By Joseph Massaro:
Last summer, I left a Weezer show early because not only was it the absolute worst concert I have ever been to, but I thought to myself, if I wanted to see a middle-aged man have a midlife crisis, I could just go home and see my dad. A show mostly comprised of a bunch of middle-aged men doing karaoke with stage props and half the setlist only filled with original material is embarrassing. But for some reason, Gen X dads who want to feel young again and emo white kids who flip shit over Weezer’s “cover” of Toto’s “Africa” seem to enjoy it. And yes, I put quotation marks around the word “cover” because it basically sounds like the original, which contrasts the intentions of what makes a cover enjoyable and special.
Typically, these color albums are a good sign, especially since The White Album in 2016 was a “return to form” effort, but sadly, that’s not the case here. The Black Album is a poorly marketed album that doesn’t try at all to capture the style from their past self-titled, color-coded albums. Instead it returns to where they left off from the forgotten and unexciting past album, Pacific Daydream—which is by far their worst album due to its lackluster and colorless approach. Even with TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek serving as producer, Weezer again, is lacking consistency and it seems like with this uneven, skippable tracklist, they are still trying to figure themselves out. Weezer’s Black Album is little more than a depressing expression of Rivers Cuomo’s midlife crisis.
The Black Album opens with a grooving punch to the gut with the smooth lead single, “Can’t Knock the Hustle.” Not only is it the best track on the new album, but it’s one of the finest Weezer songs released in a long time. Even though the style is new here, which is something Weezer hasn’t been succeeding with lately, it feels like a catchy classic 90s alternative rock anthem with its funky guitar hooks and samples, Klezmer-esque melodies, driving bassline and Spanish chorus that will sound fresh for years.
“Zombie Bastards” is close to awful 2000s white guy folk music blended with elements of reggae and filled with uninspiring lyrics—holy shit, it’s Pacific Daydream all over again. It’s almost like if Green Day recorded a cliché protest song criticizing the far-right. The only good thing about this song is its polished transition into the next because you know its about to end. Things cool down with the McCartney key-driven track “High As A Kite.” It’s Weezer at their most refined and authentic state, blending elements of art pop and synth-pop.
“Living in L.A.” sounds like a bad upbeat experimental pop cut from the last Beck record with a belligerent vocal approach from Cuomo that doesn’t fit. However, when you get rid of the overproduction of this track, it doesn’t sound that bad—watch this performance of it on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. The electronic contemporary pop-friendly style and reverb is clearly present on The Black Album, but Weezer struggles with the balance of sound and songwriting, which is evident on “Piece of Cake.” It really makes me wonder if Cuomo even gives a shit about his songwriting anymore. Lyrics like “She cut me like a piece of cake / hope can drive a man insane / she ate me up” are pathetically pesky and are poor lines for a chorus. No shit, it’s lyrically dark and metaphorical, but this song is so watered down and Cuomo’s high octaves aren’t at all appealing. And the “Do-do-do-do-do-do-do,” hook is like a bible school commercial with a bunch of happy old men. The next track, “I’m Just Being Honest,” is basically a self-reflection on Weezer’s music in the past two decades, which could also serve as a mockery to us die hard fans of their earlier material. However, the lyrics mostly suggest its about Cuomo critiquing an unnamed, up-and-coming band whose music “sounds like shit.” It’s also a bad take on a Strokes song, especially rhythmically. But at least it mixes the old and new styles of Weezer together, which is harmoniously alluring.
“Too Many Thoughts In My Head” shows the quirkiness and openness in Cuomo’s songwriting on albums such as Pinkerton and The Red Album—”Fuel up, bitch, there’s no more slackin’ / Moses looks upon the promised land / I’m so high on cookies it’s insane.” This track is intensified by its fast-paced spiraling drums and choppy angular guitar leads that underlay a soaring distorted synth line. The bouncy “The Prince Who Wanted Everything” is filled with typical nostalgic clap-beat leads and a bridge that evokes classic Weezer. “Byzantine,” co-written by Against Me! singer Laura Jane Grace, is more of a genuine and exotic orchestrated psychedelic pop number that sounds like something the Beach Boys would’ve recorded on their 1968 album, Friends. It’s filled with a warm narrative—with lines such as “No more lectures on fidelity / I don’t believe in mysticism / only in what science proves / like the sex appeal of your sick dance moves” in the opening verse. And even though it’s moved by a sparkling flute and a synth beat, the assertive sitar solo during the bridge steals the show. This would’ve served as an appropriate track to close the album, but of course Cuomo had to feature another song where he makes a fool of himself—singing about California and cocaine. “California Snow” opens with the lyrics “Walk soft with a big stick, woo / when I play guitar, it’s sick, woo / this is the definition of flow, woo / nobody cold as this, woo.” As cringeworthy and disastrous the songwriting is on “California Snow” along with the “Sicko Mode”-esque drums, at least Cuomo manages to record a catchy chorus. “California Snow” could be mocking trap rap, but it’s hard to say when it comes to Weezer. As bold as Cuomo is, this was a very bad idea.
So what is up with Weezer trying to sound cool all of a sudden? I mean come on—the band poorly marketing themselves to teens after debuting an island in Fortnite and of course recording The Teal Album—a covers album made up of songs that are overplayed and marketable to every teenager going through a “classic rock phase” and enjoys watching Stranger Things is an humiliating attempt to stay relevant. However, somehow they are succeeding at it. Their cover of “Africa” was their first number-one single since “Pork and Beans” in 2008. Sure Weezer has always been about gimmicks, but they never sounded cool and they’re not supposed to. How can these younger listeners associate their recent album of covers with the cult-loved distressing Pinkerton?
Those albums from the ’90s are for the awkward agitated outcasts of society. I mean, if you look at the year their self-titled debut, aka The Blue Album, was released, their music style clearly stood out in popularity amongst other ’90s acts and was greatly admired. Garage geek rock and especially power pop were not at all appealing to the mainstream in 1994—a year mostly dominated by grunge and Britpop acts. Weezer rejected all of this and managed to release one of the best debuts and albums of the nineties. However, in the past two years, it’s like the band is desperately trying to stay relevant with a more cleaner, but aimless sound that separates themselves from their trademark style. You can say Weezer has always been shifting in different directions and trying to keep up with the times, especially post-Pinkerton-Weezer, but the band has become one of the most unreliable and inconsistent rock bands of all time. The Black Album continues this trend, but now it’s more obvious. Weezer doesn’t sound a bit original on their new album, except on two tracks (“Can’t Knock the Hustle” and “The Prince Who Wanted Everything”) and it seems like their music is really just appealing to the mass public. Who knows, maybe Cuomo is just trolling us and I am just another critic falling for the bait.
Classic Tracks – “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” “Byzantine,” “The Prince Who Wanted Everything” and “High As A Kite”
Ehh – “Piece Of Cake,” “California Snow,” “Zombie Bastards” and “Living in L.A.”
Listen to Weezer’s Black Album below.