Pretty much everyone agrees that Weezer took a pretty sharp nosedive as a band at some point over the twenty years since their initial one-two punch of their pop-defining The Blue Album and the defiantly weird Pinkerton, but it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what changed. The lyrics have always been eye-rollingly cheesy with the cadence of an aunt trying to be hip, whether on their best songs (such as “I’m the epitome of public enemy/Why you wanna go and do me like that?” from Pinkerton’s “El Scorcho”) or worst (“Just follow the smoke; they’re bringing bottles of the goose/And all the girls in the corner getting loose” from Raditude’s “Can’t Stop Partying”, probably the worst Weezer song of all time). Partially the difference comes from interpreting their cheesiness as a weak, uninspired attempt at creating memes and quirky videos (a la “Pork And Beans”) or just something natural out of the brain of Rivers Cuomo (a la “Buddy Holly”), and their more recent work has definitely skewed towards the former. Partially due to less-inspired lyrics and partially due to a simple lack of the distinct pop hooks that define them, Weezer’s losing streak is the stuff of legend.
That turned around a fair bit with 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End. It had its share of cheese, sure, but rather than trying too hard by bringing in Lil Wayne, Cuomo just got weird, with power-pop songs about punk-ass redcoats (“The British Are Coming”) and Stephen Hawking (“Da Vinci”), while revisiting his relationship with his father as a muse in the most effective way since “Say It Ain’t So”. If that was a promise that Weezer was trying again, The White Album is damn sure fulfillment. Nearly every album since Pinkerton is described (at least in the moment) as their best since Pinkerton, but The White Album truly forgives Make Believe, Raditude, and Hurley with half an hour of the most exciting, involving, and distinct power-pop Weezer has ever made.
More than perhaps any other Weezer album, The White Album feels very much like an album rather than a collection of jams. While a summer album isn’t the most surprising thing for the band, they stick to the concept, vaguely tracing a summer fling from start to the inevitable decline, from the its-gonna-be-alright hopefulness of the opening cut “California Kids” to the acoustically driven closer “Endless Bummer”, which proclaims “I just want the summer to end”. It helps that the album is a tight 34 minutes, and perhaps outside of single “Thank God for Girls”, every song feels immediately at peace with what comes before and after it. Whenever it seems to be approaching overt happiness, it is immediately undercut. On “Girl We Got a Good Thing”, a Beach Boys-inspired sunny-day song about lovebirds is suddenly interrupted with a sharp power chord and the declaration “You scare me like an open window”.
Mercifully gone are talks about homies trying to front, and The White Album continues Everything Will Be Alright In The End’s trend of eclectic (although not necessarily obscure references), ranging from hare krishna love of “Girl We Got a Good Thing”, Mendel’s peas on “Wind In Our Sails”, and Dante’s Inferno on “L.A. Girlz”. Even lead single “Thank God for Girls”, the redheaded stepchild of the album, is a neat play on gender roles, the ostensible love interest being praised as big, strong, and “energetic in her sweaty overalls”. Most importantly, the songs are just catchy and memorable in way that harkens back to The Blue Album. “King of the World” is an arena-ready anthem, “L.A. Girlz” is the “Buddy Holly”-esque power-chord driven blast we’ve been missing for twenty years with the , and “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori” is wonderfully woven mix of key changes and guitar crunch. “Do You Wanna Get High” would’ve been absolutely at home on Pinkerton, and “Endless Bummer”s hey-heys conjure memories of the hip-hips of “Island in the Sun”. It’s definitely familiar Weezer, but it feels fresh all over again, and tracks like the piano-based falsetto jam “Jacked Up” show that their new tricks aren’t all misfires.
It’s hard to call The White Album a great album per se, as it surely isn’t an innovative masterpiece like it would have been 20 years ago. However, it clearly shows that there is gas left in Weezer’s tank, and that they’re still capable of sounding fresh by simply being themselves. It’s a hugely enjoyable album, even if mostly a throwback. If it can’t get out of the shadow of Blue and Pinkerton, it should at least be able to get out of the shadow of what came after. The White Album is not just a good album by post-2000 Weezer standards; it is legitimately front-to-back recommended listening.
Weezer [The White Album] (2016)
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Best Tracks: Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori, L.A. Girlz, King of the World