For months I have been waiting to write this review and quote Jon Lovitz’s character from the TV show The Critic. A few days ago I got my copy of the 12th Weezer album titled The Black Album and after queuing up the album I crawled over to my keyboard ready to write those words and find the appropriate GIF to hammer my point home. And now here I am after my 50th or so listen of the album and guess what? I’m gonna go a different route.
My first take on The Black Album era was a loaded gun ready to shoot down the notion that The Black Album could be good in any way. I have since put my loaded gun into the safety position and have it holstered to my side. The Black Album isn’t a terrible album. It isn’t necessarily a good album either. It floats in the middle alternating at every turn between listenable, slightly enjoyable, questionable, and sometimes cringe worthy. In other words, The Black Album is pretty much the definition of a modern Weezer album.
This is not the Black Album that Rivers Cuomo promised a few years ago. A few years back in Upset Magazine, Cuomo said that the “next album is going to feel like an urban environment, night-time and gritty and hopefully a lot more modern sounds, synthesized sounds, samples maybe.” Instead we’re given something uneven that’s pretty good in places and unlistenable in others. It does not stink, but it does not soar. The Black Album is another odd album in the Weezer discography, one that will be analyzed by fans wondering what it could have been had Cuomo stuck to his urban, night-time, and gritty approach in the beginning.
Let’s take it track by track
Can’t Stop The Hustle is a great lead off track because it sets the pace for the “it’s fine but there’s something that’s not fine” atmosphere that permeates this album. I want to tap my foot along but something is getting in the way. The chorus shows me what’s wrong and it’s a mess of sounds, samples, and background singers. The production on this one is overblown and all over the place.
Zombie Bastards is so very clearly terrible from the start. Combining some of Cuomo’s most boring nonsensical lyrics, a sample from a zombie movie combined with a record scratch, and the feel of a terrible Jason Mraz white guy reggae outtake, I can’t stress how important it is that you never give this song a chance. This is Weezer at some of its worst.
High As A Kite is the moment on this Weezer album where you stop and wonder about every bad thing you may have said about the band over the past few years. Was I wrong for being so difficult on the band? Were they writing and producing great quality music all along and I was just being a downright asshole? High As A Kite bounces along in such a great way. The melody, performance, and arrangement come together so very nicely in this soft rock-ish tune. Then you get to the chorus and it hits you…you want to sing along and remain best friends with the band.
Living In L.A. brings us right back into the modern Weezer world. It was nice flying high as a kite for a moment, but let’s get back to Rivers Cuomo and his Abercrombie & Fitch rock. The song has potential underneath all of the tired modern production. You’ll be hearing this kind of music the next time you buy a pair of jeans in any department store. Skip the album version and go straight to the rocked out performance the band performed on The Tonight Show earlier this week.
Piece Of Cake pulls me right back into the Weezer world. I gripe about cookie cutter record production a lot but for some reason it works here. The underlying musical elements of this song work in a cookie cutter production. I kind of can’t wait to hear this song if I were to buy a pair of jeans at Abercrombie & Fitch (spoiler alert I won’t do this).
I’m Just Being Honest is another almost there but not quite but it’s still good modern Weezer. The lyrics are not very good and the production is not very Weezer, but at the core you can hear a good song. I can’t help but wonder if this song would greatly benefit from a redo in the style of Weezer’s 1994 “Blue Album”. Sometimes you just need that Weezer crunch.
Too Many Thoughts In My Head is something. It sounds nothing like any song we’ve heard from Weezer before and in moments like that there is potential. Weezer can experiment. When they pull it off (listen to Jacked Up) it’s a pretty amazing thing. When they don’t pull it off you get this claustrophobic and jumbled mess of music. The wah guitar sounds like they plucked some 15 year old out of a Guitar Center and said “go nuts in the key of A” or whatever. It is when the song hits 3:18 that we’re witness to one of the worst musical decisions Cuomo has made. I don’t care if he wants to attempt rap or whatever just don’t do this. Please skip this song.
The Prince Who Wanted Everything has a title that sucked me in when I first read it. I expected something a bit epic and grand but instead we’re left with a really simple tune with a very boring melody and another set of Rivers’ cringy lyrics. This one never manages to take off and is easily forgettable. There was hope in the glam boogie rock rhythm that is at the base of the song but the rest of the tune can’t match up.
Byzantine is a song you may expect me to trash completely but I’m here to say that this bossa nova drum machine folk rock ditty is the highlight of the album. As I said above, Weezer can experiment and when they do it well they do it really well. Byzantine’s music and melody float along with some great lyrics by Laura Jane Grace. I fully support this version of Weezer’s experimentation
California Snow is where my support ends. Full stop. Rivers Cuomo bragging, rapping, and just being completely out of touch with the modern world over what could easily be a track from Post Malone isn’t what I want to hear Weezer investigating with music in 2019. I fully place the blame on Cuomo for this song. I don’t hear any of the other band members personalities on this track. Everything about it screams Rivers and his quest to get musical attention by going out there and trying out rap styles. I could write a book about this, but I’ll stop here with this quote from the Brooklyn Vegan review by Andrew Sacher:
The worst offender of all, though, is album closer “California Snow.” The first time I heard it, I thought my computer started autoplaying some new Post Malone wannabe. “Can’t Knock the Hustle” hints at an interest in rap, but “California Snow” tries to be rap in the most embarrassing way, complete with lyrics like “this is the definition of flow” and “nobody cold as this.” Hearing him rap it is like the musical equivalent of going out to dinner with an older relative and watching in silence as they’re a dick to the waiter all night. It’s like, I love you but please, stop.
At the end of it all, we’re left with a Weezer album that’s best cut up with a few songs making it to your own personally curated Best of Weezer playlist. Smooshing this album together with 2017’s equally as bland and polarizing Pacific Daydream makes a decent EP of some interesting forward thinking modern Weezer. I’d go with that instead.