Listening to Weezer in 2017 is a bit of an odd prospect if, like me, you enjoyed pogoing in 90s indie nightclubs to hits like ‘Buddy Holly’ and ‘Undone – The Sweater Song’ from their eponymous début album, better known to fans as The Blue Album. I was never a die-hard fan, I was not that Pinkerton guy, what I loved about Weezer was their ability to bring melody, humour and fun to slacker rock. They were the perfect band for the mid-90s. While we transitioned from American grunge to the more melodic Britpop, these guys evoked a touch of both.
So what’s with this new record? Pacific Daydream is the band’s 11th album, released while they celebrate 25 years as a band. Their last two were well received by the fanbase, adopting a rock-oriented and more recognisably classic Weezer sound, when compared to some of the stuff they’d brought out through the late 00s. When lead-singer and main songwriter Rivers Cuomo was interviewed by DIY, hot-on-the-heels of The White Album, he seemed to have a good idea of the record they’d be making next. He spoke of “a black album”, a darker version of the record they’d just released, with more mature themes. However far they got with those plans it’s pretty apparent this is not what they’ve just released.
Pacific Daydream seems instead to be the band’s latest pitch for mainstream success, adopting big-budget modern production and co-writing with pop gurus like Jonny Coffer (Beyonce, Rag’N’Bone Man). The last album was clean, bright and crystal clear, but the drums still sounded like a drum kit, the guitars were warm and fuzzy and up-front. Listen to lead single, ‘Feels Like Summer’, and it sounds like a remix, Cuomo’s distinct vocal being the only element that doesn’t sound like it’s come out of a box. The problem I have with this is not that Weezer are trying something different, it’s that they’ve made bland AOR pop music that sounds pretty much the same as everything else out there these days. It’s just not that original. In a recent Music Week interview Cuomo admitted that, “I didn’t even know who some of those people are”, when discussing the songwriting team for ‘Feels Like Summer’, and for one of the best songwriters in his generation, that doesn’t sit well with me. Having said that, this song has been their most successful hit on American radio for many years, so it’s a triumph if that was the only goal!
‘Mexican Fender’ opens up the album with a bog-standard power chord riff, but that’s okay, as Weezer have made magic from bog-standard power chord riffs in the past. Unfortunately this isn’t an ode to a budget guitar, as the song title and intro suggest. Instead it’s more of the same, a cynical summer singalong that lacks the charm I’d usually associate with the band. Despite the up-to-date production it just doesn’t sound fresh. As a married, family man pushing 50 you’d think Cuomo might have more to talk about than geeky guys and girls having summer flings, especially after claiming last year that he wanted to tackle more mature themes. I worry that the song-writing committee may have vetoed some of his more interesting ideas in favour of commercial safe-bets. ‘Beach Boys’ is also disappointing in that it pays tribute to one of America’s greats in the lyrics, who have clearly been a massive influence on Weezer, but largely fails to pay homage in musical form, which would have been a great thing to hear.
The best song for me is ‘Weekend Woman’, but fans have been arguing that’s simply because it’s a re-working of ‘Burning Sun’, a demo from Weezer (Green Album) sessions. If songs were children this one would nearly be old enough to drive by now! While the second half of the record feels like an improvement, it lacks any stand-out moments and ends up feeling like the damage has already been done. Weezer are a band who have flipped between two polarities throughout their career: Pinkerton lacked the sales and singles of predecessor, The Blue Album, but it was critically acclaimed and has gone on to become a cult favourite. This push and pull between their pop leanings and a more serious side is one they’ve repeated several times. Strangely with this release they’ve flipped from classic Weezer, to radio and streaming playlist baiting Weezer. From pop to yet poppier. I worry that, in a time when bands like this are so heavily reliant on live sales, such a play for another generation of fair-weather singles fans might alienate their hardcore base, and not just the Pinkerton obsessives. Still, if it pays off it could help fuel another 25 years of Weezer, sadly it’s not doing much for me.