Sound — 8
A lot of the buzz around Weezer's latest release has focused on the return to the old-school sound of the "Blue Album" and "Pinkerton." However, the sound is certainly much closer to 2002's "Maladroit," which I feel does stand alongside the first two albums as Weezer's best.
The guitars are crunchy and distorted, the drums are pounding and Scott Shriner's excellent bass work really drives a lot of the songs. "Back to the Shack" is a pretty accurate description of the direction Weezer have gone in here; there's nothing new to the sound necessarily, simply less of the additional stuff that had a detrimental effect on some of their most recent work.
"Go Away" and "Da Vinci" do remind us that Weezer have not altogether recovered from what might be called their "detour," the pop sensibilities are very much intact, just not to the same sickening extent as "Raditude."
Indeed, the hooks throughout the album are extremely tight, making each effort memorable, but they are rock songs at the core. The aforementioned "Da Vinci" features a bit of whistling, while "The British Are Coming" includes a really cool acoustic guitar intro reminiscent of "Bends"-era Radiohead. As well as numerous tempo changes being present throughout, "Cleopatra" actually switches up the time signatures too, with a chorus in 5/4. These little touches keep the album from becoming at all stale.
In terms of the guitar work, "The British Are Coming" features, in my opinion, the best Weezer solo since "Buddy Holly." Guitar solos and often guitar duelling are littered throughout the album, particularly in the later stages with "The Futurescope Trilogy" allowing Rivers Cuomo and Brian Bell to really showcase their skills.
Lyrics — 7
Much will be made of the lyrics of lead single "Back to the Shack," in which Rivers apologises (presumably to both his bandmates and long-term fans) for forgetting that "disco sucks." From any other band, this would surely seem disingenuous, but if there's one thing that made us fall in love with Weezer all that time ago, it was that earnest feeling which has stayed with them across the decades.
The fact that Weezer have been going for twenty years now is clearly not lost on Rivers, epitomised in the excellent "Eulogy for a Rock Band" - I'm not sure which band this is addressed to, but one gets the feeling it is how Weezer would like to be remembered.
Other lyrical themes include Rivers' disappointment with the music industry; "I've Had it Up to Here" isn't too difficult to decipher, whilst "Cleopatra" is a little more veiled and as such, packs more punch.
Loyal listeners will also be surprised to hear Rivers' more optimistic take on his relationship with his father in "Foolish Father" - for so long a villain in the story of Weezer, he now seems to have earned a degree of forgiveness.
Otherwise, the lyrics are pretty straightforward; Rivers yearns for love, gets knocked back, moans about it for a bit... This isn't necessarily a bad thing - I actually think "Da Vinci" is one of the finest lyrical efforts here.
Overall Impression — 8
This album would have made a great sequel to "Maladroit," and as such, feels perhaps 10 years too late. Though the intervening albums have had their moments, this is certainly Weezer's best effort in a long time, and is hopefully the start of a career revitalization. It's difficult to pick standout songs from the album; I don't feel that any of them can be called classics just yet. But, as a body of work, this is a really strong, nuanced record that deserves the hype it's been getting. It's not "Pinkerton" or "Maladroit," but it's close enough.