Weezer (The White Album) Pitchfork Media record review
|Weezer (The White Album)|
|Studio album by Weezer|
|Released||April 1, 2016|
|Weezer (The White Album)
Reviewer: Zoe Camp (Pitchfork Media)
Publishing date: March 30, 2016
In 2014, amidst the wreckage of a long, dispiriting bid for mainstream pop crossover, Weezer faced a disenchanted fanbase and promised them Everything Will Be All Right in the End. That album was framed as an extended mea culpa for the folks who had stuck it out through the "Beverly Hills"s, the "boo-yah"s, and the side collaborations with flat-earth rapper B.o.B. It was by no means an empty apology: the album proved refreshing and reassuring, their best in years, and frontman Rivers Cuomo seemed to have bested the curse that had been hovering over them for the past decade. It's appropriate, then, that the band have selected white—a color traditionally associated with purity and renewal—as the palette for their fourth self-titled album, trumpeted yet again as a return to form. Ostensibly, all is forgiven, and we can resume our march further and further away from Weezer's awful '00s with renewed spirits. Unfortunately, the White album proves that some curses are damn hard to break.
On Everything Will Be All Right in the End, Cuomo appeared to swear off future attempts at mass consumption, declaring "I'm not a Happy Meal." Less than two years after that defiant statement, he's embracing the Golden Arches, so to speak. Longtime producer/Cars frontman Ric Ocasek is out, replaced by Jake Sinclair, an industry influencer who's manned the boards for Taylor Swift and 5 Seconds of Summer (he also helped them record the dreaded Raditude). Unsurprisingly, Sinclair's sonics rely heavily on prominent, over-dubbed vocals and mechanical percussion. The album's co-writers include Alex Goose (best known for soundtracking a Sperrys commercial) and Redlight, a British DJ. There's even a reunion with Semisonic frontman-turned-Grammy-winning-songsmith Dan Wilson on the limp opening track "California Kids." White's personnel and production frequently renders it indistinguishable from the milquetoast beach-pop blaring from the speakers of the half-empty Hollister at your local mall. "Wind in Our Sail" and "(Girl We Got A) Good Thing" derive their momentum from peppy keyboard plunks, rather than sawtoothed guitars. Apart from a criminally short, Thin Lizzy-esque solo on the latter track, Cuomo's joyful riffing barely gets a note in edgewise.
The White album also boasts the most batshit lyrical word bank of any Weezer album to date, and bear in mind that the last record had songs about Paul Revere and the resurrection of ancient Egyptian monarchs. Cuomo's everything-stays-in approach to lyric writing dictates that no allusion or image be left behind, however obscure or absurd it may seem to the average listener. Hence, we've got shout-outs to Charles Darwin, male pregnancy, Dante's Inferno, tiger shark extinction, composer Burt Bacharach, and opioid-induced constipation, just to name a few. This approach suits the quirkier numbers, like "King of the World," a punchy love letter from Cuomo to his wife Kyoko, loaded with intimate references to her childhood and even her fear of airplanes ("We could ride a Greyhound all the way to the Galapagos," he offers.)
The wackiness also suits "Thank God For Girls," the album's contentious lead single. At first glance, it reads like the unfiltered rant of a men's-rights activist, but a closer look reveals Cuomo is having some fun here: Through a combination of subtle homoeroticism (fantasies of coming home to a lady with a "big fat cannoli to shove in your mouth"), inverted power structures ("She's so big/She's so strong," he gushes in the post-chorus, eying a woman in "sweaty overalls") and Biblical hot takes (what if God's really a woman, guys?), he pokes at some of the deep-rooted, frequently-unadressed fears of abandonment and inferiority that accompany modern notions of masculinity and femininity. How disappointing, then, that the song's sharp commentary is overshadowed by an overwrought arrangement cribbed from Zep's "Stairway to Heaven"—right down to the acapella ending—buttressed in the chorus by wan, brittle grunge chords.
The buried lede on White is that it is also Weezer's first true concept album since Pinkerton. Rather than the ambitious adaptation of Madame Butterfly, Cuomo opts here for a three-act tale of geek-meets-girl, followed en suite by boy-gets-heart-torn-asunder. From this angle, some of the nerdy name-dropping and masochistic sexual symbolism might be thematic conceits rather than lyrical shortcomings; our protagonist's comparison of himself and his crush to "Danté and Beatrice" in "L.A. Girlz" is supposed to be dorky, because he lacks the love language necessary to properly contextualize these sentiments. But first of all, which Weezer album couldn't be described at least in part as "geek meets girl and gets heart torn asunder?" And when's the last time we listened to a Weezer album for the story?
No, we listen to Weezer in 2016 largely for nostalgic dog whistles. We listen because Blue retreads like "Endless Summer" [sic] and "Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori" offer Proustian pleasures in spite of their obviously-recycled frameworks, and because the simpering, sweet "L.A. Girlz" is the group's best single since "Island in the Sun." We listen because "California Kids" opens the album with a smattering of triangle notes plucked from "Pink Triangle," while "L.A. Girlz" reclaims "El Scorcho's" rubbery guitar line as its own. Most of all, we listen for reassurance that our beloved Weezer can avoid relapsing completely into embarrassment—and by those parameters, mediocre may as well be magnificent.
— Zoe Camp, March 30, 2016
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