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California Kids

On paper, “California Kids” holds one of the stranger positions in Weezer’s discography. It’s both the opener and weakest song of 2016’s remarkable return to form, The White Album. It’s the one song I’d maybe want to replace, and yet it’s the lynchpin of the album’s central conceit – a beach-combing, day-and-night exploration of present day Los Angeles. In fact, demoing “California Kids” at producer Jake Sinclair’s home studio is how he and Rivers Cuomo warmed to the idea of making an album-length update of the young Brian Wilson’s iconic West Coast sound (apparently new management Crush Music’s suggestion)…but it was originally released as a single by the Japanese-language side project Scott & Rivers in 2014. Weezer’s eventual White Album arrangement would redact most of the Japanese take’s harmonies (sung by the song’s co-writer, Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson), which, if retained, would have been made for the most Beach Boys-esque moment on Weezer’s most consciously Beach Boys-inspired album.

Musically, it’s a bit less interesting. Like “Do You Wanna Get High?,” one issue is the on-the-nose fan service elements that strain to remind the listener of brighter times, like the “Pink Triangle” glockenspiel that opens the song and the later reference to old friends “back in Boston…never forgot[ten]” (a plausible nod to Pinkerton‘s conception). But like “Do You Wanna Get High?,” these self-conscious moments are still pretty effective from a songwriting perspective. Arguably worse, then, is the way the chugging, almost mall-punk chorus cloys – “The California kids will throw you a lifeline… / The California kids will show you the sunshine” – but it’s served up with just enough goodwill and gusto to get over. It also helps to know that, as Cuomo explained in a recent interview, the lyric originally came from his realization that despite his own typical East Coast upbringing, his two children are very much West Coasters in fact and personality. One might recall here how the chorus of Raditudes rancid “I’m Your Daddy” came from similar origins (Cuomo holding and reassuring his infant daughter during a trying time), and the rest of that song’s lyrics came from the same desire to broaden its accessibility for a general audience. So maybe it’s no coincidence that while “California Kids” would stand out for its relative merits on dog days albums like Rad and Hurley, it would fit much better on those records than on any other (whereas most of White seems to belong to a different world altogether).

In another sense, “California Kids” is most comparable to The Green Album‘s “Don’t Let Go,” as a statement of purpose that both introduces and undersells a great record. And like “Don’t Let Go,” I never want to hear “California Kids,” but in the context of its album I’m always a little surprised by how decent it actually is. That doesn’t quite excuse “Kids” from being the only White song that’s a bit undercooked, and it’s not hard to imagine it how much it could have improved with a little extra time and a lucky idea or two.

8 Comments

  1. allpwrtoslaves wrote:

    Miss ya soy.

    I agree, this is IMO, one of the most skippable songs on the album. It’s okay I guess, and you are right in that it does help establish the whole california vibe the album strives for, so it has its place. That said, this is one of those songs where if it were never played live I wouldn’t care. It comes off an album with way better songs.

    I never listened to the Scott and Rivers version more than once, but neither of them really stuck out to me in any meaningful way. The fact that most of the song was lifted from there probably explains why musically it feels lacking, almost uninspired.

    Things that I like?:
    When this song is over I get to listen to “Wind in Our Sails” which is asdkjfhlasda gush.

    Saturday, May 14, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink
  2. 54 wrote:

    Thanks for maintaining this blog. I enjoy it so much I actually converted everything up to the O Girlfriend post into one big ebook to read it in bed on my Kindle. Time to add this post in as well.

    Saturday, May 14, 2016 at 5:04 pm | Permalink
  3. Adroit wrote:

    The verses are a little undercooked, but I find the chorus to be fantastic, full of energy and spirit.

    Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 1:30 am | Permalink
  4. HokieWeez wrote:

    While I agree that this song is the weak link on a strong album, I still find that chorus popping up in my head with some frequency. It’ grown on me a lot.

    No matter how lost he’s gotten with lyrics, production, or even the music itself, one thing Rivers has never really struggled with is crafting a catchy hook.

    Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 8:08 am | Permalink
  5. Jesus A wrote:

    I was wondering if you are going to cover some EWBAITE songs, as well? Really like to hear your input on that record

    Tuesday, May 17, 2016 at 12:39 am | Permalink
  6. bitterandalone wrote:

    I really like the “ooooh” backing vocals in the chorus. I like to think that it is like the sound of a sinking ship’s alarm.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2016 at 8:34 am | Permalink
  7. sugarcubes wrote:

    I played the White album in the car with my mom, and this was the only song she liked.

    But I love it.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2016 at 10:37 pm | Permalink
  8. arfentul wrote:

    Because I can never limit myself to one thought:

    1. I took the “Back in Boston…” line at face value referencing the life he had in New England before coming to LA. Perhaps it’s just that “Hartford” (or whatever) doesn’t have the same ring as “Boston”.

    2. Somewhat echoing allpwrtoslaves’s comment, I connect this song to “Wind in our Sails” in my mind; I think they actually make a decent one-two punch, though the latter is the superior song.

    3. I’m surprised to hear you single out this song as undercooked and not mention “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori”. I find it equally bland but I feel it even fails as a positional song in the record, as opposed to how you consider CK a decent opener. (If you do ever review SEaDD, I am assuming you know about the Song Exploder episode where Cuomo describes writing it in detail).

    Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

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