When reaching for a beer these days, the choices are endless. The spectrum ranges from the ultra-watery Bud Lights and Milwaukee’s Bests to the kinds of beers that will make you lie down afterwards, the double, triple, and imperial IPAs at a 12+% alcohol content. Somewhere in between, however, is what’s known as the ‘session’ beer. A session ale has full flavor but a low-medium alcohol content, allowing the drinker to have a couple in a nice afternoon ‘session’ while still maintaining the ability to participate in decent social interaction.
Weezer’s new album is the session ale of the Weezer catalog- it’s not the strongest or most aggressive, and it doesn’t demand the most attention. But it’s not the empty calories or taste of human urine that some of the other albums have been either. There’s a nice level of complexity throughout that keeps your interest, yet can also step into the background and let you get on with your day.
A quick look at the cover art and track list reveals two things: First – this album is thematically connected. There’s going to be a vague story arch, more a postmodern impression of summer life and love than a specific cast of characters that we should be following from song to song. Second – there’s a song titled L.A. Girlz (yes with a Z) and as a human adult, you’ll have to fight the urge to just throw the album at the wall immediately. In fact, a song titled L.A. Girlz will even began to cast a dark light on some of the other song titles- Jacked Up? California Kids? Thank God for Girls? How old are these guys? How old will they be when they start singing about ‘women’ instead ‘girls’?.
I implore you to continue. It took me half a dozen listens to start hearing what others were saying about this album. I’m still unwrapping it, but here’s my initial ten thoughts on the album.
- Opener ‘California Kids’ is a standard album opener – meant to set a scene and build momentum. It’s OK that a song is not always meant to stand alone as something great. What this song does set the stage for is an album with clear and warm guitars, ambient background noises and voices, and tight drumming, suggesting that this is one of the better mixed/mastered Weezer albums in a long time. Seriously, listen to it in a car or with headphones. If it’s a summer album, it shouldn’t be listened to on computer speakers. There’s some quality layering here that opens up and fills the air around you.
- I firmly believe that ‘Wind in Our Sail’ intentionally sounds like a mix between AWOLNATION, that new semi-dance music coming from Coldplay, and Fun.. You know exactly what songs I’m talking about. I don’t always skip songs on Weezer albums, but when I do…
- Repeat after me: I will come to terms with the fact that Rivers wants to rap. There’s nothing I can do about it. Luckily ‘Thank God for Girls’ offers a guilty-pleasure catchy-ness and some great lyrical play (‘she’s so energetic in her sweaty overalls’ is a gem) that gives it a free pass.
- Summer? Beach Boys? That scene in Love and Mercy where Paul Dano cries to his dad about how ‘there’s gonna be sleigh bells in it’? This song takes what could be a derivative intro, verse, and chorus and adds bridges on bridges- in an album where even the bridge’s bridges have bridges. But the subversion in this song provides a dark texture and complex undercurrent, underscored by great half-rhyming lyrics like ‘you scare me like an open window/Let’s chalk it up to Stockhold syndrome.’ By the end of the song, there’s some epic guitar hidden in there as well. This is the turning point for the album, the transition between pop singles and complex rockers.
- Remember that one time when Weezer took the rhyme scheme of the diarrhea song and made it about drugs? (‘when you’re out with your friends/in your new mercedes benz…’) Now lets imagine an alternate universe where that song was written during the era of Pinkerton. That’s ‘Do You Wanna Get High?’, a powerhouse that skips the power chords and makes both guitars work overtime. One guitar plays a low repetitive melody that becomes the rhythm, the other plays a high fuzzy whine that rolls behind the vocals like a comet’s tail. It’s a classic move that only classic Weezer (and classic Radiohead) can really pull off (e.g. ‘I’m Tired’, ‘No Other One’, The Bends) and it’s nice to hear again.
- Building off of the last song, ‘King of the World’ is another example of Weezer doing what they do best. I’m glad this was finally released as a single because this song is a concentrated dose of Weezer that distills their essence into three and half minutes. It might not be cute enough to burn up the summer charts, but it should.
- Producer: I need a song that can play during the closing credits of a teen road comedy but can also disorient the listener every 30 seconds with vague key shifts. Weezer: Have we got a song for you.
- Does the inherent criticism of the subject matter in the line ‘L.A. Girlz please act your age’ redeem the spelling of the song’s title? Who knows. I’m still trying to figure out where the irony begins and ends. Don’t skip it though. There’s something interesting happening with dynamics here and, much like the last album, it feels like someone’s been listening to a lot of Queen recently. The difference is that, like the rest of the White Album, it’s been distilled down into a radio-friendly format without losing too much in translation.
- It’s hard to explain what exactly ‘filler’ is- as the adage says, ‘we know it when we see it’. Here’s just an interesting song that could’ve gone terribly off the rails, but doesn’t and I’m not sure why. I do think the placement is wrong, though. There was something building in ‘L.A. Girlz’ (I still can’t type that without flinching) that probably could’ve gone further before leading us into the last song, but it gets interrupted by ‘Jacked Up’ and this (aside from ‘Wind in Our Sail’) is the only major ‘huh?’ of the album.
- Ending a 10-songer with a melancholy acoustic track? I see what you did there, you sly dogs. I also see that thematic loop being closed, the guys quietly harmonizing, the beach bonfire erupting once more before slowly dying. The session ending.
What makes this session great is the fact that we are, for the first time in a while, actually listening to a complete session. There’s a certain emotional range that any album occupies which helps the listener decide what to listen to and when to listen to it. You’re either emotionally ready for With the Beatles or you’re in a Abbey Road state of mind. They’re not mutually exclusive, but given a particular moment, one or the other may appeal to you because each represents a cohesive whole with a connecting emotional through-line.
Recent Weezer albums have lacked the ability to define themselves as a particular listening session in my mind. I can definitely be in a certain emotional state for the Green Album, which is a very different place than Pinkerton, but I have no idea what I’m supposed to feel that makes me want to listen to Make Believe or Raditude. Those albums had such a wide and disparate emotional range, that they become fragmented to the listener and do a poor job at defining their space within your life.
The White Album is a true session album- a borderline concept album- and a successful effort to create a very particular emotional space that will be given it’s proper place next to the other good Weezer albums in the canon.
I’d love to hear your thoughts below and feel free to check out my review of their previous album EWBAITE.
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