California, more specifically Los Angeles, is as much of a fictional land as it is a real location. From its history and massive economic importance to its reputation for being easy-going and season-less climate. As the inspiration for countless works of art, LA has grown to be a place of endless homage—a canonized celebration of self-expression that few get to experience for themselves. The dogma is consistently repackaged and resold—enter Weezer’s “Pacific Daydream.”
The album cover features a young girl on a swing, in space, against the massive curve of the Earth. The image is supposed to conjure ideas of being untethered, being truly free and forever young. Anthony Kiedis, singer of Red Hot Chili Peppers, once described California as the edge of the world and of Western civilization. Well, here’s your look from the edge. In order to contribute to an already healthy body of homage, you have to bring something entirely new. In that regard, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo fails. “Pacific Daydream” is a collection of small, kitschy anecdotes about love and living as a musician in California. All the romance that Cuomo tries to conjure comes off as heavy-handed, boring and uninspired.
For example, album opener “Mexican Fender,” tells the story of Cuomo meeting a girl at Truetone Music in Santa Monica, only to find out she has a boyfriend. Predictably, Cuomo laments in the chorus: “Oh she loves me, she loves me, she loves me not.” He never really makes it past the obstacle, as it were, of the boyfriend, and instead recounts the frequent hangouts with her on the beaches of California. The girl figure is described as “[coming out] to get her 10,000 steps” and “[having] a bachelor’s degree in physics and a job in computer programming,” which the speaker thinks “[is] pretty cool for a singer in a band.”
These stray observations are never really synthesized with enough conviction, even when Cuomo sings “I got a cozy pad around the corner / Slide a little closer.” Does Cuomo get the girl with the boyfriend? Do you even care? The subject matter is totally recycled, and its blandness betrays the massive, powerful chords that open the track. The sounds and feel of rock extravagance are never answered by the other reserved elements of the song. By the middle of the first track, you get the idea that the ambition of the album will exceed its capacities.
“Pacific Daydream” meanders after the opening, first into the empty “Beach Boys,” a clear nod to the massively influential group of the 50s and 60s. Despite its sleekness, the track is missing a strong, textured element of percussion that leaves it hollow. Cuomo and a guitar carry the body of the track until the chorus, where a small sprinkling of drums and cymbal are peppered in. Even when they’re playing they sound restrained, filtered through something that renders their texture flat and distant.
The next track, “Feels Like Summer,” is a full-on rip of a Twenty One Pilots hit, down to the sing-rapping, bursts of beats and drums, and drops into the chorus. It’s an out-of-body listening experience to hear an established band borrow from an upcoming artist—and to do it worse. “Feels Like Summer” lacks the same dimension than “Beach Boys” does, but the lyrics work better here than they do in “Mexican Fender.” Tyler Joseph could plausibly deliver the couplet “I’m spiritual, not religious / I’m a Libra, if it matters” from “Feels Like Summer.”
The major misstep of “Pacific Daydream” is the overproduction, which is most evident in the quality of Cuomo’s voice. Across the body of the album, he sings through the aural equivalent of an Instagram filter, rendering much of that endearing, whiny quality that characterizes the sound of Weezer’s best hits. On “Beach Boys,” the reverb is turned up high, and when it’s not, Cuomo’s voice sounds cold and bionic. On “QB Blitz,” the only track where Cuomo’s vocals aren’t completely sanitized, you get a much-needed taste of authenticity, which is strange considering Weezer has rarely hesitated to do so in the past. The earnest efforts on “Pacific Daydream” to turn Cuomo into a vocal pop-cyborg are futile—and rock-stud never fit Cuomo, either.
Even though much of the album is overly processed, “Pacific Daydream” is insanely euphonic. Cuomo has always had an ear for snappy, catchy riffs and hooks. As each track plays, the promising melodies devolve as the filtering is drawn out and the chunky, awkward verses lay on top. Much of the album is kitschy, which strangely works against the group’s established obliqueness. On “Happy Hour,” Cuomo opens with “I’m like Stevie Ray Vaughan on the stage, high on music” and eventually spits out “Maybe I’ll meet a scientist in sweatpants and a hair tie.” Cuomo is reaching for some irony here, going so far askew from the cliché lines in pop-rock songs, that he ends up coming back around defeated and out of his element.
In the levels of irony, too, the mission and personality of “Pacific Daydream” is lost. What exactly are Cuomo and company trying to pay a tribute to? Being a nerdy musician from California? You can be a nerdy musician anywhere (I would know). Cuomo loses touch with himself as the album lingers and ends on “Any Friend of Diane’s,” another weird track about love and music that ends with the death of Diane. In each song, Cuomo fails to attain the love of the woman he sings of, which leaves him looking needy and ineffectual. Even though the album is only thirty-four minutes long, it manages to seem like a lifetime of missed opportunities. Underneath the sheen of production, “Pacific Daydream” lacks the vitality and heart that a strong rock album should possess. Cuomo languishes in his vulnerability, instead of owning and exalting in his weaknesses like he did on “Beverly Hills” in 2005. He should have stopped then—“Beverly Hills” did the work of “Pacific Daydream” in three minutes.