BY DREW MATLOVSKY
PICTURE THIS: A critically acclaimed 1990s band enters the new century on a downward trajectory, releasing a slew of mediocre albums, tepid singles, and a very very bad song with Lil Wayne. You guessed it: It’s Weezer. Rivers Cuomo is aware of the lack of critical success the 2000s brought, and 2014’s “Everything Will Be Alright in the End” was a direct response to the horrid “experimentation” of the “Red Album,” and the pop cheese of “Beverly Hills.” It was a return to form, a callback to the nostalgia of the 1990s and the massive success of “Blue Album.” “White Album” follows suit, promising a pre-2000 Weezer. Here’s the problem: Rivers Cuomo isn’t an angsty Harvard student listening to “Madame Butterfly” for inspiration anymore. He’s 45, and has reached the point where there’s a limit on the sincerity of teenage angst Cuomo can imbue into music. It’s not like we’ve taken Cuomo’s lyrics seriously for some time, but the “White Album” pushes the limit of our acceptance. Words like: Darwin, tiger sharks, Dante’s “Inferno,” and male pregnancy are all mentioned, to name a few. There are times when Rivers’ eclectic lyrics shine, but it can only be tolerated for so long before it verges on the level of bizarre.
If “White Album” signifies any development for Weezer, it’s in the production. Jake Sinclair (Taylor Swift, 5 Seconds of Summer) is brought on to produce, imbuing a summer-pop sensibility in Weezer’s newest album. It’s light and upbeat, filled with bright keyboards, heavily dubbed vocals and tight drum licks. All words I would not use to describe Weezer’s musical sound. Cars frontman and longtime producer Ric Ocasek is out and replaced with someone aiming to place “White Album” in shopping malls, Mcdonald’s bathrooms and soccer moms’ car stereos. It’s not inherently a bad sound — Cuomo’s music is often conformable being in the pop spotlight — it’s a question of whether this time it’s gone too far. “California Kids,” “Wind in Our Sail” and “(Girl we Got a) Good Thing” all are keyboard-heavy pop singles, and certainly update Weezer’s sound. Who is Rivers Cuomo catering to now, those who grew up listening to “Blue Album,” or those who heard “Beverly Hills” on the car radio? It’s a question future albums will tell.
There are a few gems on “White Album.” “Thank God for Girls” is a hilarious parody of masculinity, filled with cannoli-devouring homo-eroticism, and a reversal of gender roles: “she’s so heavy/she’s so strong.” It’s Cuomo’s satirical dig on gender stereotypes, his fascination with girls a nod to the objectification of females in society. It’s done in typical Cuomo fascination with a pastry-filled music video to accompany the (genius) madness.
“L.A Girlz” is also Rivers at his silly unapologetic self, filled with references to Lewis Carroll, plagues and, of course, girls. It’s one of the few times Sinclair takes the backseat and lets Weezer return to their bread and butter: distorted guitars, angst and girls. “Do You Wanna Get High?” attempts to follow the same ‘90s format, and succeeds. It’s nothing spectacular, but captures the aimless teenage apathy Cuomo often missed in his previous releases.
It would be easy to write off Weezer as a one-act band, unable to create competent music after people realized Y2k was just a big hoax. In the sea of mediocrity that is Weezer’s discography, we are given hidden gems: “Thank God for Girls” the most recent one. This output is nothing to the tremendous success of the ‘90s, but it gives me hope. At least for a little while longer, that the spark that burns in Rivers Cuomo from “Blue Album” and “Pinkerton,” still burns — albeit now as an ember.