Consistency from Weezer nowadays, some twenty years into their career, is much like the oceanic tides that inspired their fourth self-titled venture, The White Album. Although strong like a wave when riding their catchy singles, the band’s output post-2005 has become more or less collections of washy filler arranged around a handful of memorable tracks, to varying degrees over the years (remember Raditude?). It seems like a long time since Weezer has released an album cohesive enough to warrant replays in full, but luckily The White Album comes very close, the band finally reembracing the sincerity of their classic records. While it’s not perfect, White-era Weezer is simply the best this band has sounded in years.
For his newest record, bandleader Rivers Cuomo reformatted his infamous writing process yet again, collaborating with young producer Jake Sinclair to breathe new life into Weezer’s delivery. Sinclair’s detailed touch coats Cuomo and crew’s quirky rock anthems with a playful sheen, production usually reserved for cornier acts like Fall Out Boy. On Weezer though, it comes across endearing. For career fans, opener “California Kids” will be a collective sigh of relief, as Rivers’ meandering vocal enters accompanied not by cringeworthy synths, but their signature arena-heavy guitars. Rather than adapt the band to modern “alternative” standards of programmed material, Sinclair has seemingly pushed Weezer to work with their strengths on The White Album. Sunny cuts “LA Girlz” and “Wind in Our Sail” are genuinely cathartic and anthemic, one section finding Rivers beckoning to his summertime lover, “Does anybody love anybody as much as I love you, baby?” You can feel an emotional pull here, the same one felt by even the best songs on Pinkerton. Although “more positive” in his older age, most of The White Album’s lyrical content sings of longing and reminiscing, Cuomo striking the same raw empathy of his darker years. It is a welcome transition, the band finally coming across as themselves after several records of trying to do so.
A renewed attitude is not the only aspect of Weezer rejuvenated by their latest release, for The White Album is also impeccably tight instrumentally. Bassist Scott Shriner and drummer Pat Wilson establish a meaty rhythmic section throughout, giving the occasional studio trick (glockenspiel, effected vocal bits, acoustic guitars) context which to work off of. Shriner in particular plays a more critical role than on the jammy Everything Will Be Alright.., foregoing fancy lines in favor of rock solid tone. His bass is essential to lead singles “King of the Beach” or “Do You Wanna Get High?”, its foundation tying together the huge, noisy guitars and Rivers’ earnest lyrics to form perfect slacker pop. The Beach Boys-inspired “(Girl We Got A) Good Thing” is another great track, its laid-back, chugging guitars blending sweetly with a Newman-eque piano lead before blowing up into a straight-vintage Weezer guitar solo. Actually, Cuomo and axe partner Brian Bell’s guitar work on The White Album is another aspect of the band returning to form with fan-favorite themes, yet managing to present something fresh and original. By playing more like traditional rock guitarists than on recent releases, Cuomo and Bell craft parts which boldly remind listeners why they fell for the band in the first place. So exciting are these moments, they almost make up for White Album’s share of another well-versed Weezer tradition: the one or two inevitably horrid songs.
During a press tour supporting one of those Weezer albums, Cuomo once told a journalist that part of his turn to diverse instrumentation and genre-mixing was his then inability to play guitar as proficiently in the past, a product of many, many years spent touring. Accordingly, to hear him shred again on the White Album is more than a small victory for his longtime fanbase. Built around Bell’s precisely placed power chords, the bridges on “California Kids” and “LA Girlz” feature Rivers tasteful yet rambunctious sweeps, possessing just enough power to stand out, yet not detract from the song holistically. “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori” also boasts an awesome solo, although after the key change mid-song, comes off a little more “tacked on”. A good song otherwise, “Dori” suffers mainly from Weezer’s exercises in oversaturation, having too many ideas present in one simple song. The awkward “Jacked Up” is a prime example here, its hip-hop flavored drumbeat and piano chords sticking out like a sore thumb on the White Album’s otherwise solid second half. It is one of the few songs on this record where Sinclair’s contributions fail to land, although “Jacked Up” could become as beloved as “Island in the Sun” when compared to “Thank God for Girls”. Misplaced both thematically and sonically on The White Album, the song’s extremely bizarre lyrics and weak guitar work clashes immensely with Sinclair’s overproduction, creating a level of cheese even Twentyonepilots wouldn’t touch. One might wonder how a song this bad would end up present in the midst of Weezer’s artistic comeback, but in retrospect, that dichotomy is a definitive part of their legacy.
Responsible for both highly influential and simply bad records alike, Cuomo and the rest of Weezer remain a relevant act in rock music today because of their ability to surprise, to do the unexpected. Fortunately, the biggest reveal with The White Album is how effortlessly a Weezer record it is, and it is that kind of re-discovery which will ultimately place it snugly within the band’s discography. If the band is able to capture this energy in coming releases, we may hear future generations speak the same words Weezer themselves did with their first major single: “This band’s my favorite, man! Don’t ya love them?” Why yes, we do.
– Andre I.