Weezer and “The Black Album” Era

“…And you can write a blog about it” -Rivers Cuomo, 2018.

It feels like at least once or twice a year I get really inspired to write about my favorite band (the archives are here).  As I look back through my past writings, a few time tested themes emerge: the first two albums were great, there are at least two albums worth of gems that can be found in their work from 2001-present, and that there is a lot of cringy and not so great material in between the cracks. Weezer is a band that quickly captured my head and my heart back in the mid to late 90’s, and just like at the beginning of every starry eyed relationship I thought it was going to be smooth sailing from that point forward. I was wrong and instead I got the same thing with Weezer that I would get in any relationship: ups, downs, and everything in between. My relationship with this band is akin to having another partner in my life. We have days where we’re on the same page and days where we just have to be apart. This is the way of all things human.

I can understand these ups and downs. For the most part, I stay away from the downs and focus on the ups. While I don’t listen to 1994’s The Blue Album and 1996’s Pinkerton as much as I used to, they will forever hold a very special place in my life. They’re like family at this point. 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End and 2016’s White Album are modern gems. While they’re not the perfect package that was their first two albums, these two albums remind me of everything I love about the band: great songwriting, killer band performances, and an off kilter vibe to the solos, guitar parts, and melodies. Without these two albums I think my Weezer fandom these days would be completely non-existent. They were a reminder that Rivers Cuomo wasn’t just a two album wonderkid and that he indeed had great things to share with the world.

The point where I get extremely disconnected with Weezer these days is in Cuomo’s desire to constantly remain relevant in a pop/rock world. His lyrics, his songwriting choices, and most importantly his production decisions these days are full of elements that feel forced. He’s thumping on his chest, singing about how he’s still relevant in the music, over a bed of fake sounding wobbly synths, cliche samples, and boring hip hop beats. On 2017’s very forgettable track Beach Boys from the largely forgettable album Pacific Daydream, Cuomo says that “it’s a hip hop world and we’re the furniture.” This is the Cuomo that I want to hear, one that is making astute and authentic observations about his place in the world. Clearly the glory days of the mid to late 90’s of Weezer are behind them, but there’s still potential for the future. In this brief line, Cuomo seems to get it. 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End was album full of observations just like this: things have changed, but I’ll still continue to do what I do and be true to who I am. I just wish Cuomo would stop, breathe, and take a moment to listen to what he just said because he’s surely not doing that right now.

And this is the point where we come to Weezer’s latest era. Recently the band announced that their next album would be titled The Black Album, a long discussed but never materialized project that Cuomo said would be darker and have more urban themes (whatever that means). It’s always good for bands to experiment with their sound, and I was cautiously optimistic. Some of my favorite music (Neil Young’s Trans) comes from attitudes and eras like this. Sometimes you just have to say fuck it and try something new. But The Black Album era came and so far it has been a dud. The first song released that hinted towards this “dark” sound was California Snow, a song that went directly to the soundtrack for a movie that I’ll never see called Spell. Simply stated, the song is a gross mash up of blips, blops, Cuomo acting like he’s a mid 20’s mumble rapper, and largely forgettable lyrics. After just one listen, it quickly joined the group of Weezer songs that I hope to never hear again. 

This is very terrible.

Our next glimpse into The Black Album came with the first proper song from the album Can’t Knock The Hustle. Once again, Cuomo steps up to the plate to deliver a forced and fake chest thumping performance where he seems to be assuming the persona of some kind of gangster. A gangster he is not, as you can clearly hear in his performance that he’s forcing out some version of himself that he wants you to believe. The production on the track hints at what we can expect from Dave Sitek’s production of The Black Album: samples, atmospheric sounds, and a push to embrace modern sounds. This type of production works for what Cuomo seems to be going for with the dark and urban Black Album, but when you slap the Weezer name on it you just can’t help but feel that Cuomo’s favorite game these days is destroying everything that Weezer has come to be to so many people.

You know there’s a huge part of me that doesn’t even want to talk about the album’s second single Zombie Bastards. The title is enough to turn me away from the song, but I had to give it go. I was out by 9 seconds into the song, when some sample (most likely from a zombie movie) followed by a shitty record scratch pointed towards where the song would go. The chorus feels like something I could easily hear on any modern radio station and everything just goes downhill from there. More atmosphere, more forced electronics and more “darkness”. It sounds like Jason Mraz’s entire career from a completely different, much darker and shittier alternate reality.

As with every other Weezer era, this one will come and go. There’s even a chance we’ll get something like we got from 2014-2016, an era where Cuomo embraced his established style and history and moved forward with just that into everything that came with being in his forties. For now we’ve got The Black Album, an era where Cuomo once again puts on his tough guy hey look at me I’m still relevant suit and attempts to hang out with the twenty year olds. Let’s hope that with age 50 coming right up (June 13, 2020) he once again realizes that his best superpower is writing honest, semi awkward, and infectious music about his real life.

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