The state of California is home to some of the world’s most famous beaches: think Santa Monica, Venice Beach. The iconic views immortalised by decades of Hollywood from Elmer Gantry, Forrest Gump to White Men Can’t Jump. There’s a distinct sense of legacy and prestige when you walk the hallowed sands of California’s beaches: an understandable pride in all that their natural beauty has inspired and a yearning to preserve it.
But California and its citizens are like any of other populace. They crave innovation, the desire to live in the present day and enjoy all the benefits that come with it. The challenge then, is bridging that gulf. Celebrating the grandeur of yesteryear while evolving and moving forward.
On Weezer’s tenth studio album, they face a similar tension. Embracing the challenge of fusing their alternative nineties with the new face of modern rock, Weezer emerge remarkably triumphant.
Recruiting producer Jake Sinclair, the man behind the boards for Fall Out Boy and 5 Seconds of Summer, has played a large role in this modernisation. Armed with his contemporary mainstream rock nous, Sinclair’s touch gels well with the twenty-year-old veterans to revitalise their sound.
The dipping piano on ‘Wind in Our Sail’ or the swinging guitar scales of ‘Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori’ are straight from the wheelhouse of Sinclair’s poppier friends but sounds right at home with a band as quirky as Weezer. Without a doubt, it results in a safer record that takes fewer risks but that’s not necessarily the worst outcome for an act like Weezer. With records like Raditude and Hurley on their recent discography, a producer who convinces Cuomo to tone down his experiments is a welcome addition.
Thematically, this release is the first concept album since Pinkerton. It narrates the kind of story Cuomo is adept at telling, boy meets girl and girl breaks boy’s heart.
Album opener ‘California Kids’ kicks off with a clear nod Cuomo’s idol, Brian Wilson and his Beach Boys, before launching into a rousing stage-setter. “If you’re on a sinking ship/The California kids/Will throw you a lifeline” Los Angeles local Rivers Cuomo promises, building his California as an unattainably great escapist fantasy.
The escapism of California is exemplified on the next track as ‘Wind in Our Sail’ opens with the downtrodden defeatism of a narrator that sees “A boy and a girl/Albatross around their necks”. Within mere minutes as the song winds down, the California breeze has Cuomo crying “We can do so many great things together” in the song’s final line.
The plot takes a backseat momentarily as Weezer tend to other matters. “Thank God for the Girls” is a cutting critique of contemporary gender politics, splicing Tinder stories with references to Indian Fakirs, Jesu Christie with a Sears catalogue. It’s Cuomo at his most obtuse, tying himself in lyrical and metaphorical knots in a way that is impressive yet exhausting.
Its a relief on the next track, the tambourine-filled ‘(Girl We Got A) Good Thing’, that everything winds back. In a simple arrangement, Weezer put on their strongest Beach Boys tribute. The track presents so much positivity that it inspires an uneasy sense of dread. “Girl, we got a good thing/And I don’t see this ending” is a rapid leap from the boy picturing dead albatrosses in a matter of four songs. The saccharine, innocent tone of the song especially feels jarring sandwiched between the kooky ‘Thank God for the Girls’ and the grimy ‘Do You Wanna Get High?’. Out of place and wildly optimistic, ‘Good Thing’ is the album’s emotional high before a not-so-gradual drop.
Sure enough as we enter the second half of the album, the narrator’s relationship begins to crumble. ‘L.A. Girlz’, ‘Jacked Up’ and ‘Prom Night’ aren’t necessarily bad songs, but they lack the same curated attention each other song on the album possesses.
The exception to the album’s second half slump is ‘Endless Bummer’, which shines as the strongest song on the record. Stripping back a Weezer song to guitar and Cuomo is a dicey proposition, but this time Cuomo delivers. His strength has always been his dry wit and Cuomo puts in his best performance in years.
“She was too fast for me/ I count my steps because I’m OCD” is more clever than most will realise upon first glance and the abrupt proclamation of “Kumbaya makes me violent” will always draw a wry smile. While Cuomo’s lyrics are funny and personable, they’re also profoundly sad. Cuomo delivers the devastating lines “She told me to follow the rules/Not all nineteen-year-olds are cool” with such conviction that you momentarily forget that it’s been over twenty years since he was actually nineteen.
The legacy of Weezer has already been established, given their contribution to rock music through the 1990’s. After trying their hand at being Robert Plant or David Bowie, artists who can innovate across generations, Weezer appear to finally have settled. Behind the promising Everything Will Be Alright in the End and this latest self-titled effort, Weezer are back to being conventional and they’re doing a damn good job of it.