Welcome to Tap Don't Talk, a conversational feature which pits 405 writers Rob Wilson and Mike Clark against each other to shoot the shit about current affairs in the world of music. This is more casual, personal and comprehensive than a typical in-depth feature, firing up ideas about a certain topic that might not all fit into a normal article but are still worth discussing. This is by no means a conversation limited to just us though, feel free to add your two cents in the comments section below or call us names on Twitter if you want - Rob is @robinamicrowave, Mike is @Pixleh and, of course, there's @The405. Enjoy!

Rob: Hello again, everyone! Welcome back to Tap Don't Talk. Sorry there's been so little of this recently - that's the problem with a feature run entirely by bloody students, we get busy with exams around this time of year - but we're back once again, and this time with a special edition. That's right, this month (May 10th specifically) saw Weezer's iconic release The Blue Album turn 20 years of age. Normally, Mike would be along with us to discuss it as he's a massive fan but, as I said before, he's one of the many students swamped in piles of paper, pencils and other tree-based revision equipment. So today I've invited a friend of mine who's a huge fan of The Blue Album to discuss it with me. Alright, Ed?

Ed: Indeed!

Rob: Excellent! Always good to hear that friends are well, especially friends who adore this album because we need them to be healthy to talk about it. Now, we all know Weezer sort of tailed off after bassist Matt Sharp left. There have been articles written about it by some of the most esteemed Internet critics around (Film Crit Hulk) and it's generally accepted that 'Can't Stop Partying' isn't exactly 'Getchoo' either. But luckily, Matt Sharp was around for The Blue Album. And his contribution is part of what makes this album so resonant even at this stage. Tell me, Ed, what's your thoughts on Matt Sharp?

Ed: Well, I've only heard one full album they did after his departure, 2001's The Green Album, so it's somewhat hard for me to say EXACTLY what left with him and what was just an organic change in direction. While it seems there was a tail-off in quality - or at least fan support - after that point, I'm not sure how much of that was coincidence. The Green Album may be pared-down to some degree, but I don't actually agree that it lacks harmony, which some critics like Hulk have claimed (I have a nasty feeling I may shift my agenda to "defend the battered reputation of The Green Album if I'm not careful).

Rob: I think you're quite right about The Green Album there. Although some of the chord sequences are a little less adventurous on the whole, the likes of 'Hash Pipe' still packed the power of some of their earlier material... which brings me back to The Blue Album. The weight of the record cannot be denied, whether it's the thudding kick drum of 'The World Has Turned and Left Me Here' or the explosive introduction of 'My Name Is Jonas', the album is full of power. They were power pop, after all, but man did they know how to fill a mix.

Ed: I agree. I love the combination of the thick "wall of sound" guitars and the clean tenor vocals over the top. It's a really effective combination of angelic innocence and raw thrust... perhaps apt given that it's a "growing up" kind of album, thematically. The whole "progenitor of emo" thing... what do you make of that?

Rob: I think Weezer hit their market perfectly with The Blue Album, to be honest. They weren't quite at the stage of making Pinkerton, which I'm sure analyses every possible angle of unrequited teenage love, but there's such palpable youthful exuberance throughout The Blue Album. This results in people like me, who perhaps would have dreamed of being Rivers Cuomo at the time had I been alive when this album was released, latch on to the message and stay when we find that, underneath, it's actually a very clever rock album in both image and writing. Things like Matt Sharp's harmonic emphasis and the call & response between Cuomo and the lead guitar riff in 'Only in Dreams' are huge examples of this.

Ed: To be honest, I kind of missed the whole "emo" movement thing (I missed most movements to be honest). I was thinking in terms of the purely musical aspect: which actually leads to the difficult question of what "emo music" actually is, as opposed to, say, "power pop". I mean, I can certainly hear Weezerisms on Jimmy Eat World's 'Bleed American', for example, but I'd place that more as pop/rock than anything else. I think the "emo" precedent falls down when you start comparing them lyrically. Both Cuomo and Jim Adkins from Jimmy Eat World seem earnest in their heart-on-their-sleeve, young love and anguish, approach, and yet there's always a hint of self-deprecation to Cuomo's words - he's awkward and kind of a lock-in, but he seems to know it! As opposed to the kind of self-serious histrionics I get from a lot of "emo" music.

Rob: I think the awkwardness you refer to about Rivers actually comes through most prominently in the opening seconds of what is probably The Blue Album's most successful song: 'Buddy Holly'. Here's this little, skinny white guy with thick glasses standing up as some kind of P Diddy character, ironically of course: "What's with these homies dissin' my girl?" But it's the kind of fun that Weezer had in bundles - the kind of heart-on-the-sleeve fun that had turned into arm-waving melodrama by the time You Me at Six rolled around. Paramore are trying to work in that "Let's have fun!" mould at the moment - I even wrote a piece about it - but their material isn't quite as polished as Weezer's was when they were doing stuff like 'In the Garage', which again touches on that lock-in awkwardness we're on about here.

Ed: Yeah, I love the "I've got Peter Criss, waiting there for me" line. The sentiment is fundamentally hard to take as seriously as Rivers perhaps wants us to, but the feeling's all there. The whole song has this sadly nostalgic vibe - like the songwriter has moved away from that insular, childhood comfort zone where your own world was the most important space in the world, and he can't go back. He's a clever lyricist. Or at least, was at this point. Not that there's anything wrong with 'Don't Let Go', for example, I just think it's just a bit more straightforward.

Rob: I think that's actually a nice way of summing up The Blue Album as a whole: sadly nostalgic. Its image is so resonant because of how much the music impacted it, but there's a silliness about it that we're probably not going to see again, at least not without deliberate cynicism. The Blue Album feels so genuine, even when that oddball 'Surf Wax America' sort of pops in out of nowhere. Even the silly parts still feel so important to the message Weezer were trying to put out there at the time. On the other side of the coin, when it did get a little serious in subject matter, on 'Undone' there's the spoken word parts for each verse and the repeating final chorus which gives Rivers a chance to scream his brains out over that discordant, yet oddly spacious, guitar hook. It was genuine, soppy, and silly all in the right places. It was spectacular.

Ed: I know what you mean. It's very tongue-in-cheek, which is what sets it apart from most of its offspring (oddly, 'The Offspring' being a possible exception). 'Surf Wax America' never seemed too out-of-place to me, it's kind of a very obvious nod to the Beach Boys, who had an obvious influence on the group beyond the surfing connotations. It's kind of part one of a separated duo concluded by 'Holiday'. I discovered the Beach Boys when I was 15 and, given the hormonal impact of just about ALL stimulus at that point, it was quite thrilling to hear Pet Sounds. Just as it was quite thrilling when 'Buddy Holly' came out. I was about 8: it sounded completely unpretentious, fun and "new but old" - like Cuomo had swallowed the history of rock and pop from 1956 to grunge and reformulated it into a single, joyful statement. I had it on cassette. It, aptly, "unravelled".

Rob: The Beach Boys influence actually brings me back round to the harmonies of The Blue Album. Even when the bass wasn't interacting with the guitar quite so prominently, Cuomo often shared the mic with Sharp. I think the closeness of the vocal parts towards the back end of 'Holiday' ("Heeeeart-beeeeeat") and the occasional shots of harmony on the "and left me here" line in 'The World Has Turned...' keep you smiling and waiting for their appearance each time they come around. As for things we don't like about the album, which we do have to talk about (sorry!), I have to confess I'm not the biggest fan of 'No One Else'. Eek. I'm sorry. I really am.

Ed: I quite like that one! I mean, it's not a particular stand-out, but I do like the lyrics. Kind of sadly resigned to complete jealousy. It would be rather intimidating but there's that same feeling that runs through the record of "Aw, he'll grow out of it." As for my own dislikes? 'The World Has Turned' is not a particular favourite... just because the sound of it, that chord sequence in particular, has been used so many times since it doesn't really mean anything to me anymore. It's not really their fault, I guess! ...it also sounds like the music for an American light beer advert. Lots of threshers and bottles going down production lines.

Rob: Aw, I have such a huge soft spot for 'The World Has Turned...' I think it's part of the best 1-2-3 on the album, along with 'Buddy Holly' and 'Undone'. For the amount of times I've listened to it I've still not worked out where the chorus and verses land - it's turned into a little game for me. I also think the subtle, syncopated hits of the kick drum as the outro approaches add another layer in there too. Hey, there's one track we haven't mentioned at all. 'Say It Ain't So', probably the most upsetting track on the album, in terms of topic anyway. That final verse really caps off a bleak and emotional tale of Cuomo's various experiences alcoholism, both in his family and himself.

Ed: It is a darker song and perhaps my favourite on the album. But I suppose it had to be there. It's the moment the teenage frustration boils over (I trust you all know which bit I mean: it ends with an aptly squealing guitar solo!) I love it though. It's big, chunky and a little bit meaner than the rest of the album. And while we're wrapping up: your take on 'Only in Dreams'?

Rob: Well, 'Only in Dreams' is Matt Sharp's big moment. The entire song is based (if you'll forgive the pun) around the riff you hear in the first 5 seconds and yet they still find new ways to display it throughout the 8 minutes. It's a monster. I love Pinkerton to pieces, but dammit I wish they'd done something like 'Only In Dreams' to close it. The call & response in the chorus of 'Only in Dreams' I talked about before sort of leaves it unbalanced in a way I adore - I'm never certain on which one is going to hit first. It's the perfect closer.

Ed: Yeah, I was gonna say that it's a bit of a showcase for the bassist - given how I sought of unintentionally waived his contribution at the beginning! It sounds like a dreamier cousin of Television's Marquee Moon, with the gradual build-up of the group towards the end. The guitar work on the track is quite brilliant too. It's really subtle for a lot of it - a dab of harmonics at the end of each verse, some eerie whines for feel - but then crashing in with those jagged, unvarnished major chords for the chorus. Kind of a staple that made them so unique: the fresh harmony and upbeat melodies of the vocals combined with grungy, unelaborate guitar chords. Striking. The simple but relatable sentiments of the lyrics (coupled with the nod to the Roy Orbison song 'In Dreams') also gave this a very unique emotional landscape. I agree that it's a shame they didn't do this sort of thing again. In many respects Pinkerton is the absolute antithesis of this song!

Rob: How d'you mean?

Ed: Well, it's kind of immaculately constructed, with a lot of little details and gradual, careful building sections. Pinkerton seems to relish chaos and the direct far more. That's not a quality judgement by the way, it's just a rougher proposition. A tightly-woven, nicely rounded 8 minute prog event just wouldn't really have made any sense there. Just like 'Tired of Sex', which is fantastic, would sound ridiculous here. I mean, Pinkerton is many things, I'm just not sure "dreamy" is one them.

Rob: You're right. I guess I've just never been a fan of 'Butterfly' really. It's nice and all, just lacks, as you said, that direct chaos the rest of the album has in spades. Anything else you'd like to add, by the way? We're stretching over 2000 words and anyone who's made it this far deserves a medal!

Ed: Okay, why don't we close out with the age-old question: Is this Weezer's best album?

Rob: Oh god. Probably. I think. Oh god I don't know. Level with Pinkerton. Just because it's horrible to decide for sure. I've asked myself this question many times and I've never found an answer. Can you provide one?

Ed: Well, it makes more striking copy if we can be decisive about this. I'm not sure one can, though. I would say... I probably prefer this? Pinkerton is so different, both in sound and feel. Very uncomfortable place to be, unlike this one. Pinkerton probably has more energy, on the whole - but as a collection of songs, I think this one is just more solid.

Rob: You're right there. I just think growing up with Pinkerton just keeps it at a tie for me.

Ed: That's fair. May I also use this opportunity to press upon people that The Green Album, aside from popular distortion, is NOT SHIT.

Rob: You heard it here first, folks.