Marked by its careful commitment to craft, Pacific Daydream is of a piece with every Weezer album this side of Pinkerton. That album’s raw emotions and ragged sound made it a cult classic only in subsequent years, and since then the band has dared to adventure outside of their comfort zone only sporadically, instead focusing on honing their gifts for tight hooks and loud, metallic guitars. They’ve developed a rich catalogue of pop songs, so it’s easy to overlook the fact that each Weezer album has its own distinct character and personality—a variation on a theme, perhaps, but a noticeable one.
Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo has likened Pacific Daydream to a summer evening party hosted by the Beach Boys and the Clash, an esoteric description that turns out to be only half accurate: Yes, sunny harmonies and simple, beach-ready melodies abound throughout the album, but the closest resemblance to the Clash here is in the brief reggae riffing that opens “Weekend Woman.” (Ironically, a song titled “Beach Boys” is one of the few tracks without Pet Sounds-esque chamber-pop flourishes.)
The buried lede is that Pacific Daydream is Weezer’s quiet-and-intimate album—or at least the closest they’ve come to one. It opens with a bang, with three serviceable but undistinguished rockers before settling into a more low-key groove; the album’s remaining seven tracks aren’t ballads per se, but they’re all low-key, breezy, largely acoustic, and absent the band’s typically supercharged riffs. It’s such a refreshing change of pace that it almost makes the more typical opening trifecta feel perfunctory.
Once the more subdued material starts, it’s easy to appreciate Cuomo’s craft from a new angle. These songs demonstrate the precise flourishes that have always marked his music but often go unheralded: his ease with nimble, catchy hooks; the effortlessness with which his songs build momentum; his ear for harmonies, which does indeed owe a debt to his beloved Beach Boys. But to call this Weezer’s singer-songwriter album would be an overstatement. That’s not because Pinkerton already carries that distinction, but because there are so many details in this album’s productions—which are lush to the point of recalling Phil Spector—that it all feels very much like the work of many collaborators, not merely a glorified Cuomo solo effort.
For all the ways in which the album’s chill vibe reflects Cuomo’s best qualities, it also highlights some of his shortcomings. He doesn’t have a wide vocal range, and several of these songs—“Weekend Woman” and “Happy Hour,” in particular—find him straining, sounding beyond his years. His oddball pop-culture references and fondness for clichés can be charming amid wailing electric guitars, but taking center stage, they too often fall flat. From its first line, “Happy Hour” is cumbersome with mentions of Monty Python and Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Cuomo sounds like a curmudgeon when he laments living in “a hip-hop world,” as he does on “Beach Boys.” Pacific Daydream is most effective when Cuomo fades into the dusky, melancholy ambiance.