Arguably, the most Californian band of all time is the Beach Boys. Sunny and carefree, it’s like you can hear the rushing ocean in the Beach Boys’ immaculate vocal harmonies, and their luscious string arrangements seem to mimic the feel of sand between your toes. Many bands have tried to recapture that sunny feeling, but few have succeeded, in large part because they forget that under that sunny facade was sadness—a sadness that stemmed from being told what to do or having your girl leave you.
It is because of this underlying sadness that the Beach Boys’ co-founder Brian Wilson’s most direct heir might be—gasp—an East Coaster: Weezer’s lead vocalist and guitarist Rivers Cuomo. Although Cuomo is from Connecticut, he has always been a little Hollywood, with songs like “Buddy Holly” and “Island in the Sun,” that showcase his knack for bright melodies and his love of Californian themes.
For Weezer’s new album, Weezer (White Album), Cuomo returns to the surf grunge sound that produced some of the band’s biggest hits, like the aforementioned “Holly.” But this time, he revs up the West Coast themes, like the engine of a T-bird, with nearly every song on the record referencing something in the Golden State. Cuomo does, however, also manage to imbue the songs with both an East Coaster’s stresses and a millennial’s social anxieties (Cuomo went on Tinder dates to get ideas for songs).
This mix of anxieties and happiness is best exemplified in the first track, “California Kids,” in whichCuomo describes the worries of everyday life—”When you wake up / Cobwebs on your eyelids / Stuck in rigor mortis”—over muted guitar chords. Then, in the chorus, the music explodes with hopefulness and so do the lyrics, as Cuomo assures listeners that, “It’s gonna be alright / If you’re on a sinking ship / The California kids / Will throw you a lifeline.” It’s the perfect opener to what Cuomo called “a beach album.”
On “Thank God for Girls,” Weezer proves that even the Beach Boys can be musically updated, adding together a crunchy, drum-machine beat and a light piano melody. While Weezer shows that it can revamp the Beach Boys’ sound, it fails to prove that it can do the same with the Beach Boys’ themes. Cuomo, singing so staccato on the verses he is nearly rapping, muses on gender roles, which, according to him, haven’t changed much since the ’60s: “And when you come home, she will be there / Waiting for you with a fire in her eyes / And a big fat cannoli to shove in your mouth / And that’s why you / Thank God for girls.” While Cuomo did say the song intentionally played with gender stereotypes, it is still a little cringeworthy. And yet, the lyrics prove just what a sharp—and weird—wordsmith Cuomo can be, even when riddled with anxiety.
“(Girl We Got A) Good Thing” is seemingly devoid of angst. Shamelessly borrowing nearly everything from a Beach Boys song—the jangly tambourine and otherworldly strings at the beginning—Cuomo sings about having such a good thing, he “doesn’t see it ending.” That is, of course, until the bridge, when he declares the woman he’s singing about, “scares [him] like an open window.” So, he “chalks it up to Stockholm Syndrome.”
The one thing that holds this entire album together, other than its lyrical themes, is Cuomo’s ability to create a nearly irresistible melody. If you didn’t listen to the lyrics, you’d be sure this was a happy album. Even when the lyrics take a more explicitly dark tone—like on “Jacked Up,” during whichhe laments “why do my flowers always die”—it is hard not to sing along when he gets to the high note at the beginning of the refrain.
Cuomo is not afraid to make things catchy, but he is also not afraid to be sad or anxious, even at the beach. It is because of this deep melancholy that Weezer’s White Album cements Cuomo’s claim to Brian Wilson’s surf-rock crown. After all, Wilson was so riddled with mental woes that he never learned to surf.
Featured Image By Atlantic Records