Review: Weezer's "White Album"

They have 10 albums now. Why were they given a second again?
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THESE GUYS AGAIN. How many albums is that now? 10? Oh, seriously, 10 albums? Well, good for them (him), I guess. There aren’t many Mainstream Rock bands still going, especially on the power-pop end of things, and tune-wise they sure beat the Foo Fighters. More “fun”, as they say. “You don’t have to take them too seriously,” they say. And yeah, it’s obviously kinda silly to get worked up either way over Weezer, who remain what they’ve always been: mildly tuneful post-grunge power-pop. “So what,” right? Rivers Cuomo seems like nothing short of a nice guy who’s having fun with his hooks, and if he can keep it going this long and modest and make a living at it, more power to him.

None of which does anything to obscure what even this band’s harshest critics rarely convey explicitly, which is that this music just plain sounds hideous, and always has.

Now, I’m not gonna pretend I’ve kept up with this band. The last Weezer album I’d heard was their previous self-titled record back in ‘08 (which is actually too far removed from ninth grade to feel comfortable admitting). And yet though I couldn’t name anything they’ve done in the last several years, I do know that Weezer now have four self-titled albums distinguished by the color scheme of the cover. It’s actually an ingenious marketing strategy: every six or seven years, put a bright color on a self-titled album to give old fans a jolt of nostalgia that implies bubblegum kicks to be had. The fact that the new “white” album is the first I’ve heard since 2008’s “red” one presumably means I’m exactly the type of idiot who gets roped into 34 minutes of precious listening time by a band that literally color-codes its albums. The things I’ll chase for a little bit of color.

Yet, here’s the thing: Weezer have never been colorful. Obviously you don’t need me to tell you that the “code” remains “Pavement à la Boston by way of Cheap Trick,” and if that’s your dish, dig the fuck in. But I can’t for the life of me see why you would. Weezer’s “endearing” consistency at nerding-up the frat parties (or more likely fratting-up the nerd parties) is part of the reason people continue to give them slack, because the sound is the same as it ever was. And yet the slack is tied to the assertion that everyone respects the band’s first two albums. Which I don’t.

I’ll grudgingly concede that the “blue” debut had enough good tunes to carry it by as a family-friendly version of ‘90s indie-rock (tacked to a major-label budget). Throwing “Buddy Holly” or “Say It Ain’t So” or “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here” or “Surf Wax America” onto a ‘90s rock mix makes for a good dumb singalong when the time comes. But beyond the awkward fun-toon that was all Weezer ever comprised musically, I still couldn’t understand even from a young age why this flabby guitar sound, this club-handed drumming, this penny-candy sense of melody persisted with both mainstream attention and hip media coverage while similarly tuneful drama queens in ‘90s alt-rock like Fountains of Wayne or the Old 97s languished on the margins. Even that first Third Eye Blind album is a fount of graceful melodic ebb-and-flow compared to the cheesy basement-video-game vibe conjured by these dorks. Hell, at least Blink-182 could be funny sometimes, not to mention they could work up some tempo.

And I’ll take any opportunity I can to remind y’all that the retroactively-canonized Pinkerton is in fact a tedious hunk of dogshit, a “darker,” “more abrasive,” “unsettlingly confessional” album of self-loathing that’s actually just a juvenile and incredibly fucking boring sophomore slump with barely even any decent tunes to be found. Pinkerton can also take a lot of the blame for turning “emo” from visceral stuff like Jawbreaker, Cap’n Jazz, and Sunny Day Real Estate into putrid obnoxiousness like Panic! At the Disco, Dashboard Confessional, Fall Out Boy, and other preening idiots that filled any sane kid going to high school in the mid-‘00s with despair. (Not that those earlier bands couldn’t be pretty annoying too, but at least they knew dynamics.) To quote Dr. David Thorpe from a great 2006 evisceration of Weezer’s career: “Pinkerton represents a landmark in the current mass-media perception of ‘emo’: while bearing little resemblance to actual emo music, Pinkerton was so acutely pathetic that it managed to practically redefine the term, helping to usher in the era of emo as ‘pop-punk + whining’ that we enjoy so well today.” 

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We’ll brush lightly over the utter laziness of their subsequent records (my favorite factoid, which Dr. Thorpe also pointed out, is that every song on 2001’s “green” album featured a guitar solo that repeated the verse melody unembellished) and skip right to the new one. Going into a record like this is like watching a bad ‘90s horror movie: you go in hoping for some camp to laugh at, but pretty soon you realize what a tedious and depressing experience you got yourself into. Indeed, for the first three songs here I was even feeling sort of affectionate: the crunchy, stuttered pop-punk guitar hook of “California Girls” (produced and co-written, crucially I reckon, by Adele songwriter and Semisonic leader Dan Wilson) and the swaggery rant exploding into big strong singalong chorus of “Thank God for Girls” (which kinda sounds like a re-write of Ed Sheeran’s “Don’t”, of all things) both give me a rush. And there’s a flat-out gorgeous bridge in the otherwise-unlistenable “Wind In Our Sail” that’s textured and sung so carefully and touchingly (“pushing a stone up a hill, and if it rolls back down…”) that it seems to have come from a totally different song (and band); it’s the first time I’ve heard Weezer sound genuinely touching.

But from there proceeds a ghastly display of the purposely-awkward kind of corny hooks and stunted emotions that define so much post-grunge power-poppy rock. Cuomo seems to have found his commercial home embracing a beach-party rock flavor for California kids who’ll “throw you a lifeline” and “show you the sunshine”, and indeed the beach tone persists through the album. This should be fine and modest, but in Weezer’s hands it’s just too overbearingly gross-sounding to let off that easy. I was offended right from the get-go when the aforementioned “California Girls” begins: “When you wake up, cobwebs on your eyelids, stuck in rigor mortis/whoa-oh-oh-oh.” “‘Whoa-oh-oh-oh?’” Uhh…fuck you! You don’t get to just leave that thought unfinished and throw in a “whoa-oh-oh-oh” because you can’t think of another line to fit the meter! And I’ll remind you that’s one of the good songs.

Elsewhere? Well, of the 10 songs on the album, the three credited solely to Cuomo fare worst. Okay, “(Girl We Got a) Good Thing” is an airheaded pleasantry, but “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori” is a grotesque re-write of Nirvana’s “Lithium” with a stilted archness that we shouldn’t be tolerating anymore, and the one called “Do You Wanna Get High?” is exactly as godawful as you think it is. “King of the World” (here: you’re welcome) has a frat-friendly anthem thing going on that reaffirms Patrick Wilson as one of the most flat-out incompetent drummers ever recorded on a major label, what with this attempt at a nu-metal drum hook into the choruses that instead just sort of clambers like a bunch of firewood dropped on the floor. “L.A. Girlz” is a spew of beigey guitars everywhere that feel like they’re infecting your blood. “Endless Summer” closes with a generic “confessional” acoustic guitar song about being sad in the summer.

And Cuomo’s singing…oof. Adam Levine is a bastion of soul-wrenching gravity compared to the ear-gouging falsetto Cuomo serves up in the choruses of “Jacked Up”, which is the kind of noise that should be killed with fire. Or try (or don’t) the choruses of “Wind In Our Sail”, featuring Cuomo “easing” down his reaches into the treble area in a way that’s like hearing a bad joke told poorly; it sounds like an even more horrendous version of that “We Are Young” dirge from a few years ago.

The obvious explanation for why Weezer continue to be taken seriously is because, as Rob Mitchum observed in his Pitchfork pan of Make Believe over a decade ago, Gen-Xer rock critics probably have fond memories of “slow-dancing with Ashley to ‘Say It Ain’t So’”. And that’s certainly true. But in a way,Weezer’s new status as this purposely-corny hodgepodge of rock clichés who “don’t take themselves too seriously” fits right in with the nostalgias of my own “millennial” generation, too: specifically, an imagined ‘90s adolescence nostalgic for ‘70s nostalgia for the ‘50s. It’s fitting music for those of us young’uns so terrified of expressing an actual emotion that cheesy memes and typing without punctuation is our chosen defense mechanism. (In “Do You Wanna Get High?”, Cuomo talks about meeting some seductive object of desire/fear who tempts the offer of listening to Burt Bacharach, and the intended reaction is clearly, “Burt Bacharach! That’s not what your typical frat-rock band is supposed to listen to! How endearing!”) What with the new Star Wars movie coming out, the timing for this particular brand of dinosaur nostalgia couldn’t be better, and I presume it’s why I’m still somehow made aware of the arrival of a new Weezer record while a genuinely great nostalgic bubblegum party record by, say, the Go! Team comes and goes and nobody even flinches. Airheaded ‘90s nostalgia is now in full eff-izz-ect, folks, and as usual it’s a nostalgia for all the imagined parts rather than the inaction and gloom and despair that more accurately typified those years if you had anything on your mind other than the next Friends episode. Weezer’s tunes really were “just like Buddy Holly” at the time, because in an age of brightly-colored irony that mocked mass-media notions of “authenticity,” what did it matter? To quote Mark Ames of the defunct Exile: “It was all a symptom of an age that knew it was oppressively unimaginative, was bored of itself, and was looking for its inverse to upend that boredom and frustration—but in reality, didn’t want to find its inverse, so it settled for what it always settled for: a sly, cleverly-concealed commoditized version of the very authenticity it claimed to seek.” Enter Weezer. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. C