Peter Orth
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June 18, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

Almost no rock band arrives fully formed on its first album. It took Radiohead a few tries before they figured out who they were; Metallica didn’t hit their stride until Master of Puppets; even the Beatles lacked confidence in their pre— A Hard Day’s Night era. That’s what makes Weezer’s self-titled debut, released 20 years ago this week, so unfathomable: They emerged almost completely actualized, with nary a misstep. As debuts go, Weezer‘s about as perfect as it gets.

In 1994, that meant more than having 10 indelibly hooky songs. Frontman Rivers Cuomo, a bespectacled, Dungeons & Dragons-playing geek from Connecticut, could not have known that his first album was going to come out just four weeks after the death of his idol Kurt Cobain (and on the same label as Nirvana, no less), but retroactively, Weezer feels like a salve for alt-rock nation’s wounds. Cuomo, an unabashed metalhead who name-checks Kiss on the chugging ”In the Garage,” channeled metal’s power through the rugged pop sensibilities of Cheap Trick — and even got Cars mastermind Ric Ocasek to give the whole thing a radio-friendly production sheen. Listening to Weezer now, it’s remarkable how hard the album sounds underneath the gloss: the feedback careening back and forth during the bridge of ”Buddy Holly,” the primordial thump that drives ”Say It Ain’t So,” the power chords that crash the party during the intro to ”My Name Is Jonas.”

And yet Weezer was the rare album that truly crossed demographics — it had the sensitive crunch that alt-rock radio loved, but headbangers also recognized Cuomo’s metal bona fides, while ”Buddy Holly” and ”Undone (The Sweater Song)” had enough sweetness to soften up the Ace of Base-entranced Top 40 fans. Even your dad thought ”Surf Wax America” was pretty catchy. (Thankfully, the album hit just before the Internet blasted mainstream rock into a thousand niche-y subgenres.)

Weezer ended up being one of the last great MTV video bands by attrition; the Spike Jonze-directed joint for ”Buddy Holly” remains the group’s definitive visual statement. Inserting all four members into actual footage from Happy Days with a technical inventiveness that was revolutionary at the time, that clip perfectly encapsulated everything the band stood for: cool-nerd meta and sly-smart humor delivered with the wallop of power pop and the promise of greater thrills, both in and out of the garage. A+

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