Does Weezer really need to apologize?
Does Weezer really need to apologize? If you ask a certain subset of their fans, the answer is a resounding “yes,” and they’ll cite a laundry list of sins ranging from the excommunication of original bassist Matt Sharp to the string of radio singles that are occasionally legitimately bad (looking your way, “Beverly Hills”) but entirely un-Weezer. But the question of what Weezer is “supposed to be” hasn’t been adequately answered, anyway. Many of the band’s diehard fans have an idea of what Weezer is, but a lot of that is tied to the band’s first two albums and Rivers Cuomo’s initial burst of creativity. Truthfully, since he brought the band back from hiatus in 2000, Cuomo still doesn’t have much of an idea of what Weezer should be. He’s tried everything from mall-rock to mainstream pop to answer that question, but it’s only resulted in him making albums that are more confusing than enjoyable. Even 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End, a relative high point for modern-day Weezer, didn’t really give the band a new identity, relying instead on joyous nostalgia. Where that album seemed to be a bone thrown to fans, The White Album finds Cuomo still trying to give his band that identity he craves.
Weezer records are often as identifiable by their producer as they are by Cuomo himself. From Ric Ocasek to (regrettably) Rick Rubin, the person behind the boards often left an indelible mark on how the band sounded. For The White Album, Weezer reunited with Jake Sinclair, who worked as an engineer on Raditude and who more recently produced the debut album from Australian boy band 5 Seconds of Summer. Predictably, Sinclair adds a polished, commercial sheen to the album, and when combined with Cuomo’s California-focused lyrical themes, one gets a sinking feeling during the opening bars of “California Kids.” Indeed, those who enjoyed the crunching guitars of the previous record will likely be disappointed with how stale everything sounds. The White Album is a crisp, finished product in every sense of the word.
Hearing this may make fans worry, given that Cuomo’s last attempt at mainstream pop acceptance resulted in a song with B.o.B. and the worst album cover of all time. Fortunately, Weezer sacrifices gimmickry to focus on what counts most: the songs. Aside from a handful of strange and uncomfortable moments (particularly the too-weird-for-its-own-good “Thank God for Girls”), the band remains melodically focused and on point. While songs like “California Kids” and “Wind in Our Sail” very much feel like the sort of commercialized pop-punk that Cuomo and Sinclair intend them to be, they’re also so toe-tappingly infectious that it’s difficult to get mad. Even when the band makes seemingly deliberate callbacks to their past, as on the “Holiday”-aping “L.A. Girlz,” it doesn’t feel like pandering so much as honest appreciation. If anything, The White Album is encouraging largely because it finds Cuomo writing in a more natural state, rather than trying to force himself into a particular kind of song.
Diehard fans may not care for The White Album all that much, and to be fair, it’s far from a perfect record. Given how lively Weezer can sound, it’s a bit disappointing that they’ve opted to record something so staid, production-wise. Still, despite its faults, The White Album is a solid piece of work from a band that’s clearly comfortable making music again. There are no bizarre, unnecessary detours, no efforts to pander to a new audience and no misguided attempts to overcorrect the perceived mistakes of the past. Weezer sounds like something close to Weezer again.