Weezer’s flop with ‘Black’ was two decades in the making

Alexander Gray

Weezer’s new album would be a let down if there were any sort of expectations going into it. Instead, Rivers Cuomo and company only confirm their brief redemption arc has officially come to a close.

Announced April 2016, shortly after their critically acclaimed self-titled “White Album,” Weezer’s “Black Album” has been a long time coming. In that time, Weezer released the embarrassing “Pacific Daydream” and charted for the first time in years with their cover of Toto’s “Africa,” which was followed up by a cover album of other chart-toppers like “Billie Jean” and “Take on Me.”

Through this flurry of releases, there has been one constant to Weezer’s process: a need to stay relevant and hip with the kids.

Coming off of “White,” where fans believed the band had finally rediscovered their groove, perhaps for the first time since “Pinkerton” in 1996, “Black” was expected to continue the hot-streak. Weezer’s newest album feels like a B-side compilation from “White.”

Cuomo initially promised “Black” to tackle “more mature topics” like “Beach Boys gone bad” which is almost achieved at the record’s best, the rest simply Beach Boys, just bad. Without a cohesive sound, or strong thematic direction, “The Black Album” leaves listeners wondering where Cuomo’s promised album went.

“Can’t Knock the Hustle,” Weezer’s lead single and first song on the album, is unlike anything the band has done, but is one of the best cuts. With its odd, Uber-themed lyrics, catchy “Hasta Luego” hooks and hot Latin trumpets, Weezer crafts a catchy pop song you can’t knock.

The song scores Weezer one of their few explicit ratings.

“I’m thinking of swearing, which is something I’ve never done in songs,” proud to brand the album as “R-rated” compared to their regular “PG,” Cuomo said in an interview with DIY. 

The album finds its peak in “Byzantine,” the most clearly Beach Boys-inspired track, a relaxed bossa nova as a backdrop for the best lyricism on the album. The dreamlike “High As A Kite” has Cuomo reflect and showcases how dynamic and creative the band can be, while still delivering the classic “Weezer sound.”

“Black” doesn’t offer much else of worth to listeners, “Living in L.A.” and “I’m Just Being Honest” are perfectly OK pop-rock songs, but nothing someone else hasn’t already done better. Weezer goes back to their traditional power-chord rock in “The Prince Who Wanted Everything,” although the lazy ballad is hardly interesting enough to return to.

“California Snow” and “Zombie Bastards” are straight-up insulting to fans of Weezer, or fans of pop music in general, the former as the most egregious offender. In the same vein as “Feels Like Summer” from their previous album, “California Snow” has all the elements of a chart-topping summer anthem with a loud synth-y intro before diving into cocaine-fueled feel-good lyrics mixed between party “whoop’s.”

Weezer’s appeal comes from their endearingly-simplistic lyrics and genuine approach to the pop-rock genre, something almost entirely lost on “Black” in their attempts to pander to a larger audience. Instead, the aging rock band alienates their fans and turns off newcomers.

“The Black Album” is the perfect representation of Weezer’s career over the past 20 years, dating back to “Pinkerton.” Weezer has found popularity in a few singles, like “Island in the Sun” and “Beverly Hills,” but have largely faced criticism for releasing incohesive albums deviating from the sound that brought them into popularity.

It’s hard to dislike Cuomo, even after years of erratic behavior and mediocre output. He’s consistently tried to write the music he’s wanted, met only with negative feedback at every turn, starting with their sophomore album, “Pinkerton.” Later considered one of Weezer’s best works, on its release Cuomo’s frank personal honesty was deemed juvenile and aimless.

“You can’t throw out the accepted structure of songs and try to make this operatic masterpiece with all these insanely personal lyrics,” Cuomo said to Pitchfork in 2015. “You’re embarrassing everyone and you let your audience and your band down. Let’s do a 180 here.”

He found his muse in authors of the all-time greatest pop-rock music, taking inspiration from pre-drugs Beatles and Beach Boys while writing “The Green Album” and “Make Believe” in the early-2000s. The influence is clear in those records, but fall short of the standard set by Weezer’s rock predecessors.

The band stumbled through the decade with albums like “Raditude,” which will almost certainly be lost to history. Pop Matters called the album “just the worst album of the year,” echoing Rolling Stone readers who declared “Pinkerton” to be the same years earlier.

Hated for “Pinkerton’s” personal lyrics and despised for “Raditude’s” pubescent party-rock anthems, Cuomo was placed in a no-win situation.

In 2014, Weezer’s “Everything Will be Alright in the End” started the rock band’s vindication as their most critically acclaimed album since “Pinkerton.” The lead single “Back to the Shack” acted as an apology and a promise to return to their 1994-roots. When “The White Album” released to universal acclaim, it seemed Weezer finally found their footing to usher in a new era for the band. Looking at their recent output, it seems their comeback was little more than a fluke.

Cuomo forced the band into major course correction after failing to appease critics in 1996, bringing us to “The Black Album” and Weezer’s identity-crisis today. It’s hard not to wonder where the California rock band would be right now if they had continued with “Pinkerton’s” direction.