Genre: Pop rock, alternative rock
Release date: April 1st, 2016
Label: Atlantic Records
“We are the small fish / we swim together”
Picture you and your friends on wheelbarrows charging down a steep hill. A stubborn adherence to youthful recklessness isn’t something that is usually synonymous with a band whose history spans for more than two decades. At 45, the Harvard English major is still trolling you, from tweets about brushing his teeth with sparkling water to 60s Spider-man memes, to dressing up as Elvis for a performance on Jimmy Fallon, or even putting the Damn Daniel kids in the ‘California Kids’ music video.
It’s been 22 years since Weezer broke out with their particular brand of passionate slacker rock on The Blue Album, with frontman Rivers Cuomo belting out the kind of polished angst that transcended the plethora of catchy choruses on the album. “My Name is Jonas / I’m carrying the wheel”
The passage of time can make for a more careful and selective approach for many in regards to their music. With a tight 10-song tracklist, it seems like Weezer were going for a no-BS, quality-over-quantity approach. Combing through a backlog of 250 songs, Rivers could only find one track that felt right with the record.
The White Album is a cohesive record, with characteristically pristine production – its mix of clean guitar tones, keys and bass are all upfront and audible. As a concept album, it doesn’t meander or lose focus, with almost all of its tracks predictably having defined verse-chorus-verse song structures. The instrumentation comes off as ordinary sometimes, with tracks like 'Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori' feeling uninspired and rushed. The hook for the track is especially grating, with Rivers at one point fitting in way too many words in an already crowded section that’s gasping for breathing space.
Fortunately, that happens to be a rarity on the new record, with several tracks melodically strong, and decent as standalone singles. What they’ve put together is fist-pumping, pastoral pop-rock music that takes a few liberties with its tried-and-true design.
The chirpy Beach Boys-esque 'Girl We Got a Good Thing' opens with some acoustic guitar and gentle percussion. Beefy electric guitars follow and the addition of a tambourine almost make it sound like a parody of a Christmas jingle — if not for some interesting and focused lyrics about blocking out cynicism in a grim and unforgiving adult life working world. “Marching onwards / Oblivious to all the hate around us”
This fearlessness and optimism is carried over on the exuberant 'Wind In Our Sail', a track with jumpy piano chords and an oddly danceable drum beat. For a song that references acidification and hyperventilating in a wheelchair, its most fitting lyric in the context of the song is a simple and unpretentious one. There, Rivers boldly declares “We can do so many great things together, together”
The highlight of the album bears multiple mentions, 'King of The World' — infectious in melody, but intrinsically tender and heartfelt, written as a letter of care for Rivers’ wife and her anxiety. Referencing Malaysian Airlines MH17 and the Japan atomic bombings can get a little surreal and heavy, but it's balanced out by its subtle, off-colour humour. “Dad hit you on the hand / just for holding your chopsticks wrong”
Instead of a dismissing middle finger in typical Weezer fashion, it surprisingly offers an encouraging arm around the shoulder “And you think of all the people suffering and you bury that pain / but you could tell me anything / and we’ll ride on that wave.”
And the soft and gentle guitar arpeggios with unabashedly cheesy lyrics about facing tsunamis together in the bridge? Perfect.
The lyrics are literate and conscious of the present, simultaneously referencing a Lewis Carroll poem and the 2014 movie Whiplash on the track 'L.A. Girlz'.
The record is rife with satire — think of it as Weezer writing a concept album based on Grand Theft Auto V. It’s California in tired post-modernity, replete with Instagram wannabe socialite selfies and meme culture. Rivers even stated that he actually used Tinder to meet people for song ideas. The frontman pulls out clever references, and mixes them with oddly amusing imagery and personal anecdotes in a rather endearing and winning way.
The Pinkerton-esque 'Do You Wanna Get High' and the gender stereotype-breaking 'Thank God For Girls' and 'L.A Girlz' are straightforward and tuneful, with frolicking bass lines and smooth guitar riffs. The instrumentation feels really in the moment and effortless at some points — a result of Weezer’s lengthy experience as a stupefyingly successful rock band.
Because a number of the singles have been released (basically half of the entire album), it sometimes feels like an album that’s already worn in if you've already been exposed to them. There is still an inexplicably nostalgic quality to tracks like 'King of The World' and 'California Kids' — both replete with lyrics about embracing and reveling in the face of uncertainty. Revivalist commercial pop-rock of the early-to-mid 2000s? Someone better get Gregg Alexander on the phone then.
Coincidentally, the bridges and latter parts of the songs are consistently well-written, adding to a sense of finesse in the band's everlasting smart pop tendencies. 'Endless Bummer' may seem resigned, but it also reads like a letter to the cut-throat music scene of now, in a digital age of flakey fans and instant gratification. The “girl” in the lyrics? The music scene, maybe.
It's not hard to say that this is Weezer at their most natural and self-assured since The Blue Album, and also most sonically-gratifying since Pinkerton. This is Weezer poking fun at the world around them, properly employing the material they’ve written in an interesting and satisfying way. This is simply a band working within the confines of a concept and delivering.
Hoping that the band would continue for another 14 years, Rivers’ has seemed to put his feet up and called it a day – or for at least an era. Now picture him basking in the sun on the beach at the referenced “Tower 28” with no one else but his bandmates, looking back at a fruitful career with a measure of satisfaction – of doing things his way. With a content grin on his face, somewhat indicative of some form of true accomplishment, it maybe doesn’t seem so far fetched after all.
The White Album is now available through Atlantic Records. You can follow Weezer on Facebook.
Weezer will also be performing in Singapore on August 15th, thanks to LAMC Productions.