Weezer's 'The Black Album' fails to revamp their style

By KIM BONGARD
On March 6, 2019

Photo courtesy of Steve Rose, Flickr

Weezer’s underwhelming transition from alternative to pop disappointed both fans and critics for nearly a decade. It was not until this year when the genre-wavering band conquered pop territory for the first time with their cover of “Africa” by Toto.

The three-minute throwback shot to No. 1 on Billboard’s Radio Airplay chart, giving Weezer its first top 40 score since 2005. Desperate for a hit-making formula, the band decided to ride the success of the cover song craze by releasing an album of only cover songs last month. With this rekindled relevance, the band has been hyping and promoting their long-promised “Black Album” since 2016.

The “Black Album” has been so hyped that Weezer’s 2017 studio release, “Pacific Daydream,” was composed of songs that weren’t “dark enough” for their new release. With this criterion in mind, “The Black Album,” was imagined to be a renaissance of dark, distorted “Pinkerton”-era Weezer, but unfortunately for longtime fans, the newly unveiled “Black Album” is closer to false advertising than anything else.

The most conflicting aspect of this album is that lead singer Rivers Cuomo thought it sounded starkly different from the cuts off “Pacific Daydream,” when, in reality, the two albums could not be more similar in their bland production and formulaic song structures.

Songs such as “Living in L.A.” and “Byzantine” feature high-pitched, intelligible “woos” which were noticeably lifted from forgettable pop songs by Foster the People and Coldplay. Meanwhile, “California Snow” drowns in half-baked EDM experimentation, proving that Weezer cannot pivot genres as well as they thought.

While some of Cuomo’s lyrics may not make any sense, they’re packed with just enough cultural references to make certain songs humorous. With a career spanning more than 25 years, Weezer has a substantial age gap dividing their fanbase, and Cuomo’s playful lyrics tend to reflect that as well, especially with lines like, “Stay up reading Mary Poppins / Overwhelmed by Netflix options.”

However, as a 48-year-old songwriter writing music for a genre that’s largely consumed by teenagers, sometimes Cuomo’s songs try too hard to appeal to Generation Z. Just by skimming the titles of certain songs, like “Can’t Knock the Hustle” or “Zombie Bastards,” many of these songs appear to be phoned in for the sake of connecting to a generation Cuomo cannot relate to.

Very few songs on this album succeed on all fronts musically and lyrically, with the exception of “The Prince Who Wanted Everything” which is a hybrid of what Weezer does best — offer a simple narrative aided by harmonies with some guitar feedback closing the song. Unsurprisingly, Cuomo wrote this song with Brian Bell, another original member of the band. For whatever reason, “The Prince” is Bell’s only songwriting credit on this album which is one more than he had on their previous album.

Thirteen albums later, Weezer’s humility warrants a pass for albums like these, as the band knows well they are not reinventing the wheel each time they visit the studio. Putting their inconsistent style aside, they’re still a wholesome band that values creative control above commercial success and embody more rock ‘n’ roll mantras of “we do what we want” than some contemporary top 40 rock bands ever will.

During an interview on Zane Lowe’s radio show “Beats 1,” Cuomo revealed that the band avoids working with producers who intend to revive the alternative sound they had in the 90s. Interesting enough, Weezer will proudly release a whole album of covers to revisit a decade of music, but when it comes to revamping their own style, they feel as though they’ve “been there” and “done that.”

kbongard@ramapo.edu

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