2014: Weezer has been out of my life since “Pork and Beans.” "Red Album" wasn’t very good, and everything since has been a massive disappointment. News of a new Weezer album evokes little to no emotional response other than a muted pain in my stomach and behind my eyes. I can’t allow myself to feel excitement. Not again. Not ever again.
“Back to the Shack” first comes across my radar when my cousin, a fellow longtime Weezer enthusiast/masochist, plays it for me in his living room. He hails it as a return to form, saying, “the Real Weezer is back.” I hear the song. I hear the lyrics. But I can’t allow myself the enjoyment I’m meant to feel. I recognize the lyrical significance. The fuzzy guitars and punchy drums remind me of an era long-abandoned. Rivers’ pleading and imploring to me, his displaced fan, falls on unwilling ears. I want to be excited, and I want to love this song. But I can’t let myself slip just yet. I just have to wait for the album.
I do wait. And I am rewarded.
2016: I’ve spent two years claiming 2014′s "Everything Will Be Alright In The End" as my third favorite Weezer album, just after "Blue Album" and "Pinkerton." I’m certainly not alone in this. That album is Weezer at their finest—a sprawling epic of grubby butt-rock, larger-than-life hooks and bridges, and those GUITAR SOLOS, DUDE. I’ve grown to understand what sports fans mean when they say they’re embarrassed to like their favorite team, and I now understand how it feels for that shame to wash away. Not only do I recommend this record to people, but I do so proudly. "EWBAITE" was Weezer’s comeback season, and we all went into the offseason with our heads held high.
But time can corrupt, and the wait for a followup was excruciating.
Weezer frontman and lead songwriter Rivers Cuomo announced that he was writing for the next full-length release. It’d be self-titled, the "White Album." Since "Red Album," self-titled Weezer records ignite a furious anxiety inside me. Rich with “Brian Wilson-inspired” melodies and lyrics, written as a love/hate letter to California, this new album has all the makings of a disaster in Rivers’ hands. As much as I love my 40-something-year-old man-child, he has a way of spoiling perfectly good things.
A few months and a 10-track record later, my faith is renewed. Weezer, the quintessential '90s geek-rock band, is in their finest form since "Pinkerton."
"White Album" kicks off with two juicy summertime cuts, "California Kids" and "Wind In Our Sail." Lyrically, these tracks are Weezer at their most optimistic on the record. "California Kids" emerges from a flurry of seagulls and children at play until it erupts into a fiery, punching chorus. In the first of many displays of Brian Wilson-esque vocal layering and falsetto tossing, the band hails the titular kids as idyllic saviors to anyone seeking asylum.
"Wind In Our Sail" is our first real introduction to Rivers' ever-evolving display of obscure references that in no way belong to a pop-rock song. The band shamelessly lets their nerd hang out like it's 1995, and I find myself driving, windows down, yelling along, "We got the wind in our sail! / Like Darwin on the beagle / and Mendel experimenting with the pea." The song ends with a series of whoas and ad-libs, and you can almost visualize a burst of confetti curling around a closing curtain. These two songs have a bizarre sense of finality to them, so it is no coincidence that they objectively are the happiest tracks on the record. With eight more tracks to go, this is actually where the story begins.
The first single of the record, "Thank God For Girls," tiptoes out from behind the confetti cannons and fallen roses with descending piano clicks. In the months leading up to the album's release, this song was a dividing force among Weezer's fanbase. On its own, the track is oddly underwhelming in spite of its dynamic growth. The piano-heavy production coupled with Rivers' swing-time rap-singing comes off as gimmicky, and it threatens a return to the band's terrifyingly low record "Raditude."
However, once it's placed into the context of the album, "Thank God For Girls" truly delivers on the immensity it hopes to achieve. The verses build to a hook that nearly tears the world apart, but the true significance comes during the outro-verse.
Rivers flips the imagery of the traditional humankind creation myth. He describes a scene in which God took away Adam's rib, crafting woman in Her image (to quote Rivers later in the album, "GOD IS A WOMAN!"). Adam banished himself to an exile in the tundra, like Frankenstein's creature. He then begrudgingly started to do things to spite God and nature ("Messing with the bees who were trying to pollinate the echinacea"), so God punished Adam. Rivers takes on this pain and accepts all of mankind's punishment by worshiping/objectifying girls as he would God. This whole album becomes Rivers Cuomo playing a skewed Jesus for boys everywhere, making himself an eternal servant of an imaginary cruel and absolute female God. He knowingly and wrongfully assigns cosmic significance to his compulsory obsession for girls and unrequited love. And he pays the price as the album progresses.
"(Girl We Got A) Good Thing" immediately follows this emotional gut punch as a calming rub to your aching tummy. Weezer does more than just channel the "Pet Sounds"-era Beach Boys for this cut—they clone "Wouldn't It Be Nice" nearly to a science. This if the first time we really experience the hookworm effect on this song: the chorus is so sugary, so syrupy, it's almost sickening. But it still leaves me wanting more. Thankfully, the next track keeps the punches rolling.
The album's second single, "Do You Wanna Get High," is the "Pinkerton" B-side we needed to hear. Fittingly, it's also one of the darkest songs on the record. One of my friends pointed out that the chord progression is nearly identical to "Green Album's" ultra hit "Island In The Sun"—such a comparison leads me to believe "Do You Wanna Get High" is the other side of the coin.
This track is the emotional turning point of the record, immediately assigning a sinister weight to the narrator's love and compassion. Rivers croons, "Do you wanna get high? / It's like we're falling in love. / Keep on doing what you do / 'cause I'll never get tired of you." Weezer reveals themselves as bridge trolls from this point on throughout the record—this song's bridge is a tidal wave roaring across soundscapes. Just as the interlude reaches its emotional peak, it slips back into the fuzzed-out pocket to make room for a blistering dueling guitar solo. The track itself is a compilation of all things Weezer: buzzing barred chords, punching drums, dark referential lyrics, guitar solos, and huge choruses. Although it is intensely morbid in its imagery, "Do You Wanna Get High" is a victorious cut and one of my favorites on the album.
Weezer willingly pumps the brakes a little for the next single from the record, "King Of The World." On the surface, it's a pleasant track. The bass and rhythm guitars pound along in lockstep with the drums, and the lead guitar shreds a soaring melody. It's fun and perfectly butt-rock. But once the lyrics kick in, we start to realize that Rivers is singing about one of the few topics he approaches in music: his actual relationship with his wife.
Rivers takes on a familiar savior approach as he addresses his wife's troubled upbringing, casual observance of tragedy in the world, and her fear of airplanes. The song condenses these worries and fears into two concise and effective verses, and the chorus absolutely blows them away: "If I was king of the world / yeah girl / we could ride a Greyhound all the way to the Galapagos / and stay for the rest of our lives." Rivers wants to whisk away the fears from the woman he loves and take them upon himself. Since we have a real face to put to his (this time very much requited) love, these sentiments hit a little harder.
The song has all the emotionally maturity we should expect from a band of 40-plus-year-old songwriters with families of their own. It's a welcome break from the fantasy in which Rivers Cuomo and his best friends are eternal teenagers. Although it strays from the loose narrative the other tracks follow, "King Of The World" wastes no time on a tight 10-track record.
"Summer Elaine And Drunk Dori" keeps the pace moving with a fairly cutesy bopper, a sort of spiritual successor to "EWBAITE's" "Da Vinci." It delivers the "God is a woman" line during the fiery bridge, but it mostly acts as a bridge to the album's monstrous single "L.A. Girlz."
The track slinks in from a rolling current of sawtooth guitar feedback, and it starts throwing leaden punches. Lyrically, Rivers is starting to awaken to his love interest's unwillingness to reciprocate his affection. The verses tower to mythical proportions. Rivers' keenness for straight-faced absurdity is on full display—he references Dante's "Divine Comedy" and male pregnancy just a few breaths apart. All silliness aside, the song is demonstrably the finest track the band has written in years, perhaps in over a decade.
The swing-time pulse and grimy guitar tones hearken to "Blue's" "Holiday" (one of my favorites off the album), and the song borrows structurally from "EWBAITE's" "Go Away." The track confidently bounces along for a few hooks, but the true highlight is its earth-shattering bridge. In four dynamic repetitions, Rivers implores, "Does anybody love anybody as much as I love you baby?" It's a broken question, almost a rhetorical lamentation. The falsetto delivery of the line scorches the sky and threatens to outshine the sun itself, and we're offered only a brief reprieve before yet another gritty soloing duel. From top to bottom, "L.A. Girlz" is Weezer's most emotionally complete track since "Pinkerton"—the glistening diamond after over 10 years of stomping down coal.
The closing two songs on the record fully round the band back to a melancholy we've all once been familiar to. "Jacked Up," apart from having one of the most cringe-worthy song titles on the record, bleeds from our narrator's broken heart. It is a pained piano ballad, and again Rivers' falsetto shines during the sparse hook.
But the bridge troll strikes again, and we're gifted with a tense, building interlude of heightening cosmic significance. Rivers cries, "Touch me with your light / You're the sun that I'm orbiting / I burn in your heat." His love's immensity stretches the seams of our universe, and it all ends as love wasted. Our narrator's superficial comparisons and objectifications fall on harsh, deaf ears, and in his own words, "We'll sleep forever minus one."
Nine tracks through, and we've so far passed a growing, living landscape of Los Angeles and one boy's self-inflicted struggles. If you feel winded, emotionally spent, "White Album's" acoustic closer "Endless Bummer" completes the circle. Rivers' bandmates, each in their own unique voice, play barbershop quartet over this seemingly lost "Pet Sounds" cut. It's the hangover to the album's three-day bender.
The lyrics paint portraits of garish, plastic commercialism and unstructured lifestyle. During a buildup leading to the album's closing solo segment, the band groans, "Kumbaya makes me get violent / I just want the summer to end." The cheesiness, the unfiltered happiness, is drained from our narrator as the album closes.
The final seconds echo the seagulls and beach activity from the first track, and it feels as if the world is shifted to the side a bit. All is as it should be, but just a bit off. If there's any indication of that, think about how Weezer just released their second great album in a row. And "White Album" is, in fact, a phenomenal album. Don't let this just be a solid summer record—admire it as you would any of the band's first few releases. Weezer is back, and they're not going to go anytime soon.