Album Review: Weezer – Pacific Daydream

“Pacific Daydream sees Weezer faring better at making pop than they did on Raditude – but it’s still far from being one of their strongest albums”

18 months ago, while promoting the unexpectedly brilliant ‘White Album’, Weezer guitarist Brian Bell was visibly joyous – commenting on how proud he was that the band were finally making an album that every fan would love. Bassist Scott Shriner went on to state how important it was for them to release two well-received LPs in a row after years of being (deservedly) bashed by media and fans alike. Drummer Pat Wilson praised the work of new producer Jake Sinclair, admitting that he’d never been happier with how his drums sounded. The only person who didn’t seem to be enjoying himself that much was lead singer/songwriter Rivers Cuomo, who spent pretty much every interview talking about what would be the band’s next project – a darker and electronic-infused collection of songs presumably titled ‘The Black Album’…

One of the most bewildering minds in rock history, Cuomo has always worked by opposition. Back in 1994, he felt upset about how the general public seemed to be highlighting only the goofy and nerdy aspects of Weezer’s universally adored debut. His counter-reaction was to write the emotionally uncomfortable Pinkerton, a raw rock LP which gave birth to Cuomo’s tortured artist persona.

We all know how the story goes after that – Pinkerton wasn’t well-received initially, so Cuomo did a 180 and began writing the soulless pop songs that would end up becoming 2001’s The Green Album. This narrative went on for the most part of Weezer’s career until coming to a sudden halt with The White Album – which is pretty much their only record that’s not a knee-jerk reply to the critical reaction to its direct predecessor.

Cuomo seemed dismissal of The White Album at the time of its release, perhaps because he merely saw it as a nostalgia-ridden return to Weezer’s 90s sound. But even if there is some truth in that (‘L.A. Girlz’ and ‘Do You Wanna Get High?’ are obvious throwbacks to The Blue Album and Pinkerton respectively), The White Album was also fresh and new in many ways (‘Jacked Up’, ‘Thank God For Girls’ and ‘Wind in Our Sail’ all rank among their best post-Pinkerton material without sounding like the old Weezer at all).

Even if The White Album ended up being nominated for a Grammy Award and it is now considered to be the closest the band has got to their 90s zenith, Cuomo wasn’t entirely happy about it. While recording,, he gave up his usual manic, hands-on approach and instead confided his artistic vision in Sinclair. It all paid off in the end – but in typical Cuomo fashion, he decided to part ways with Sinclair for the moment, instead taking a wholly different direction. He wanted The Black Album to be a sonic experiment which would help his band to reach a new, younger audience.

So The Black Album is finally here…except it actually isn’t. Midway in one of the initial stages for the album, Cuomo realised that he’d been writing many songs that didn’t really fit in with the Black Album concept, so he decided to group them under a new project. So what we got in the end is Pacific Daydream, an album that stands somewhere in between the promised electronic-based aesthetic (‘Happy Hour’, ‘Feels Like Summer’) and a more familiar, power pop approach (‘Mexican Fender’, ‘Any Friend of Diane’s’.) It’s mostly a collection of brighter Weezer songs that once again sees them trying their hand at making radio-friendly pop music.

They even got an old mate on board again; Butch Walker, one of the perpetrators behind the abhorrent Raditude, is back on producing duties. Walker had the chance to redeem himself, but he’s only dug himself into a deeper hole. While it’d be unfair to say that he’s solely responsible for this album’s blandness, one can’t help but feel that the saccharine production brought by Walker is its biggest flaw. Many of the electronic flourishes in Pacific Daydream might as well be cheap pre-recorded keyboard tracks, while the drums sound more sterile and flat than in any other Weezer album. Even Cuomo’s voice, which had been through a late-career renaissance over the past few years, seems intolerably grating in most tracks. The only winner here is Shriner, whose bouncy basslines stand out against the background of mediocre and vanilla-pop instrumentation.

Pacific Daydream’s astonishingly awful first three tracks are partially to blame; the insufferable butt-rock of ‘Mexican Fender’ makes earlier dumb singles like ‘Hash Pipe’ or ‘Dope Nose’ look like Radiohead songs in comparison, while the asinine ‘Beach Boys’ should have never escaped from that dark alternate timeline where Foster The People are the biggest band in the world. Featuring auto-tuned vocals and poorly-arranged electronic touches, lead single ‘Feels Like Summer’ finds Weezer trying their hardest to get a radio hit, but forgetting to include the key ingredient to the mix: the hook. Once the initial shock has passed, Pacific Daydream is actually a somewhat enjoyable album – though it’s certainly not without its flaws.

For all of Cuomo’s insistence on reaching younger audiences with more modern sounds, the best songs in Pacific Daydream are also the most nostalgic ones. ‘Weekend Woman’ is basically a 15 year-old demo reworked into a fully fleshed-out Phil Spector-esque production that highlights the band’s penchant for vocal melody and harmony, while album highlight ‘Sweet Mary’ pursues a similar line and – like many of the Weezer’s classics – seems to have come straight out of Brian Wilson’s songbook.

A cheesy yet endearing potpourri of Top 40 singer-songwriter tropes, ‘Any Friend of Diane’s’ stops Pacific Daydream from being the first Weezer album that doesn’t feature a guitar solo. The bitter “QB Blitz” is adorned by classic Cuomo melodies – but its spotty lyrics stop it from being a late-career Weezer classic. What drags the song down is not the awkward blend of American football metaphors with Star Wars references (“This intercom is broken into pieces / I gotta call my QB Blitz, B blitz / Out on the ice fields of Hoth / I’ll be missing you like oxygen”), but rather the vitriolic, shamefully juvenile digs at a past collaborator – presumably Jake Sinclair – in the verses: “You gotta choose between the internet and me / People don’t bring me joy / I think you get the point.”

Pacific Daydream is no Raditude or Hurley, but it’s still way below the mark that Weezer had reached with their past two albums. Still, there’s something endearing about Rivers Cuomo perpetually attempting to break into the mainstream. In all likelihood, Pacific Daydream will become yet another commercial and critical failure for Weezer, who will try to make amends in their next record. Cuomo, edging close to 50 now, will keep trying. And he will probably keep failing. At this point, no one’s going to change who he is. But that’s all part of the Weezer experience – and, in all honesty, it’s more fun this way than if they had kept on releasing M.O.R. rock albums like Maladroit for their entire career. He may not always win, but the day Rivers Cuomo stops trying will be a sad one indeed.