When Weezer first announced they’d be releasing their 11th studio album Pacific Daydream in fall of 2017, they included a portentous quote from the venerable Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zhou as a preface to the record. That quote is as follows:
“Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.”
In light of now hearing Pacific Daydream – a record released 21 years after the heralded Pinkerton, whose origins similarly lie in reference to a butterfly, and only 3 years after the fan-favorite and pseudo-public apology Everything Will Be Alright In The End – I now ask myself: is Weezer a rock band dreaming they’re now a pop group, or has Weezer always been a pop group dreaming they’re a rock band?
The difficulty in evaluating the work Weezer produces ironically lies in the band’s strengths. Rivers Cuomo’s songwriting has been in the public’s consciousness for more than two and half decades, influencing much of the late-90’s rock world and mid-2000’s radio waves. With lyrics that evoke Cuomo’s perpetual coming-of-age struggle and a desire for reinvention every couple of albums, Weezer draws fans from all walks of life who, independent of each other, all seem to have deduced what exactly “the real Weezer” is as if the band themselves don’t know. It’s become more difficult for fans to believe that Weezer is whatever they say they are, whether they like it or not.
And it’s because of this difficulty why I think many will not like Pacific Daydream. In fact, Cuomo counts on that. He recently remarked in Billboard, “When we hear fans of the early music getting upset by what we’re doing, we know we’re on the right track.” And what track is that? Seemingly, a referential, pop one.
>In the weeks prior to the record’s release, the band put out the firecracker “Mexican Fender,” a killer track full of power chords, classic narrative lyrics, and the perfect singalong chorus and bridge that evoke the band’s notable “return to form” previous record Weezer (The White Album). Not too long after, “Weekend Woman” echoed similar sentiments with its beautiful harmonies, thumping drums, and sweetly nostalgic lyrics, “I still believe your beautiful lies / It almost makes me feel young again.” For a few moments, it seemed Weezer hung onto their traditional rock roots and promise laid out in 2014’s “Back To The Shack” when they said, “We belong in the rock world / There is so much left to do / And if we die in obscurity, oh well / At least we raised some hell.”
But that feeling is but fleeting upon hearing the entirety of Pacific Daydream. The lead single “Feels Like Summer” is more of what the band aspires to be in 2017, which is apparently something closer to Twenty-One Pilots. Hip-hop beats, layered production, and a bit of talk-singing force melodies to take a backseat, making the track “Beach Boys” – which is apparently a strange love letter to the classic California band – that much more ironic. How can someone from a rock band claiming to love Brian Wilson’s “gorgeous four-part harmony” submit to the idea that “It’s a hip-hop world / And we’re the furniture?” Is Cuomo confused, or am I just confused?
The second single “Happy Hour” continues with the talk-singing and overwrought production, this time sounding more like Maroon 5 than Weezer in every verse except the chorus. “La Mancha Screwjob” briefly vears into Imagine Dragons territory with “ohh ohhs,” though does feature a few catchy moments in the same vein as the fun but substanceless “Any Friend of Diane’s.” “QB Blitz” and “Get Right” are softer, moodier tracks that include unique spins of funky beats with acoustic guitar and soft, wintery bells. The mildly juvenile sentiments of “I can’t get anyone to do algebra with me” and “Out on the ice fields of Hoth / I’ll be missing you like oxygen” tap into that coming-of-age lyrical narrative Weezer does so well, but really leave something to be desired in terms of depth.
Surprisingly, the most vulnerable moments on the record arise in “Sweet Mary,” a sweet acoustic tune that utilizes drums and bells in such a way that it becomes more of a Christmas song than their 2001 deep cut “The Christmas Song.” Cuomo sounds pure and earnest, recalling the universal innocence of 2005’s Make Believe and vaguely religious imagery of 2015’s “Thank God For Girls,” singing, “When I am all on my own / One foot in the grave / My Sweet Mary comes / To help me find my way.” The song is nice on its own, and more importantly, proves that Weezer’s foray into pop doesn’t necessarily require a loss of heart.
Ultimately, a vital takeaway from Pacific Daydream is to remember that Weezer isn’t Radiohead nor are they trying to be. Most tracks feel distinctly referential to contemporary pop and whatever passes as 2017 synth rock, and that’s okay. While it might seem like a slight, I wholeheartedly believe this 11th album from Weezer is perfectly fine and inherently inoffensive once viewed in context.
If Rivers Cuomo wants Weezer to be his pop butterfly instead of his rock man, then good for him. As for the rest of us, Pinkerton and other highlights from their discography aren’t too far from our record players.
Pacific Daydream Rating: 6.8/10
Highlights: “Mexican Fender,” “Weekend Woman,” “Sweet Mary”