Weezer's long-awaited return to form continues with a loose concept album about California, complete with the requisite Beach Boys influences.
It’s official. Weezer’s surprising, long hoped-for return to form on 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End was not a one-off fluke. The band’s new album, its fourth self-titled, is just as fun and possibly even more consistent than Everything. We’re supposed to call this one “The White Album”, as its black and white cover photo shows the band standing in the shade of a white lifeguard tower, surrounded by white beach sand and white sky. The beach also is thematically significant, as this is a concept album of sorts, with most of the songs concerning southern California or the ocean. And like all of Weezer’s self-titled albums, this one contains a compact ten songs.
Rivers Cuomo wastes no time in getting to the Beach Boys references, as “California Kids” opens the album with a simple melody doubled on clean electric guitar and glockenspiel. This introduction is followed by a gradual buildup in the first verse, beginning with vocals and simple guitar chords, next joined by bass and drums, and finally a second guitar accompaniment. The telltale sound of feedback hits about two seconds before the refrain kicks in with power-pop crunch. It’s a classic Weezer chorus, equal parts melodic and headbanging and complete with “Ooo whee ooo ooo” backing vocals. As the song comes to a close, the band sounds like it’s having a great time, with Cuomo’s vocals gaining energy as he blasts through the final chorus and Pat Wilson’s drum fills slam across his kit.
The feedback from the end of “California Kids” gives way to a sound that remains fairly unusual for Weezer, a piano. The jaunty chords establish the bouncy tone of “Wind in Our Sail” and continue throughout the song, once again emphasizing the Beach Boys influence. Lyrically, Cuomo gets nerdy in the chorus: “We’ve got the wind / In our sail / Like Darwin on the Beagle / Mendel / Experimenting on the bean.” It’s really that piano that gives the song its distinctness, though, providing just enough of a twist on Weezer’s basic formula without sacrificing catchiness.
The next track, “Thank God for Girls”, also tweaks the band’s sound. The verses feature Cuomo employing a sing-songy rap style vocal flow before hitting the required big rock chorus. Wilson’s slightly funky beat and use of a deep, echoey snare (a hallmark of hip-hop) adds to the track’s hip-hop feel. Lyrically, the song is the album’s most scattered, possibly a product of the five (!) credited songwriters. It drifts from imagining a scenario of dangerous camping to fighting for the attention of “Females, glued to the TV” and into the chorus’s most evocative line, “She’s so energetic / In her sweaty overalls.” At the end, the song somehow slides into an examination of Adam’s feelings about God in the time just before Eve was created. It’s a total mess, but the interesting musical choices, and of course, the big fat sing along chorus, keep the track entertaining.
“(Girl We Got A) Good Thing” is the album’s full-throttle riff on Pet Sounds. A shuffle beat, piano chords, sleigh bells, multiple guitars (each with different tones), and liberal use of falsetto vocals make it sound like Cuomo started with “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” and spun outwards from there. That spinning takes it pretty far once the song hits the distortion-heavy, start and stop bridge and follows that up with a guitarmony-laden duet, but the final 50 seconds bring it right back to Pet Sounds. Cuomo’s own description of “Do You Wanna Get High?” calls it “really yucky and intentionally uncomfortable”, which is at least partially accurate. But even in a minor key, with the guitar grit turned up, and using his whiny-sad voice, Cuomo can’t help finding a way to make the song a melodic sing along, which muddles his “drugs aren’t glamorous” message. It’s just another example of how songs about drug use almost never go well for Weezer (see also: “We Are All on Drugs” and its terrible, terrible lyrics , and “Hash Pipe”, arguably the band’s all-time worst single [come at me, “Beverly Hills” haters, because I hate that one, too; just not as much as “Hash Pipe”]).
“King of the World” is bright, sunny, and crunchy, with lyrics about Cuomo wishing he could take away all of life’s pain from his wife. It would fit in perfectly as an album track on the Blue Album, and that’s evident even before the bridge, which intentionally and specifically references the Blue Album song “Only in Dreams". “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori” begins the record’s back half with one of the album’s most effortless choruses. There are a lot of good choruses on the album, but this is the one that feels the least calculated, as if it flowed from the verses completely naturally. The guitar solo here is similarly thematically linked to the song. That sense of flow makes it probably the album’s best-written song. It also has a sense of wistfulness and a hint of missed opportunity, a feeling that grows with each song through the end of the album.
“L.A. Girlz” is a 6/8 rocker that echoes the band’s terrific classic B-side “Suzanne". The song is a mess of references, including Dante and Lewis Caroll, but what sticks is the soaring refrain, “L.A. girls / Please act your age / Sweeten up your lemonade and meet me down at Tower 28.” The band supports this with a pounding rhythm guitar and bassline, but also a constantly moving lead guitar with its own melody. The band also manages to back off midway through and do a very nice buildup to the final run through of the chorus. “Jacked Up” has the most piano on an album that’s relatively full of piano for Weezer. It’s the song’s primary instrument, locking in with Wilson’s beat while the guitars and bass largely stay on the sidelines. More than anything, though, it’s a showcase for Cuomo’s still potent falsetto singing as he bemoans being “all jacked up” over a girl. The piano and falsetto go a long way toward making a pretty ordinary song sound interesting, so it’s a pretty savvy arranging job. “Endless Bummer” closes out the album on a quiet, down note. It’s a melancholy, acoustic guitar-based song with strong harmonies. Eventually the whole band comes in to push the track into rocking territory for an extended guitar solo, and the album fades out with the sounds of seagulls and crashing waves.
The White Album accomplishes a couple of different things. It will satisfy the band’s longtime fans that are still weary (and wary) from a decade of really dubious music from the band. But it also manages to add some new wrinkles to Weezer’s overall sound. They’ve never used this much piano before, and Cuomo very effectively incorporates those requisite Beach Boys influences into the band’s standard power-pop sound. Also, by returning to their self-imposed 10-song limit, the band has largely eliminated any true clunkers this time around. Even the less-inspired tracks do enough creative things to keep them interesting. It took a long time and the relative failure of Make Believe, The Red Album, Raditude, Hurley, and the almost-forgotten Death to False Metal to make the band’s second era of The Green Album and Maladroit seem high quality, but the reevaluation is justified. And while the band may never again reach the heights of their two ‘90s albums, The White Album is just as listenable as those second era albums.