999 sophomore effort, This Will Be Laughing Week, contains the line “she called me a four eyes and my glasses weren’t on,” and if that’s not some “Blue Album” business, check out how singer Bill McShane sums up the whole unrequited love thing: “And I will prove her wrong if it kills me, then so what/ At my funeral just play ‘Home sweet home’.” He’s a heartbroken nerd with a hair-metal jones, and had he and Rivers grown up together, they’d have swapped Kiss tapes and Kitty Pryde comics.
The Get Up Kids
Something to Write Home About, the third album from this beloved Kansas City emo foursome, opens with a song called “Holiday”, and while it’s way more histrionic than the “Blue Album” tune of the same name, it establishes singer Matt Pryor as a Cuomo-esque sensitive dude with a loud-ass guitar. Five years later, on 2004’s Guilt Show, the Kids kicked their Weezyness up a few notches, ditching their harder edges in favor of some straight-up power-pop.
Formed in Massachusetts and ultimately headquartered in Los Angeles, where they flirted with fame before fizzling out in the late ‘00s, these goofballs were like a more credible East Coast version of Fall Out Boy. They came out of the hardcore scene but quickly realized it would be more fun to couple silly song and album titles (ex: If It Weren’t for Venetian Blinds, It Would Be Curtains for Us All) with off-kilter pop-punk and later sing-songy piano rock. By 2004’s All Eyes, All Ears, All the Time, they’d become the Muppet emo-pop band Rivers and the gang should have formed with Kermit and Animal after filming that “Keep Fishing” video.
Jimmy Eat World
Before they broke through with 2001’s Bleed American, Jimmy Eat World made a wonderfully “Blue”-hued record with 1999’s Clarity, their second album for Capitol. Highlight “Lucky Denver Mint”, an aching rock song sung with a hint of coin-collector dorkiness, has the depth of a “My Name Is Jonas” or “Surf Wax America”. On “The Authority Song”, one of the finer Bleed cuts, singer Jim Adkins asserts his cool-dude cred by lamenting the fact his local DJ never has the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Automatic, but really, he’s not too concerned. He’s spending his last quarter on John Mellencamp’s “Authority Song”, the kind of big, old jukebox pop anthem he and his bandmates so clearly love. That mix of intensity and crowd-pleasing songcraft—evident even on largely ignored latter-day efforts like Chase This Light and Invented—makes Jimmy Eat World the only group on this list with even a fraction of Weezer’s importance.
The Promise Ring
Singer Davey von Bohlen got his start with Cap’n Jazz in the early ‘90s, before “Blue” had even dropped, so strictly speaking, he’s no Rivers disciple. Still, 1997’s Nothing Feels Good and 1999’s Very Emergency have more in common with Weezer’s cathartic crunch-pop than they do with the hardcore-derived emo of the early ‘90s. By 2002’s excellent wood/water, produced by Smiths collaborator Stephen Street, the Promise Ring had graduated to more sophisticated rock and pop, but there’s something to be said for the simplicity of, say, “Red and Blue Jeans”, in which the group inadvertently suggests something Weezer fans can wear with their Buddy Holly specs and unraveling sweater.
Saves the Day
The breakthrough album from these New Jersey emo lifers is called Through Being Cool, a title that suggests they were cool in the first place. If that’s true, it marks a major difference between them and Weezer. Another has to do with influences: Saves the Day, like many of the groups on this list, came out of punk and hardcore, though by their aforementioned 1999 sophomore effort and 2003’s In Reverie—a major-label pop-fest with a curiously light blue cover—frontman Chris Conley and his crew had figured out that raw emotions work best when set to smiley-happy melodies. Over the course of eight studio albums, they’ve ping-ponged back and forth from hard to soft, but their most recent LP, a self-titled set released last year, is as sweet and tart as that grapefruit on the cover. Oh, and get this: Fans call it “The Orange Album”.