“It’s a hip-hop world,” Rivers Cuomo laments matter-of-factly in “Beach Boys,” the defining song on Weezer’s 11th studio album, “Pacific Daydream.” Of course, it’s not a hip-hop album.
“Pacific Daydream” is a collection of pop-rock songs with old-fashioned verse-chorus-bridge structures that Brian Wilson would recognize: wistfully melodic tales of yearning, full of nonsense-syllable hooks, vocal harmonies and chunky guitars. But the album also is a sly take on what it feels like to be productive while proudly in the rear guard of the era when rock dominated pop, looking back fondly and analytically to dense psychedelic studiocraft and ignoring an era of blunt spoken-word catchphrases and programmed, stripped-down, earbud-ready MP3 tracks.
“Pacific Daydream” lives up to the California implications of its title with direct echoes of Beach Boys sounds: not only a lot of the “gorgeous four-part harmony’” cited in the lyrics of “Beach Boys” but also the bass tone and clip-clop percussion in “QB Blitz,” the organ chords of “La Mancha Screwjob,” the modified girl-group beat of “Sweet Mary” and the buoyant choruses and countermelodies of songs like “Weekend Woman.”
But the Beach Boys are by no means Weezer’s only source; the album holds allusions to all sorts of 1960s and 1970s memories (the Zombies, George Harrison, Todd Rundgren) alongside bits like the sped-up vocal samples that Kanye West once favored. So “Pacific Daydream” is not exactly a throwback. Unlike last year’s “Weezer (The White Album),” it doesn’t cling to the illusion of a feedback-laced live rock band.
With Butch Walker (Pink, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift) as producer, Weezer has meshed its fondness for bygone pop eras with the digital arsenal available now. That includes samples and loops, suddenly transformed arrangements and a mix of live and probably programmed beats; the tracks make instant transitions between the physical and the virtual.
Weezer has been always conservative about form and wily about delivery, finding its place on the periphery. From its beginnings in the 1990s, Weezer made itself a band for the left-out and the uncool, the geeky guys who ended up noodling on a guitar instead of getting the dream girl. “QB Blitz” still empathizes with high-school ostracism; “I can’t get anyone to do algebra with me,” Cuomo sings, apparently basing his character on a Matt Christopher book.
Weezer’s musical inclinations were well suited to the 1990s, when the band emerged. With its thick-toned, distorted guitar riffs — equal parts metal and punk — it was easy to hear Weezer as a band at the pop end of grunge. And while Cuomo’s lyrics were less dramatically tormented than those of Nirvana or Soundgarden, they were just as antiheroic. But Weezer’s fortunes weren’t tied to the rise and dissipation of grunge. Cuomo has persevered, toying with sincerity and distance, even collaborating — sardonically or with commercial calculation — with rappers (Lil Wayne) and radio pop professionals on “Raditude” in 2009.
“Pacific Daydream” is both exuberant and plaintive; it’s full of songs about past joys and present loneliness, recalling friends and lovers who are no longer part of the singer’s life. “Feels Like Summer” mourns the death of his “June bride” who’s now “home with the angels,” while “Sweet Mary” extols a female spirit who perpetually rescues him: “When I am all on my own/One foot is in the grave,” Cuomo sings. In “Get Right,” he’s alone, “Thinking ‘bout the things that could’ve been” and wondering, “Why won’t you tell me/It’s over, it’s over.” But there’s a whole pop apparatus around him — a tambourine shaking, a firm beat, happy backup voices — to insist that Weezer’s kind of music is far from extinct.
‘Pacific Daydream’ by Weezer, Crush Music/Atlantic Records.