At some point in the Weezer narrative, the main talking point for critics and fans alike was that the band “lost it”—that the Weezer that created their classic 1994 self-titled debut and the phenomenal 1996 follow-up Pinkerton was a different beast, one that has ceased to exist in favor of creating empty pop songs and ham-fisted attempts at viral videos, aiming solely for the dollar signs of the teen market. Comedian Hari Kondabolu even has a whole bit about it, sounding just as bitter as your average Weezer devotee usually does when questioning Rivers Cuomo’s songwriting decisions.
But here’s the secret: The reason why we—the fans and the critics alike—lament the “glory days” of early Weezer is not because the band ceased writing good songs, but because Cuomo was one of us back then. He was an outsider: a record store clerk with no money, uncool clothes, a bad haircut and an unhealthy obsession with soccer. He was relatable in a way many rock musicians are not. Weezer’s subsequent commercial success throughout the next decade alongside Cuomo’s desire to become a pop songwriter-for-hire is what hurt the Weezer “brand”—that is, the idea of Weezer as alt-rock underdogs who were cut from different cloth than everything else on the radio.
In a way, the decline of guitar-based music’s popularity in general is what we can thank for Weezer’s recent creative resurgence. Once the window closed on rock bands having crossover pop hits, it made Cuomo & Co. reevaluate what made their band appealing in the first place, first with 2014’s return to form Everything Will Be Alright In The End and now with Weezer’s fourth self-titled album, this one dubbed the White Album. Where EWBAITE was meticulously crafted to prove to their core fans that the band still “has it” (even going so far as to write “Back To The Shack,” a song which implicitly stated, “Hey, we fucked up, please like our band again”), the White Album feels loose and energetic in ways Weezer hasn’t felt since 2008’s Red Album.
A huge credit can likely go to producer and Weezer superfan Jake Sinclair, who took this opportunity to drop in all sorts of aural easter eggs, from the iconic guitar line of “El Scorcho” popping up in the middle of “California Kids” to the bridge of “King Of The World” musically winking at “Only In Dreams” to the the opening chord “Wind In Our Sails” sharing more than a passing resemblance of the beginning of “Falling For You.” Guitarist Brian Bell scores two co-writing credits with Cuomo—the first in his career—with the delightful Blue-era throwback “LA Girlz” (think “Susanne,” but with a better guitar solo) and the album-closing “Endless Bummer,” a song that starts off as an acoustic strum-along around a beach bonfire before ending in a glorious full-band crescendo loaded with guitar acrobatics. (Cuomo’s lyrics are especially goofy here, but with an underlying sincerity that’s hard to deny.)
Cuomo has stated this album was meant to have a “Beach Boys vibe,” something evident from the harmonies on the chorus of the chugging opening track “California Kids” through the Brian Wilson-esque piano plunking of “(Girl We Got A) Good Thing.” The theme gets lost on the record’s back half, though, with the falsetto-heavy R&B number “Jacked Up” approximating what a Rivers Cuomo solo album would sound like if he were to ever shed the band and “Summer Elaine And Drunk Dori” loaded with some truly odd turns of the phrase, a key change that is jarring and a bridge that attempts to be as grandiose as those on Pinkerton but doesn’t hit the mark.
Still, the White Album proves that when Weezer wants to, they can still hit that magical sweet spot between cathartic rock and bubblegum pop better than anyone else. There’s no better proof than the back-to-back roundhouses of “Do You Wanna Get High,” a heavily Pinkerton-influenced song (complete with a “Pink Triangle”-mimicking guitar solo) and “King Of The World,” an over-the-top pop-rock gem Cuomo wrote about his wife’s insecurities and fears that sounds like Weezer covering Smash Mouth covering Sugar Ray covering Weezer. That’s meant to be taken in as complimentary a fashion as possible. S