Weezer's 'SZNZ: Spring' Is as Annoying as Renaissance Faire Cosplay
Published Mar 21, 2022There's something entertaining, even admirable, about the way Weezer leader Rivers Cuomo continues to follow his weirdest whims. The results are sometimes excellent (2021's orchestral OK Human), occasionally dreadful (the plastic pop of 2019's Black Album) and often somewhere in between (the faux hard rock of 2021's Van Weezer) — but no matter where Weezer land these days, listeners can usually count on them to take a big swing.
Their latest off-the-wall concept is SZNZ, a series of four EPs arriving on 2022's equinoxes and solstices, loosely inspired by Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. Why? Who knows! Why not, I guess.
Weezer have always sounded like an extremely summery band. Spring, on the other hand, is a slightly harder vibe to pin down, and Weezer give the season a pastoral, fantastical, pseudo-pagan interpretation. The band's medieval-style press photo looks like they wandered off the set of Lord of the Rings; Cuomo is wearing elf ears. He told NPR that he wrote the album while imagining himself in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, except that play is quite literally about "midsummer," so even Cuomo seems to be struggling to identify the feeling of spring.
The results careen awkwardly between the trad-folk of a Renaissance faire and Weezer's usual crunchy guitars. "Opening Night" is particularly bizarre, with mandolins, recorders and lyrics like "Shakespeare makes me happy / So happy." The song then abruptly pivots with chugging, distorted guitars that are classic Weezer. Has there every been a song with such an utterly abysmal verse and such a good chorus?
This wild unevenness is typical for Spring. The Renaissance cosplay schtick is grating, as if Weezer learned everything they know about folk music from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but they sound fantastic when they're just being themselves. Jake Sinclair, who produced the band's post-millennium high water marks White Album and OK Human, is back as co-producer, and maybe it's thanks to him that "Angels on Vacation" could almost pass as vintage Weezer (or at least 2014–2016 Weezer). "The Garden of Eden" has clunky lyrics about Velcro shoes and Adam and Eve, but the grungy doo-wop tune is lovely, and Cuomo cleverly throws a little hip-hop cadence into his vocals.
Lead single "A Little Bit of Love" lands somewhere in the middle of Spring's two styles, its merry mandolins and stomping beat channeling the cheerful sound of a post-Mumford car commercial. There's even a very on-the-nose "hey-ho" bridge, just in case it didn't already sound enough like the Lumineers.
Spring's relentless optimism takes Weezer out of their sweet spot, since they've always excelled at injecting upbeat pop with bittersweet melancholy. Then again, the themes of rebirth and renewal feel appropriate for this moment in history; a couple of of the songs explicitly allude to COVID-era reopening, as "The Sound of Drums" includes a chorus of "It's good to see my old friends / Man, it's been so long," while "All This Love" finds Cuomo declaring, "I forgot how to live, how to love, how to give / How to sing with a mask on my mouth." These lines capture the idea of spring far better than silly mandolins or harpsichords.
Spring certainly isn't the worst Weezer album (don't worry, Pacific Daydream, that title still belongs to you!), but it's frustrating to hear them sabotaging their own songs in a futile attempt to capture the sound of a season. So far, SZNZ feels less like a lofty concept and more like silly gimmick. (Crush/Atlantic)