Post-Zeitgeist Album Picks, Vol. 1 - Weezer
The culture moved on, but I didn't: defending a latter-day Weezer album in 2021
Everyone with an iota of nostalgia holds a torch for all of the music they listened to in high-school and college, despite how cringey some of those albums have aged with time. This is the time of year especially when I start embezzling a couple choice songs by 311, Incubus and Dave Matthews Band into my summer playlists—just a few, you know, as to not arouse any suspicion or reveal the fact that I am actually, an incredibly uncool dad.
When I get nostalgic about music, I think most fondly of my musical discovery journey in college, when I worked at WXJM and was on the bleeding-edge of whatever indie-ish rock/pop that was making a wave at the time. College is a period of time where individuals exist at an intersection between peak open-mindedness and peak-disposable personal time, therefore, whatever taste I have in music today is largely drafting off of the acts or genres I got into back then.
Thanks to Spotify and apps like it, one compulsion I often indulge in is looking into the latter-day work of the bands I loved back then, especially in cases where I’ve soured on their work since. It’s a purely a self-interested curiosity. I am always quietly rooting for such acts’ newer output to be some amazing return-to-form as a validation in my taste at the time—the same the validation that that every generation craves regarding their favs of the era—that yes, music truly WAS better in my day, and all of these bands still have IT. 9 times out of 10 I do this exercise ironically and am massively let down by what certain acts have become.
But sometimes I’m not! Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised by the latter-day output of bands that are past their prime, and as a result, I wanted to dedicate some posts on the EP to give these bands some shine, starting with Weezer.
What you remember: Weezer [The Blue Album] (“Say It Ain’t So”, “Buddy Holly”, “Undone - The Sweater Song”, Pinkerton (“El Scorcho”)
What you should try: Weezer [The White Album]
Weezer exists in a small pantheon of artists I will show up for, day one, every single project they put out because I just have to know. Like tearing the sky with my minds eye only to reveal the eldritch horror that manipulates us all, I am psychically compelled to know whatever machinations Rivers Cuomo has for us all even if my human brain will be driven mad by what I find.
There is a difference between occasionally securing the bag and putting out trend-hopping horseshit time after time immemorial. Cuomo can’t help himself. His most recent brush with the zeitgeist seemed almost accidental via a competent “Africa” cover that memed itself onto the radio. Since Rivers had a whiff of the spotlight again, the somewhat innocent joke spawned an entire album of mediocre, passionless boring cover songs, also chasing memedom. The cover art alone betrays how little his band was thrilled to be involved with this project—you replace the teal background with the wall of a holding cell, it would look like a witness ID lineup for an public wanking incident from the 1980’s.
Weezer’s 2016 S/T album (henceforth referred to as The White Album) is a peek into a parallel universe where the 18 year valley of quality between it’s release and 1998’s Pinkerton never happened. Rivers Cuomo, giving up his college vow of celibacy that informed so much of the angsty, yearning energy of the (at the time) poorly received Pinkerton, moves from Harvard to California back to tries to recapture the slacker garage rock vibes of their original S/T with a more distinctly coastal, life affirming flavor: Surf-Wax America—the album.
This isn’t just head-canon—The White Album diabolically pulls moments from Weezer critically acclaimed work, bordering on fan service. The Brian Wilson-esque opening track “California Kids”—complete with an "oooohWeeeeOooooh” laden chorus—makes reference to your “old friends back in Boston” to narratively mark this album as a Pinkerton successor. This song is immediately followed up “Wind In Our Sail”, whose split-second opening chord directly melody-checks the opening riffs of Pinkerton’s “Falling For You”. The oppressive feedback fuzz from “Tired of Sex” gets specifically requested by Cuomo on the top “Do You Wanna Get High?”, which somehow associates a pill popping binge to listening to Burt Bacharach, making drug abuse sound unhip in the specific way only Weezer can.
The truth of the matter is that, yes Rivers, I do wanna get high. I know all of these cute little cues to their earlier works is bullshit pandering. I don’t care! Pinkerton was such a formative album to me that I go into every new Weezer album nose first, hoping to snort a trace of it. On, the White Album, I finally got some trace residue of the real deal instead of inhaling bleach and forgetting long division.
So sure, the White Album is certainly a lesser work that leans on the legacy of their debut and Pinkerton. I still think it’s good! It’s an open-windows pop rock album that shows off Cuomo’s undeniable ability to write a hook and still be bewildered by love as a dude approaching middle age. Love is a aweing, religious force in Cuomo’s mind: (Girl We Got A) Good Thing describes a good couple as “a couple Hare Krishna’s” while Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori culminates into an unironic exclamation how two teenage crushes made him “believe in god”. While these statements borderline on corny, they at least feel earnestly so, and earnestness has been sorely lacking from the majority of Weezer’s later work.
Even if the thought of stomaching a new Weezer album in 2021 is too much to stomach, if you were ever a fan of this band, I’d behoove you to at least check out one (unfortunately titled) track: “L.A. Girlz”. I think “L.A. Girlz” stands next to tracks like Undone and Say It Ain’t So in the pantheon of Weezer’s best songs—an anthem that oscillates between romantic bravado and cowardice in the way Cuomo has perfected. The bridge to the end of the song, repeating the mantra of “does anybody love anybody as much as I love you, baby?” with varying degrees of confidence before ripping into a guitar solo is the perfect distillation of why anyone ever liked this band, and why idiots like me suffer through indignity after indignity looking for a return to form.
As trite as it is playing a California album in California, The White Album will always hold a special place in my heart as an album I remember bumping out of our rental car during the a week long, multi-stop road-trip down Route 1. This was the last large-scale vacation my wife and I took just the two of us before we settled into trying to start our family in earnest, and this album feels like a reminder of what it feels to be in carefree love with an open sunroof, where your only worldly concerns are keeping the good vibrations rolling.
So thank you for that Rivers. I’ll pick one of these songs and keep them a healthy four or five tracks away from “Amber” and “Crash Into Me” on my summer playlist, lest people start to question my cred.