I suppose that everyone needs to get to this point with Weezer eventually. This is the point where you want to shake Rivers Cuomo, where you want to tell him to wake up, he’s not 22 anymore, there’s more to life than girls and bands and girls in bands. There’s more he can do, there’s so much more he can say, there are more chords on the guitar than the four he keeps playing over and over, there are quite literally an infinite number of melodies out there to explore. “Rivers,” you’d say, “you have so much talent in you. You have so much to offer the world. You could be doing great things.
“So what the hell is this?”
This pains me to write because I am now a cliché. I am that guy, you know him, you probably talked to him at the record shop, the one who has a motor reflex that forces him to spit out “THEY’VE SUCKED SINCE PINKERTON” every time someone comes in and asks for the new Weezer album. I’ve been a staunch defender of Weezer Mach II, a band defined by detached irony, a band no longer interested in confessionals, or character studies, or killer guitar solos. The Green and Red albums got more play than just about any album in my collection in the respective years of their release, Raditude had a gem or two among the dross (and it could helpfully be tossed aside as a poorly-conceived one-off idea), and Hurley had a few of the sweetest hooks the band had ever written.
Hey look, here’s one of them! This is a good song, and it was only, like, four years ago:
Anyway- “Thank God for Girls” is a thing that happened at the end of last year — about six months ago, I guess, because the existence of the internet means you never have to wait to put out a single — and I listened to it on the radio and wondered what the hell Mr. Cuomo was doing. He is actually regressing here, stepping neatly from the point of view of a mid-twenties hypersexual-yet-undersexed geek to that of a pre-teen just waking up from his first wet dream. In a way it’s almost admirable, they way he just decides to go right off the deep end with barely-rhymed stanzas like this:
I wish that I could get to know her better
But meeting up in real life would cause the illusion to shatter
I carved her name into all the trees
Sang a song down on one knee
Looking at the underwear page of the Sears catalog like when I was 14
I’m levitating like a magnet turned the wrong way around
I’m like an Indian Fakir tryna’ meditate on a bed of nails with my pants pulled down
That is legitimately, impressively creepy! On one hand, I get that Rivers is playing a character here — and on the album, the song actually makes more sense, though the context doesn’t actually help — but on the other hand, there’s a sizable portion of his audience who is going to assume that this is some kind of geekboy anthem, and yell the words back at Rivers at Weezer shows while they proudly wear their Pinkerton t-shirts and Buddy Holly glasses, and Rivers is going to eat that shit up. Rivers Cuomo has a history of sexism hidden in an innocent facade of “I’m just getting my feelings out there, man,” and I’m usually willing to forgive him those tendencies in a haze of “at least he’s dealing with his demons” and “those catchy hooks tho,” (the same way I do with Ben Folds, but hey, that’s a dissertation for another day), but for god’s sake, he’s testing us just a little too much. Rarely has the idea of a “girl” — and let it be pointed out that Rivers Cuomo, at 45 years old, is still pining for “girls” rather than “women” — felt so unattainable, so objectified, so other in a song as it does here.
As it happens, White is about summer on the west coast; Weezer have self-consciously aped Red Hot Chili Peppers in the past, but never have they jumped into the culture of California the way they do here. Or, at least, the culture of California as seen through a girl-crazy idiot 16-year-old from North Dakota (or wherever) who thinks California is all girls and beaches and girls at beaches. “It’s gonna be alright / If you’re on a sinking ship / The California kids / Will throw you a lifeline,” Rivers sings on “California Kids,” laying out his vision for a California that’s nearly as idealized as the “girls” of “Thank God for Girls.” That idealism is shot to hell by the end of “Endless Bummer” — and hey, there’s actually a pretty great guitar solo in the last 30 seconds or so of that song — but it’s only because his feelings for some girl went unrequited. “Not all 19-year-olds are cool,” sings Rivers, who apparently thinks some girl not wanting to let him touch her boobs is the fault of the girl, or maybe California as a whole, it’s hard to tell. Maybe it’s (again) the character he’s playing, but who can tell anymore? “I put my jacket over my head / I’m trying not to stare at her chest,” he sings, and somewhere, a single tear falls from the face of a lonely future men’s-rights activist.
In between the bookends and fighting for attention with “Thank God for Girls” are an alternating soup of ridiculous optimism and sullen whining. “Do You Wanna Get High?” is bored and boring and Weezer’s worst song about drugs since, um, “We Are All On Drugs,” “Wind in Our Sail” rides a plonked keyboard line to basically nowhere, and “Jacked Up” is a mess of decade-old slang, more plonky keyboards, and awful falsetto. There are a couple songs that are ostensibly “highlights,” even if those are only in a relative sense. There’s “L.A. Girlz,” whose greatest strength is being basically a rewrite of a much better song, Blue‘s “Holiday” (or maybe the excellent Blue B-side, “Suzanne”). Maybe the only song to get my foot tapping on the whole album is the relentlessly sunny Beach Boys riff that is “(Girl We Got A) Good Thing,” which despite more dumb lyrics actually has an identifiable hook that lends itself well to singing along.
Is it irony that my two favorite songs feature the word “girl” in the title?
Somehow, inexplicably, White is being met with something like cautious praise from critics who seem to appreciate that it’s not outwardly bad, it’s not doing disco beats, it’s delivered with something like sincerity. Or, maybe those critics just don’t care anymore! Or — and this is my running theory — they’ve just been crushing Rivers Cuomo for so long that they’ve run out of synonyms for arrested development, and it just feels mean at this point. “Here you go, Rivers. A C+ for effort. Not bad!” Except that it is bad, as forgettable as previous effort Everything Will Be All Right in the End, and entirely devoid of anything approaching a relatable sentiment. I’m getting too old for this.