Nearly two years have passed since I last listened to Weezer. At my worst, I was listening to “No Other One” no less than dozen times a day. I’d go weeks avoiding calls from my mother, huddled in the dark corner of my dorm room under an Edward Hopper “Nighthawks” print pressing play on “Why Bother?” My friends would ask where I was. I’d tell them I was too tired, too busy. And then, with great guilt but even greater pleasure, I’d resume “Say It Ain’t So.”
Since that rock bottom, I have had to seriously recalibrate myself. What are my priorities? Does my social circle have my best interests in mind? Who are my role models? Each day, each decision I have approached with a simple question: “Will it make me listen to Weezer again?” I have tried my best to live a life that, in aggregate, answers this question with a resounding no.
But because I am a selfless, giving, loving, effervescent person, I have decided, just this once — I swear — to relapse in the name of good journalism, and review the thirteenth album by the Los Angeles based emo-pop-rock band.
Weezer (“Black Album”) is their fifth self-titled album, in case you were forgetting what Rivers Cuomo calls his band, and their second album of 2019, following Weezer (“Teal Album”), which included covers of Toto’s “Africa” and TLC’s “No Scrubs.” In the less than three months between the “Teal Album” and the “Black Album”, Weezer have yet again found the darkness: on the cover of the “Teal Album” the band dressed in fun, beachy attire. Here, they don full latex BDSM bodysuits.
But the latex suits are bit of a fake out. If you’re like me and have also gotten into hardcore BDSM and latex over the last three months, then you’ll be let down by the dissonance. These songs are not hardcore and abrasive, like some of their best and earliest material; instead, they lean heavily on a pop mentality that can be as annoying as it is fun. Nearly every track has the easily recognizable, repetitive nature of a radio pop song. “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” “Zombie Bastards” and “Living in L.A.” could all feasibly rotate on an FM station and you probably wouldn’t blink an eye. That’s not to say they’re not fun and catchy. “Zombie Bastards,” for example, is quite so. But none of the three are so memorable, and unfortunately, this applies to the majority of the album. Somehow Weezer has made even BDSM unexciting.
For better or worse, what once made Weezer so popular (and so addicting) was their ability to make songs about angst that sounded like angst. When they complained about sex and drugs and loneliness, they did it with guitar riffs that sounded just as disaffected and jaded as Cuomo. When Cuomo said he was “Tired of Sex,” you believed him, as embarrassing and angsty a sentiment that might be. Weezer was never afraid to sound like the feelings you weren’t supposed to have.
On Weezer (“Black Album”), the band hasn’t ditched its emotional core. The loneliness is still here (“But I feel so lonely, feel so lonely / Uh, uh, yeah, I’m living in L.A”), as is the sex (“Like the sex appeal of your sick dance moves / Ooh, wee, ooh, wee”) and drugs (“Let’s do hard drugs / Fix our problems”). But those feelings are no longer tangible. Whether it’s the pop background, the proximity to an album with an “Africa” by Toto cover, or just that Cuomo is getting old, these songs speak of sadness but don’t feel like it.
Certainly, pop music can use the dissonance between sound and lyrics to an advantage. When done effectively, the song resonates more deeply, not less, like when Robyn sings of being alone over the uplifting beat of “Dancing On My Own.” But on Weezer (“Black Album”), the result is the opposite. Both the upbeat instrumentation and the lyrics feels performative, one trying to accomplish a different task than the other.
If the “Black Album” leaves a mark, its only to remind me of the better, unhappier moments in Weezer’s discography, and the worse, unhappier moments my own musical progression. Here’s hoping we all get well again.