I have long been a simpering Weezer apologist. Every passing album cycle since 2005’s Make Believe has given me cause for hope, despair, and confusion - but I still keep coming back for more.
And why, exactly? What twisted loyalty keeps me trapped in a loveless, one-sided relationship with a band whose best output is commonly considered to be twenty years behind them? Is this how it feels being an Oasis fan, too? Popular wisdom is often wrong, though, and I've somehow found a shred of merit in every album Weezer have put out - even Raditude - had that one killer single. Then again, I'm wrong pretty often too.
Yet, there are few easy ways to group the phases of the Weezer's output. The only unifying theory I can come up with, aside from that of the Nineties snobs who can't find merit in a single note recorded by the band since bassist Matt Sharp left the group in 1998, is an obvious one: the self-titled albums are significant. The Blue Album was their wide-eyed mission statement, The Green Album was their bleary-eyed, knowingly-formulaic comeback, and The Red Album was the cross-eyed return of a band pulling in all directions. On that record, each band member not named Rivers got to write and sing a song of their own. The one whose name was Rivers sported a moustache and cowboy hat on the cover. It wasn't a great look for anyone concerned.
But even that on-paper mess still housed two of the band's best singles, and two further astonishing curios - a vintage-Weez-gone-sorta-crunk bonus track called "Miss Sweeney" and the genuinely indescribable, still-batshit/perfect "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)". Between those four songs, all signs pointed to a genuinely exciting future, full of possibility.
Then barely a year later, Raditude happened. Nice one, guys.
Fast forward to 2014, when Weezer's last album was released - a record which somehow managed to be artistically unlike anything they'd ever done, yet exactly like everything they've ever done. Its sense of purpose should have rendered it another self-titled effort. Yet Everything Will Be Alright in the End was effectively three separate concept albums melded into one, and it sounded like it. The ideas were as big as the choruses, but there was (unsurprisingly) no sense of unity to the material. Again, though, there was promise - "Cleopatra", in particular, showed that there were new ways for the band to (gently) fuck with the formula. Something good could happen next, as long as Rivers didn't take the opportunity to spunk all that album's good will up the wall.
And so to self-titled album number four. The White Album.
From the opening seagull sounds, lapping waves and Beach Boys-aping guitar-and-glock motif of opener "California Kids", Weezer are working with a renewed sense of purpose in their 23rd year. The band's tenth effort is a 35-minute paean to the highs and lows of West Coast living, ramming its beach bum theme home with tracks like "Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori" and "Endless Bummer" - two terrible titles which are inversely proportional to just how dazzling the songs themselves are.
Sure, it's easy to pounce on Cuomo for still writing these kinds of songs at 45, but it's not much different from Stuart Murdoch's continuing obsession with schoolgirls named Lisa. If anything, The White Album brings Rivers closer to Brian Wilson-dom than ever. I mean, we're dealing with a married man in his mid-forties urging "LA Girlz" to "act your age" one minute, then thanking God for girls the next. Like Wilson, this isn't a man actively chasing the coastal lifestyle, but Cuomo is still able to write about it with the awkward enthusiasm of someone a third his age.
For the first time since 1994, Weezer are also actively courting the geek rock dollar. Musically, "Wind in Our Sail" may be Cuomo's most carefree, cruising-in-a-convertible-with-the-top-down pop song in years, but still crowbars in a nod to "Darwin on the Beagle" in its chorus, and the myth of Sisyphus in its lighter-waving bridge, even urging the listener to "trust the man with the Torah" for no discernible reason whatsoever. Likewise, "(Girl We Got a) Good Thing" mines Bacharach at his bounciest, and still shoehorns in a line about Cuomo and his sweetheart being "happy as a couple Hare Krishnas" without sounding forced.
A lot of the kudos has to go to producer (and one-time Weezer tribute band guitarist) Jake Sinclair. Fresh from working with the chart-bothering likes of Five Seconds Of Summer and Panic At The Disco, his outlook - "I know what the kids like," he recently told Rolling Stone, "so there may be a way to have a win for everybody" - is as savvy to pop trends as it is to Weezer's history. Sinclair absolutely makes this record, streamlining The White Album into a ten-song statement of intent - a best of, made up entirely of new material.
But there's no arguing that Weezer is still 100% Rivers Cuomo's show, and aside from the forgettable "Jacked Up", The White Album sounds like a genuine homecoming. More tinfoil-hat prone fans would read heavily into throwaway lines like "We had to do it wrong before we could do it right," or "Let's chalk it up to Stockholm syndrome" - a more nuanced take on the "sorry about the last decade" self-awareness demonstrated on 2014's "Back to the Shack". Then again, a quick listen to the album's opening track might be more of a mission statement than it appears - the California kids really have thrown Weezer a lifeline.
Nevertheless, there hasn't been a Weezer record this watertight in years. "LA Girlz" is a return to blissfully crunchy waltz territory first charted by tracks like "Suzanne" (albeit with a Jaberwocky reference thrown in for good measure), and "Do You Wanna Get High?" rights the decade-old wrongs of "We Are All On Drugs" with its (almost too) spot on Pinkerton impression. "Cue the feedback" indeed.
As a reluctant, long-suffering champion of some of this band's most indefensible material, this album really does feel like a breath of fresh sea air. Let's not kid ourselves - this isn't The Blue Album. This isn't Pinkerton. Nothing Weezer have released in the years since ever could be. That doesn't mean the band can't make good records. It just means they just spent a few too many years choosing not to.
It would be easy for me to tell you this is Weezer's most impressive record since the Nineties, but given the last decade of their discography, I couldn't blame you for not believing me. So instead, I'll just say this: The White Album is, hands down, the best Weezer album since...well, since it became so hard to agree on what the last great Weezer album was.