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Weezer – Weezer (Black Album)

Weezer (Black Album) is a pretty crap record. Don’t get mad at us, we’re just being honest.

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It is a sad indictment of a band that you approach their music with the kind of trepidation you reserve for one of those zany Japanese game shows. You have no idea if opening the door means you end up in a place of happiness, or naked and humiliated in the snow, or punched in the face by a giant wrecking ball. But here we are with Weezer, their fifth album in as many years (6! if you count that horrid covers album they released less than two months(!) ago) and so many forgettable songs that you have a hard time remembering a moment, any moment, that stands up in the last decade. It felt like just yesterday that the first few songs from Pacific Daydream had shown promise. Now you’re telling us that was two years and three releases ago?

Almost ten years ago we lamented that we hadn’t heard a great Weezer song for some time. And while it was a longer wait between the Blue Album and Hurley as it is from Hurley to today, it certainly FEELS like it has been forever. Rivers is prolific, no doubt, and on the occasion he manages to pull an old trick out of the well worn hat, you are shocked into a state of disbelief that yes, at one time, everything the man touched turned to gold.

Not yet long enough to get the terrible cacophony of the Teal Album out of our ears, Weezer has released the Black Album. It’s 10 more songs that will mostly test your patience but in a surprising twist, there are some actual moments on the album that thankfully, don’t make you want to rip your ears off the side of your head. Let’s talk about those because it’s nice to think that Rivers can still write a few great songs. “High As A Kite” serves as the album’s highlight; its piano-laden composition and fuzzed out chorus is the closest the album gets to anything on the Blue Album. Yes, the video is nice, but its the song that’s the throwback to Cuomo at his best. In “I’m Just Being Honest”, the band channel sparkling pop nuances to bring to life someone in a band handing Rivers their demo on the way to a show. Rivers listens to half it, realizes its pretty crap (“your band sounds like shit”), and the song swells in a rather joyous and humorous hooky pop song that culminates in its succinct honesty; “don’t get mad at me, I’m just being honest”. “The Prince Who Wanted Everything” is a nice trek to toe-tapping, finger-snapping 60s pop. It’s a good balance between light-hearted songwriting and the kind of musical experimentation (baroque pop in this instance) that Weezer have a fondness for.

Why can’t there be more of this and less of everything else?

Who knows, actually, Rivers does, but he hasn’t told us why for the better part of 20 years.

The opener “Can’t Knock The Hustle” is meant to the over-the-top cheek. Yet its groove driven, jazzy atmosphere is burdened by the “hey kids I’m cool” lyrical waxing (“leave a five star review, and I’ll leave you one too”). It just tries too hard. “Zombie Bastards” is held back by the opposite. Its Zombie-themed musings are quite fantastic, but the song, sounding like Jack Johnson just found out his guitar plugs in, is just no good. “Living In LA” sounds like a less crap Maroon 5, so it has that going for it. “Too Many Thoughts In My Head” is the kind of song you forget you’re listening to halfway through it’s that bland. You spend most of the avant-pop “Byzantine” skipping ahead before realizing the song is over, while the closing “California Snow” is only just OK. Faux hip hop over its EDM-inspired sounds is unfortunately as 2019 Weezer as it gets.

When you look back at the last 15 years of Weezer you see that amongst it all, there are enough songs that remind you that Rivers Cuomo is indeed a talented songwriter. Unfortunately it seems that he’s often bogged down by what one can only imagine are record label deadlines, songwriter insecurities and the constant need to be releasing stuff. It’s a shame because you can pick 10 songs from this time that would have made a pretty great follow-up to Maladroit. But here we are. The Black Album sounds like the record someone hands to you at a show before you’re about to go on, and so you politely say, “sure I’ll have a listen”. I listened to it, but halfway through it I had to quit, sorry Rivers, your band sounds like shit. Don’t get mad at me, I’m just being honest.

(Atlantic Records)

Reviews

Alice Cooper – Breadcrumbs EP

Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper

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Alice Cooper Breadcrumbs

For a large number of Alice Cooper fans who didn’t experience everyone’s favorite snake-adorned shock rocker at the height of his powers through the ’70s, most probably were introduced to Cooper through 1989’s hair-metal infused generational breakout album Trash. That was at least, my introduction to Vincent Furnier, at the age of 9 years old, seeking for something to satiate my love of hair metal and shock rock. Trash was everything Bon Jovi’s New Jersey was- big, radio-friendly- but had that added sense of danger and darkness that didn’t come with the pretty side of hair metal. However, as sure as songs like “House of Fire“, “Bed of Nails“, and the ubiquitous hit “Poison”, are still great today, long-time Alice Cooper fans know that Cooper is at his most enthralling is when he taps into his garage rock lineage, cut from the same mold that was paved by bands like the MC5.

So for those born in the early 80s like myself, the initial foray into the world of Alice Cooper meant that you had to work your way back into this long-running discography to find the rich, often timeless work Cooper is best known for. In 2019 Alice Cooper himself is working his way back on his latest EP, the aptly titled Breadcrumbs. The 6-song EP finds Cooper revisiting music and artists connected thematically by what ties them all together- the Motor City. This Detroit-centric EP features Alice Cooper’s take on songs by Suzi Quatro, The Dirtbombs, Motown soul singer Shorty Long, and of course, The MC5 (the EP also features guest guitar and vocal work from Wayne Kramer). Included in the mix are a reworked version of the 2003 Alice Cooper song “Detroit City” and one new cut, “Go Man Go”.

On his reworked “Detroit City”, the song is given a rawer makeover, sounding far less produced than the original. Gone are the orchestral overdubs with the song relying more on the loud bluesy guitars- perhaps the way it was meant to sound. Suzi Q’s “Your Mama Won’t Like Me” stays fairly faithful to the original, but Quatro’s vocal sneer is replaced with.. well, Alice Cooper’s vocal sneer. MC5’s “Sister Anne” is almost as great as the original 1971version, with the added benefit of today’s production qualities.

The EP’s one new track, “Go Man Go”, is very much Detroit, and very much Alice Cooper. It’s rock n’ roll roots are coated with a little bit of rockabilly, a little bit of garage, a lot of attitude. Like this EP, the track should be a precursor of Alice Cooper’s anticipated next album. The hope is that he continues this work of keeping things dirty rock n’ roll as the results are more often than not, pretty great.

Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper. Breadcrumbs is a noble effort meant to tease and build anticipation than satisfy your craving for all new Alice Cooper material. It’s done just that, hinting at what could be around the corner. On top of which it shows that there are few rock stars who will ever reach the status and longevity of everyone’s favorite rock n’ roll snake charmer.

(earMUSIC)

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Goo Goo Dolls – Miracle Pill

The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good

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Goo Goo Dolls Miracle Pill

One of the most remarkable things about the Goo Goo Dolls is their steadfast consistency amongst the ever-changing backdrop of popular music. Six years ago when they released Magnetic, I wrote that the band remained unchanged in the face of their supposed “waning popularity” in the eyes of pop culture and radio charts. It’s true that many of their contemporaries that made it big alongside them in the late 1990s are long gone, but for the Goos, they’ve quietly continued to be above everything else, themselves, just older, wiser, and continuingly more refined. Miracle Pill is their 12th studio album and is the natural progression from 2016’s Boxes. Like their previous release, Miracle Pill continues their musical evolution away from alternative rock to the more serene territory of adult contemporary. Sure, it may sound like a bad thing, but like everything the Goos have done over the past 25 years, it’s supremely confident and composed.

They may not write songs with the caustic bite like “Here Is Gone” anymore, but they have been finding comfort in the more introspective pop-strewn melodies found in songs like “Lights”. Similarly, in the new album’s lead single and title track, the Goos tap into bouncy, easy-to-digest pop empowerment. Songs like “Indestructible” show that the band haven’t put down their guitars just yet, constructing songs that are still fond of their alternative rock roots but have found comfort in grander, more expansive sounds.

The album’s best moments are when the Goo Goo Dolls unashamedly tug on the heartstrings like they’ve done so many times before. The quiet jangly nature of “Over You” does this particularly well, while the bigger, electronic-infused arena rock of “Lost” shows that this type of music is just done extremely poorly by bands like Imagine Dragons. “Autumn Leaves” is a throwback to the kind of songs found on Let Love In and Dizzy Up The Girl, sounding organic and wistful, while the closing of “Think It Over” is the kind of song they’ve been hinting at since Something For The Rest Of Us. It’s part quintessential Goos, but contemporary and timeless at the same time.

Credit to the Robby Takac songs of the album too- “Step In Line”, “Life’s a Message”- both some of the finest songs Takac has written. He is often cast in the shadow of John Rzeznik’s more recognizable sound, but on Miracle Pill, his work is the best its sounded since Dizzy.

The Ringer recently wrote a piece titled ‘The Goo Goo Dolls Were Never the Cool Kids, but They’re Still Standing’. I echoed these sentiments in that Magnetic review years ago, but if there was anything long time Goo Goo Dolls fans know is that the band were never concerned about popularity or being “cool”. The problem with being cool in music is that it fades. The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good. Not much has changed in that sense, and really, that’s much better than being cool.

(Warner Bros.)

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