Curiously, when Weezer – the geek rock group responsible making awkward cool decades before anyone had ever heard of Jesse Eisenberg – announce a new record, their fans tend to experience existential terror, not unabashed glee. In the 25 years since founding, their results are always an anxiety-producing unknown. Such is the case with their eleventh studio effort, Pacific Daydream, out at the end of October.
Will the record be iconic and influential like their first two albums, the Blue Album and Pinkerton, whose songs about rejection from girls, struggles with alcoholic stepfathers and all things nerd (X-men, Dungeons & Dragons) inspired a generation of socially awkward boys to feel more and a generation of punk-pop, emo and alt-rock bands to memorialize their failed attempts to get laid? Or will it be utterly rejected, like 2010’s Hurley, which was so abhorrent to one fan that he attempted to raise $10 million to pay the band to stop making records entirely? (He was unsuccessful.)
For his part, lead singer and song-writer Rivers Cuomo, who is now 47 but still has the same pell-mell hair and hoody-and-sneakers look as he did in his 20s, isn’t worried about fan reactions. At least not anymore. “It only bothered me in the early days,” he said last summer, before playing the Big Feastival north of Toronto. “I just know that’s part of the whole process of being Weezer,” he said, noting that the band’s resiliency to criticism is one of the reasons it has lasted for 25 years. “I feel one way when I’m making a record. Then it comes out, and people are going to have their reaction to it. Then I react to their reaction. It’s just a process that goes around.”
The issue is that while certain elements of Weezer’s sound have remained consistent — angst-ridden yet endearing lyrics– the band is also relentlessly, almost restlessly, experimental. Cuomo uses his life as a lab for different ways to invent pop music. Over the years, he’s signed up for Freudian analysis, joined Tinder (despite being married), co-written songs with fans through YouTube, even studied opera at Harvard, all to hone new techniques for writing lyrics and melodies. As such the band has recorded songs based on basically everything, including Shakespeare plays, T.S. Elliot poetry, dating girls and having lots and lots of sex.
Fittingly, Pacific Daydream is another departure. “We didn’t want to do the same power chord thing that we’ve done for ten albums before,” he said with the Zen calmness of someone who have just played a round of golf, as he had just done with Weezer’s drummer Pat (“it’s really more about the walk,” explained Cuomo of the new hobby, “then every once in a while I hit a small ball and hope it goes somewhere.”). Instead, according to him, the album is “very much in the old Beach Boys style that I love: melancholy, but uplifting.” Case-and-point, Pacific Daydream’s first single, Feels Like Summer. It’s all 60s pop sweetness, contrasted with sad, lovelorn lyrics like: I cried for you, you were the song in my life / Let me see the smile, stay with me awhile.
Another experiment on the album is that Cuomo is simply giving less fucks. Instead of being so calculating in his writing (he once spent years putting together what he called the Encyclopedia of Pop, a binder full of instructions for crafting top 40 perfection), he is now “less intentional,” he said, while sitting in a band trailer decked with a giant Bob Marley poster and bright red chairs. “It’s more like I’m mixing together different ingredients, without an idea of what is supposed to happen. And if at the end of that experiment people say it makes them feel happy, I don’t feel that I have an authority to tell them otherwise.”
Although the laissez-faire attitude makes for some pleasantly relaxed, unfussy songs on Pacific Daydream (Happy Hour, QB Blitz), it can also lead to confusion. One of Weezer’s new songs La Mancha Screwjob (a mishmash of a song that begins, perhaps tellingly, with the sound of crickets), takes its name from a Radiolab podcast about meta-existentialism (by way of Cervantes and WWF wrestling). But Cuomo’s lyrics are ostensibly about nothing more than being lonely then finding a girl. “Well, um, yeah,” said Cuomo, whose Zen calmness cracks as he’s asked about the meaning in a song he says he wrote without intention, “I’m a big Radiolab fan, so that’s where I got the title. I wasn’t thinking too much of what it meant, I just thought it was a cool sequence of words, so I wanted to put them together with these lyrics and these melodies. There wasn’t really much more thought put into it than that.”