Weezer – Weezer (Black Album)

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)