Weezer has had a strange 12 months.
An internet campaign trying to get them to cover Toto’s “Africa” in May 2018 gave them their biggest hit in over a decade, and the band followed that success with an ’80s-inspired cover album featuring “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Take On Me.”
Looming above all of this was their often-teased “The Black Album,” which was finally released on March 1. The album had been hinted at since 2016 and was originally supposed to be the band’s follow up to the excellent “The White Album” instead of the lackluster “Pacific Daydream.”
With all of the anticipation coming from Weezer’s thrust back to relevancy with “Africa,” could Rivers Cuomo and company create another all-time classic record like “The Blue Album” or “Pinkerton”?
“The Black Album” is an uneven and confusing mess that is captivating and entertaining at the same time. In the midst of some of Weezer’s dumbest and strangest songs, there are some genuinely great moments.
The opening track, “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” is one of those moments. The song’s energetic and punchy bass line, courtesy of Scott Shriner, combined with its quicker tempo blends perfectly with the song’s theme of hard work.
While it is a bit strange to hear Cuomo swear while singing, it works well in this song. Cuomo’s vocal delivery is not too over-the-top, and it’s amplified by the excellent choir-style vocals in the background. From just the first song, the album might be a strong effort for the veteran band.
That notion comes crashing to the ground on the next track, “Zombie Bastards.” It’s slow and boring. Nothing about the instrumental works, the acoustic guitar is too clean, the drum machine is generic and slow and the glitchy keyboards are obnoxious.
What’s even worse is that the song makes no sense lyrically. There’s no strong narrative, and lines like “I don't know karate or kung fu / but I'm gonna make it in this world” are just flat-out dumb. This is a big problem throughout all of “The Black Album.” Cuomo has completely given up on trying to tell any semblance of a story through his songs.
“The Black Album” sounds like Cuomo’s Twitter feed coming to life — kind of funny but mostly confusing and irritating.
Even songs like “Living In L.A.,” which has great production and a fun, summery sound, are completely derailed by Cuomo’s lyrics. The song goes from “talking ’bout this girl I like” to spaceships and fights. Looking up the lyrics did not help in trying to understand what Cuomo is trying to convey, if anything.
Other songs like “Piece of Cake” and “Too Many Thoughts in My Head” fall into similar traps, although they don’t have strong instrumentals or good production to pick up the slack like “Living In L.A.” does.
“Byzantine,” co-written by Against Me! singer Laura Jane Grace, is a weird lounge-style track that almost sounds like a forgotten Smash Mouth B-side. It’s saved by Cuomo’s almost sickly sweet melody. It’s one of those classic Weezer hooks that instantly gets lodged into a listener’s brain. The lyrics are, again, quite dumb, but Cuomo’s vocal delivery makes the lyrics irrelevant, and it’s easy to get lost in the melody.
As in “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” Cuomo’s potty mouth is kind of distracting throughout the album. Cuomo doesn’t swear much on most Weezer songs, so in tracks like “Byzantine” and “Too Many Thoughts In My Head,” it’s quite jarring to hear Cuomo try to use expletives like a 10-year-old who just learned what those words mean.
“High as a Kite” might be the only song that makes any of sort of sense lyrically. It’s a simple story of Cuomo escaping the problems of his life through drug use. As an added bonus, the song actually sounds great, too.
Its sweet and saccharine melody makes the verses relaxing and soothing, while the chorus is filled with the fuzz-filled guitars Weezer is best known for. It’s the only song on “The Black Album” that makes the piano-based approach work. It’s not pandering or trying to be something Weezer isn’t good at. It feels like a natural evolution of a band successfully adding new quirks into the sound that broke them.
The closing track “California Snow” is the exact opposite.
The song opens with an effect that can only be described as what a broken Sega Genesis would sound like through the TV. Cuomo also sings what might be the corniest lines of his entire career. Cuomo raps, “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,” with a delivery so stiff it feels like your 13-year-old cousin trying to be a SoundCloud rapper.
If “California Snow” is the definition of flow, flow must not exist at all.
“The Black Album” is lyrically asinine and strikes out more than it makes contact instrumentally. It’s a weird album for a weird point in the band’s career when it’s not entirely clear if the band will be relevant in five years. However, there are still songs on the record that might be Weezer classics and are certainly better than anything on “Pacific Daydream.” Those few moments of greatness might keep listeners coming back, even if it’s surrounded by nonsense.