Pacific Daydream Pitchfork record review
|Studio album by Weezer|
Reviewer: Saby Reyes-Kulkarni (Pitchfork)
Publishing date: October 26, 2017
- On their 11th album, Rivers Cuomo and co. aim for a hook-filled tribute to California guitar pop but the production gloss suffocates any personality these songs could have had.
Long ago, Rivers Cuomo basically split Weezer into two different bands. One of them puts out experimental albums (Pinkerton, Maladroit, The Red Album, etc.), and the other puts out commercially-minded records (The Green Album, Make Believe, etc). At times (The Blue Album, Everything Will Be Alright in the End), Weezer straddle the fence. There’s a bit of mad genius to this approach. Not only does Cuomo —something of a creative contrarian who’s been ultra-reactive to fan response in the past — get to buck expectations when he wants to, but he also gets to appease both sides of the aisle.
If you like hooky Weezer, about half of the albums should appeal to you, while the same applies if you’re partial to the more out-there Weezer. Pacific Daydream is the band’s first offering to fall far short for both camps—not because it’s one of the most extreme examples of Cuomo going for a radio-friendly sound (though it is that), but because he betrays the band’s mission in the process. This is all the more disappointing when you consider that even when Cuomo churns out dance-pop fluff such as “Feels Like Summer,” it’s still abundantly clear that he hasn’t lost his gift for coming up with earworm hooks.
“Weekend Woman” offers a clear example of just how these songs go wrong. Weezer have used glockenspiels for texture in the past (Pinkerton’s “Pink Triangle,” last year’s “California Kids,” etc.), but here they follow ’80s-era Cheap Trick into the void between powder-puff rock and adult contempo, and the percussion instrument is front and center. This could have turned out to be another example of Cuomo taking gutsy risks, but "Weekend Woman" sounds less "spacious" and more "empty." Other than the one eccentricity in the arrangement, there's little to distinguish this song from hundreds of pop songs you've forgotten about. In fact, the album is almost completely devoid of the chunking guitar riffs that sit at the core of Weezer’s soul. And on “QB Blitz,” they even manage to take the “power” out of “power ballad.”
Lyrically, Cuomo’s continued fixation on nostalgia and dime-store rock mythology further chokes what little the music may have had to offer. He tries to pass himself off as the dreamy-eyed kid you invariably find shredding at Guitar Center by including references to Mexican-made Fender guitars and Stevie Ray Vaughan, but the observations are pat, delivered without detail or conviction. And while there are moments on Pacific Daydream when Weezer take half-hearted stabs at the harmony vocals that Brian Wilson so famously seared into our musical DNA, the strangely wan “Beach Boys” isn’t one of them. Had producer Butch Walker (Avril Lavigne, P!nk, Panic! at the Disco, and Weezer’s own 2009 album Raditude) nurtured the song’s quirks, “Beach Boys” could have actually explored its hinted fusion of Latin music and reggae. The airy lead hook in the chorus even contains suggests yacht rock, a style that could do worse than to have Cuomo give it a go.
To be fair, Pacific Daydream does show us new sides of the band—splashes of Spanish guitar, clavinet—while Cuomo and fellow guitarist Brian Bell's acoustic handiwork threads the music with a delicate touch we rarely get from Weezer. Nevertheless, toothless melodies coupled with an excess of production gloss suffocate any personality these songs could have had. When Cuomo and company do more than pay superficial lip service to the Beach Boys, it comes off as crass—even dishonest—coming from behind the music’s thick, gleaming surface.
Looking back, it’s no surprise that Cuomo’s distinct combination of fuzzy guitar riffs, sunny hooks, unabashed awkwardness, and roiling internal conflict struck such a profound nerve. But for the second album in a row, Cuomo anchors the music more specifically to California. Sure, that’s worked for scores of artists in the past, but a crucial part of Weezer’s appeal was that you could believe they came out of any garage on any tree-lined cul-de-sac in any suburban zip code in the U.S. Pacific Daydream, in spite of its name, mostly just gives you a feeling of being nowhere.
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