Rating:The most frustrating aspect of Weezer’s long decline is that it has never once appeared as if Rivers Cuomo was selling out in any way. Even at the peak of his flirtation with the mainstream, when he was working with producer Dr. Luke and guesting on B.o.B’s songs, Cuomo’s music always seemed sincere to a fault. Honesty was never something Cuomo struggled with in music; articulation is a different story. After returning from his school-imposed hiatus, Cuomo has found it difficult to express himself in an appealing way, as neither the wide-eyed rock star dreams of “The Blue Album” nor the plainspoken frustration of Pinkerton are really within his reach anymore. The conundrum of what Weezer should sound like in 2014 seems to befuddle Cuomo as much as anyone else, which would largely explain the unusually long recording process for Everything Will Be Alright in the End. However, that time in the studio seems to have paid off, as the band has released what could easily be their strongest record in years.
From the outset, Everything Will Be Alright in the End was billed as a “back-to-basics” record; everything from the self-referential single “Back to the Shack” to the presence of Ric Ocasek in the producer’s chair indicated an effort on Cuomo’s part to appeal to–if not outright pander to–the tastes of the fans that probably gave up on him around the time that “Beverly Hills” came out. While the on-the-nose lyrics of “Shack” are more wince-inducing than anything else, the decision to bring Ocasek in was an inspired one, as he seems to have provided the band with the focus that they desperately needed. Cuomo’s increasing collection of co-writers has been narrowed down to a select few, some of whom (namely, Bethany Costentino of Best Coast and Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus) owe a little bit to Cuomo’s past work. More importantly, Ocasek finds a middle ground for the band’s sound, avoiding the canned, compressed qualities of Hurley and Raditude while making sure the band sound stronger than they did on the relatively limp Make Believe and “The Red Album. Essentially, Ocasek helped Weezer sound like Weezer again.
It certainly helps that Cuomo has come into Everything Will Be Alright in the End with some of the best songs he’s written in years. On albums past, Cuomo’s sincerity tended to get the better of him, resulting in songs that were either cringe-worthy (“Memories” from Hurley) or unintentionally funny (“We Are All on Drugs” from Make Believe), but he seems to have struck a decisive balance here. Granted, some of the heavy-handed self-references aren’t going to age well, but even when Cuomo comes with a conceptually dubious lyrics such as with “The British Are Coming” or “Da Vinci,” he’s smart enough to let the melody be the focus of the song rather than the concept. It’s a very natural approach to songwriting that works exceptionally well for him. Granted, it doesn’t always succeed, as on the lackluster “I’ve Had It Up to Here.” However, most of the album finds him approaching songs in a relaxed way that makes even the three-part kitchen-sink closing suite work a lot better than it really should.
This is the sort of album that’s easy to overpraise, if only because of the depths Weezer have reached over the past few years, so let me be clear: Everything Will Be Alright in the End is not as good as Weezer’s first two albums. No one’s going to mistake these for long-lost outtakes from 1995. Still, after years of either trying too hard or not trying at all, Cuomo has married his considerable chops with just the right amount of effort and focus to make a serviceable and occasionally-great album, something that he hasn’t been able to do for a very long time. It’s a small step in the right direction, for sure, but after this, I’m personally anticipating a new Weezer album, and those are words I’d never thought I’d say again.