Weezer’s ‘Black Album’ is an Underwhelming Attempt to Sound Fresh

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Crush Music/Atlantic Records

Last summer, I left a Weezer show early because not only was it the absolute worst concert I’ve 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 dreaming of owning a motorcycle.” A show mostly comprised of a bunch of middle-aged men basically 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. And sadly, I’d rather listen to that “cover” than the majority of the songs on their latest LP, the highly anticipated ‘Black Album.’ But what’s most disappointing here is that I actually listened to this rubbish critically, for several hours.

Photo by: Sean Murphy

Typically, these color albums are a good sign, especially since 2016’s ‘White Album’ was a “return to form” effort and one of their best releases in years. 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 ‘Pacific Daydream’ which is by far the worst album they’ve ever released, with 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. Let’s just say Weezer’s ‘Black Album’ is little more than a depressing expression of Rivers Cuomo’s midlife crisis.

Like I’ve already pointed out, the majority of these songs sound really uninspired, but at least the first couple songs aren’t so bad. The Black Album opens with a grooving punch to the gut with its 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 songs Weezer has put out in a long time. Even though the style is new here, which is something Weezer hasn’t been succeeding with lately, it feels like one of their catchy ’90s alt rock anthems. With its funky guitar hooks, samples, Klezmer-esque melodies, driving bassline and Spanish chorus that will sound fresh for years, one of the worst albums of the year include one of the best openings of the year as well.

“Zombie Bastards” is close to awful 2000s white guy folk, blending stale elements of reggae that’s filled with uninspiring lyrics — it’s basically a left over track from ‘Pacific Daydream.’ And it’s almost like if Green Day recorded another 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 their 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 especially 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 cheap bible school commercial with a bunch of happy old men singing. The next track, “I’m Just Being Honest,” is basically a self-reflection on Weezer’s music in the past two decades, even if its more tolerable than this, but it could also serve as a mockery to us die hard fans of the first two albums. However, the lyrics mostly suggest it’s 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’ if it wasn’t as lo-fi.  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 makes the song. 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 himselfsinging 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 always manages to record a catchy chorus. “California Snow” could be mocking trap rap, sort of like Beck’s “Wow,” but it’s hard to say when it comes to Weezer.

So what’s 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” or “loves” ‘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 it seems like they’re actually trying now and its really bad. How can these younger listeners associate their recent album of covers with the distressing power pop cult classic ‘Pinkerton’? Or even the ‘White Album,’ a resurrection to what Weezer what does best.

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Crush Music/Atlantic Records and NBC

Those albums from the ’90s are for the awkward agitated outcasts of society. I mean, if you look at the year the ‘The Blue Album’ was released, their music clearly stood out in popularity amongst other ’90s acts and was greatly admired. Garage geek rock and especially the resurgence of 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’-era, but the band has become one of the most unreliable and inconsistent rock bands of all time — which has become their legacy at this point.

‘The Black Album’ continues this trend, but now it’s more obvious. Weezer was a great run in the early and mid-2010s, but their latest dive into millennial pop cliches feel impersonal and underwhelming. 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. However, trolling is a phase; this is a midlife crisis.

3.5/10

Highlights — “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” “Byzantine,” “The Prince Who Wanted Everything” and “High As A Kite”

Listen to Weezer’s ‘Black Album’ below.


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