This started 14 years ago. Weezer began their transition from legit college rock heroes to ironic in-jokers with 2005’s ‘Make Believe’, which featured the likeable singalong single ‘Beverly Hills’ – and a whole lot of mugging, forgettable, tongue-in-cheek and faux-emotional guitar-pop.
This is a furrow that the LA quartet have since ploughed relentlessly, culminating in this year’s ‘The Teal Album’, an amuse-bouche that consisted of jovial covers of songs your Auntie Sarah played at her second wedding (‘Africa’ by Toto is now on of their biggest hits). Although it’s titled ‘The Black Album’, there’s nothing darker or heavier here than what we’ve heard on Weezer’s previous 12 studio records. In fact, the band’s charismatic head honcho Rivers Cuomo has claimed that it’s more playful, and that producer Dave Sitek has taken Weezer experimental.
“I wrote all the songs on piano,” Cuomo told Entertainment Weekly. “We’ve been trying to make this record for several years… Without the big guitar, there’s more room for… psychedelic effects.” Well, Panda Bear probably needn’t worry because this sounds like a Weezer album: Cuomo’s pained vocal strains against big melodies, there actually is plenty of guitar and, at times, it’s a rush of nostalgia for those of us who still love their 1994 hit ‘Buddy Holly’.
The highs occur when Weezer play it straight-ish, as on the chugging guitar-pop rush that is ‘I’m Just Being Honest’, which sounds like a distant cousin of Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Since U Been Gone’, and when Cuomo pays earnest tribute to Prince on the rollicking toe-tapper ‘The Prince Who Wanted Everything’. Opener ‘Can’t Knock The Hustle’ is pretty jokey, with its gospel backing vocals and knowing lyrics (“Leave a five star review and I’ll leave one for you – can’t knock the hustle”), but the pulsing verse is so catchy that it stands up on its own.
Yet the same can’t be said of the goofy, acoustic guitar-led ‘Zombie Bastards’ (“Die die, you zombie bastards / Keep on, blah blah”). Or the limp piano ballad ‘High As A Kite’, which follows that same ironic, faux-emotional path the band has been on since ‘Make Believe’. Or the nursery rhyme cha-cha-cha of ‘Byzantine’, which is so kitsch that it features Spanish guitar.
It’s telling that that ‘Africa’ cover has been Weezer’s biggest hit in years. And your enjoyment of this record may depend on your faith in the longevity of the in-joke that Cuomo and co. have become. For many of us, the punchline’s beginning to sound pretty well-worn.