Since reemerging with 2001’s self-titled release – henceforth referred to as the “Green Album” – Weezer has become a surprisingly polarizing group. Prior to the Green Album, they were hailed as under-appreciated pop geniuses who created two perfect albums, one of which bridged the gap between grunge and pop, the other having laid the groundwork for 21st century emo. But in attempting to recapture what once was, they’ve found themselves straying farther and farther from where they started, further alienating themselves from those cultishly devoted to the so-called Blue Album and Pinkerton.
To be fair, Weezer has essentially morphed into an entirely different band in the time since their mid-‘90s glory days. With Matt Sharp having left after Pinkerton to pursue his Rentals and solo projects, Mikey Welsh going off the map following the release of the Green Album and Scott Shriner now having played with the band longer than any of his predecessors, the 2016 edition of Weezer is a far cry from the beloved 1994 edition.
And yet they keep trying to return to that time in order to become the Weezer they once were in an attempt to placate the fans they lost following the release of Maladroit – and, arguably, the Green Album – on. After nearly a decade shamelessly pandering to a more mainstream pop and rock audience with singles like “Beverly Hills,” what began thematically on 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End and its nostalgia-baiting single “Back to the Shack,” comes full circle on their latest self-titled release – heretofore referred to as the “White Album.”
With this, they have crafted the most Weezer-sounding – in the traditional sense – album in years. The problem is, simply sounding like the Weezer of old does not make this the Weezer of old. Rather much of the White Album rings hollow in its clear sonic aping of their first two albums, forgetting along the way that quality songs were what made these two so beloved by an entire generation of disenfranchised listeners. Ultimately, anything they release will be held up to the gold standard of both the Blue Album and Pinkerton, something that, given their move towards a heavier sound in the intervening years, creates something of an impossible bar to reach.
Largely abandoning the larger, fuller sound of their last several releases, here they return to the strangled guitars of their debut. It’s a concerted effort to appease the early fan base, yet it fails to hit the mark as Rivers Cuomo seems to have largely lost his knack for crafting hook-y pop songs and, having been met with resistance to his seemingly more personally satisfying musical directions, here sounds resigned and somewhat defeated. Given the two decades plus between these releases, it’s categorically impossible to fairly compare the two and any attempt to recapture a sound and feel from over twenty years ago is destined to fail.
Opening track “California Kids” immediately makes it clear this is a concerted effort to recapture the Weezer behind the Blue Album’s fuzzy pop bliss. A promising enough start, it ultimately proves something of a misdirect as the overall quality begins to decline from there. By the time they end the ill-advised rap that is “Thank God For Girls,” they’ve turned in one of, if not the worst tracks of their career. It’s a lazy, Maroon 5-esque lyric that plays more misogynistic and tone deaf than cheeky and winning as was apparently the case.
So close are they in looking to recapture what once was that closing track “Endless Bummer” essentially plays as a condensed, modernized take on “Only In Dreams.” Elsewhere, on “Do You Wanna Get High” they bring back the buzzing synths and disaffected delivery of Pinkerton. While an admirable attempt, Weezer – and Cuomo in particular – would be better suited to accepting who they are as a band rather than who they were. In attempting to recapture a sound and feel, they lose sight of what was so appealing about their original sound and feel in the first place. Rather than putting the work into the melodies, they place their focus on tone and, without the hooks for which they were once known, much of the White Album feels like hastily thrown together lyrics delivered with the same minimalist approach to melody.
It’s an unfortunate progression for a group that once seemed to hold so much promise. That they’ve time and again seemingly caved to outside pressures shows they’ve reached a point where they no longer know what a Weezer album can and should be, only what it should sound like. Where Everything Will Be Alright In The End felt like a refreshing step forward for a band finally embracing who it had become, the White Album feels like a self-conscious retreat to safer territory. Never ones to push the envelope, Weezer still benefits more from taking chances than playing to expectations.
Perhaps with the benefit of time, both the band and listeners alike will be able to better take stock of where they’ve been and where they’re going within the appropriate context. Until then, Weezer remains a band with a clearly defined identity suffering through a painful identity complex. So while a certain group of listeners continues to hold the band accountable for where they were rather than where they are, those who simply take in the music for what it is while find much to enjoy. The rest will have to remain content listening to their worn-out copies of the Blue Album and Pinkerton for the five hundredth time.
Label: Atlantic/Crush Music
Release Date: April 1, 2016