Weezer have always been a band with a penchant for irony.
‘Buddy Holly’s’ opening left-hook of “What’s with these homies dissing my girl?” on their 1994 self-titled debut certainly showed self-confidence. Coming from arch-nerd Rivers Cuomo, it showed self-awareness and a boundless capacity for a wink and nod at their own expense.
So it’s sad that fans hoping for a return to form from their latest self-titled effort, especially after the ray of hope that was 2016’s White Album, will be disappointed. Cuomo’s signature idiosyncratic lyrical style shines through, but the album’s production and writing is too frequently dull, and the sense of sheer sadness too occasionally overpowering, for Weezer’s usual charm to survive.
The trouble with The Black Album isn’t weakness with Cuomo’s lyricism. If anything, he’s often on murderously blunt form.
The album opens with lead single “Can’t Knock The Hustle”, whose lurching beat and strong ska influence get it off to a propulsive start. The title smacks of the humour that was once Weezer’s trademark, which also makes appearances through its lyrics, ‘higher education is the key to escape..but I never learned to roll a joint”.
“You can criticise me for anything”, beckons Cuomo, bristling with ironic braggadocio.
Shame, then, he’d just had the music drop out so you could hear him say the word “bitch”. This language, a first for any Weezer record, is uncharacteristic. Along with some poorly-judged Spanish, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth by the track’s end.
‘Zombie Bastards’, featuring the album’s strongest melodic hook, is a shot at critics of the band’s consistency over the years. It’s frank, even if the production renders it toothless.
Soaring ballad ‘High As A Kite’, the album’s emotional centre speaks to a universal human desire for escape, and closes with Cuomo flirting with “blowing his mind”.
‘Piece of Cake’, a downbeat post-breakup weeper, showcases his talent for scene-setting. “Hanging out with a kitty-cat named Baudelaire” is as vivid an image as anything presented in The Blue Album’s ‘In the Garage’. The jaunty ‘do-do-dos’ contrast marvellously with its movingly realistic depiction of heartbreak.
It’s a shame that the rest of the album is either unremarkable, petty or outright bad.
‘Living In L.A’, lifting its chorus hook from The Police’s ‘So Lonely’, is lyrically uninspired. “I’m talking about this girl I like”. It represents latest in a series of unfortunate post-‘Beverly Hills’ attempts write something that might climb the charts.
‘I’m Just Being Honest’, a toxic little tune, wouldn’t even bear mentioning if it wasn’t off-puttingly venomous and mean-spirited (“your band sounds like s**t?” Really, Rivers?). The experimental ‘Byzantine’ is frankly boring, and the album wouldn’t have suffered much from its removal.
The album’s nadir, however, comes with ‘The Prince Who Wanted Everything’. Not only is it incredibly compositionally twee, but thumbing your nose at a music legend trying to “save the world with funk rock riffs” is a categorical dick move. Even if Prince died more than three years ago, Cuomo should be ashamed of it.
What really torpedoes The Black Album, however, is its all-pervading sense of melancholia and bitterness. There’s nary a wink nor a nod to find here.
Instead it’s a charmless drag, devoid of the droll wit and sense of fun that made its predecessors. Cuomo sounds on the verge of tears, wailing “I can’t take no more of this” on closing track ‘California Snow’. The ending track itself is a trap-influenced hangover from previous work Pacific Daydream. I hope their next offering rediscovers the charm we all know Cuomo and Weezer are capable of.
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