Arts, Features

REVIEW: ‘Black Album’ is a disappointing shift from Weezer’s legendary style

Weezer performing at the City of Trees music festival in 2016. The band released their 13th album, “Black Album,” on Friday. COURTESY OF MICADEW/ FLICKR

The 1990s rock band Weezer, famous for hits such as “Say it Ain’t So” and “Island in the Sun,” has spent the better part of 2019 hyping up their latest album.

Prior to Weezer’s Friday release, “Black Album,” the band had put out a 10-track cover album, the “Teal Album,” and had partnered with Fortnite to create their own in-game, Weezer-themed area. With all of the promotion and hype behind their latest album, I couldn’t help but get excited.

Actually listening to the album, however, served as a reminder that it’s been pushing almost two decades since Weezer’s famous “Green Album” came out.

It was in those days that the group formulated and perfected their signature sound. The band’s lyrics, written mainly by lead vocalist Rivers Cuomo, explored a universally relatable angst that drew in listeners.

Themes of longing, escapism and a general dissatisfaction with the status quo pervaded Weezer’s early work.

These lyrics were then paired with what are now considered to be classic instrumentals. The many guitar riffs and generally fast-paced tones found in songs like “Surf Wax America” and “Pink Triangle” are the definition of hummable music.

When combined with Cuomo’s everyman vocals, the tracks cause an almost insatiable need to sing along.

Weezer’s first few albums truly feel like you’re listening to lightning in a bottle, and that sound continues to be what is generally regarded as “their sound.” Nearly 25 years after their first album hit the shelves, the band’s latest project may be showing signs that their spark is fading.

The first track of “Black Album,” “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” is the album at its worst and serves as an indicator of some of the project’s most prevalent shortcomings. The song bombards the listener with zany instrumentals and some of the cringiest lyrics in the band’s discography.

Lines such as, “The future’s so bright, I gotta poke my eyes out,” can only be matched by the song’s mind numbing repetition of, “Hasta luego, hasta luego, adios.”

The cringe-inducing lyrics are a mainstay throughout the “Black Album,” and as I moved from track to track, I couldn’t help but focus more on the poor writing than on the songs as a whole.

This may seem unfair to the band, but when songs open with lines such as, “Stay up reading Mary Poppins / Overwhelmed by Netflix options,” I give up on finding a deeper meaning.

Along with the half-baked lyrics, the instrumentals on the majority of the tracks feel either uninspired or overly quirky. Songs such as “Living in L.A.” sound like generic dance tracks, while the aforementioned “Can’t Knock the Hustle” sounds like an experimental nightmare.

Regardless, neither one of these songs sound very much like Weezer.

Although there is plenty wrong with the “Black Album,” it’s what it does right that makes it so disappointing. Out of the 10 tracks on the album, three stand out as great songs that remind me of why I love Weezer. These are “High As A Kite,” “Piece of Cake” and “I’m Just Being Honest.”

These songs share pivotal similarities with one another, including a lesser use of electronic beats, a more subdued sound and lyrics with messages that match cohesively with the instrumentals.

“Living in L.A.,” for example, is a song about longing that is paired with mismatched upbeat dance music. The serendipity of hearing the tone and the content of the three aforementioned tracks in comparison to the rest of the album is supremely refreshing.

As I found myself enjoying these three tracks, however, I couldn’t help but get annoyed with the rest of the album. Weezer’s signature rock sound is sprinkled throughout their latest project, but it’s buried underneath the album’s many pitfalls.

The band clearly knows how to craft a good song, but they seem to be more preoccupied with reinventing themselves than really focusing on what has made them great in the past.

Out of all the songs in this frustratingly mixed bag, “The Prince Who Wanted Everything” is the perfect analog for the entire album. Its grunge guitars provide an interesting instrumental, but its shallow lyrics about a prince, whose life sounds remarkably like that of a rock star, bog it down.

The sound sometimes works, the lyrics usually don’t, and at the end of the day, you just want the “Black Album” to be better than it is.

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