Weezer (Black Album) Review
We are truly living in a Weezer Golden Age (maybe Gold Album will be next?). My favorite band has released four albums within three years, the last two of which have only been separated by less than two months. TEAL ALBUM, a cover album of primarily ’80s pop rock hits, was stealth released in January. You can read my review of it, and where I think it fits in the Weezer canon, here and here, respectively. And now we have the BLACK ALBUM, what we fans thought was going to be the direct follow up to WHITE ALBUM (2016). In the meantime, we’ve gotten PACIFIC DAYDREAM (2017) and the aforementioned TEAL ALBUM.
So with the anticipation and some of the discussion about what the album would be like from the band, I think I was expecting something a little different than what BLACK ALBUM is. Considering the imagery its cover evokes, and again, the kind of language being used by the band, I was expecting some kind of harder, darker sound. Instead, it’s certainly a continuation of Weezer’s current phase of poppy, electronic/dance-influenced rock, warped just a bit outside the realm of the sunniness of WHITE ALBUM, PACIFIC DAYDREAM, and even TEAL ALBUM. Oh, and there are a couple of “explicit” songs for the first time in the band’s history.
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t really like BLACK ALBUM. Like I said, we are living in a Weezer Golden Age. I think the band is putting out a lot of quality stuff right now. And this record is a part of that. Since I’m not an experienced music reviewer and I don’t know how else to approach this holistically, why don’t I just go through the album track by track?
“Can’t Knock the Hustle” was the album’s first single, released with a pretty funny music video starring Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz. It is one of the two best songs on the album, and it kicks off the whole thing. It’s a pretty funky little track with a lot of incidental guitar and bass riffs and an incredible chorus that just sticks in your brain and won’t let go. Well, at least in mine. “Hasta luego, hasta luego, hasta luego, adios,” indeed.
I can’t tell if I like “Zombie Bastards” or “Can’t Knock the Hustle” more, so for now, let’s just go with “I like both almost nearly equally.” It’s a more low-key song that erupts into kaleidoscopic electronic accompaniment during the chorus. It’s still upbeat, but as mentioned, there is some warping of the sound, aided by the lyrics (“Die die, you zombie bastards”), Rivers Cuomo’s somewhat disaffected vocal delivery, and the driving bassline.
I don’t know how much of an affect TEAL ALBUM would have had on BLACK ALBUM or vice versa, but “High as a Kite” feels a little “Mr. Blue Sky” to me. It’s a whimsical, fittingly soaring song. It’s not a big favorite, but it’s a neat, somewhat somber track.
“Living in L.A.” is a dance track. But it’s a perfect example of Weezer’s synthesis of their alternative, pop rock sound with their newer electronic fixation. The verses are driven by a guitar sound, whereas the chorus is much more defined by thumping bass and layering of ethereal vocal samples. It’s indicative of the direction of BLACK ALBUM.
“Piece of Cake” is one of the record’s best songs. The verses’ up-and-down melody (I don’t know if I’m using that word right or if this makes any sense) segues into an emotional chorus and relaxed “doo-da-doos.” Perhaps this song, and “High as a Kite” before it, are better examples of the foretold “darkness.” A lot of the album is steeped in a bit of malaise, in spite of a pervasive dance-y construction.
And the malaise continues into “I’m Just Being Honest.” Cuomo is definitely making a conscious decision to deliver a lot of low register and distant vocals on BLACK ALBUM. Solid song, and not necessarily one of the album’s best, but the chorus has a nice flow.
But then “Too Many Thoughts in My Head” picks things back up again. This is a faster, more dance-able track. It’s also one of the more singable tracks on the album; the chorus is catchy. Can you tell I’ve run out of words to describe music?
“The Prince Who Wanted Everything” is in the upper echelon of songs on BLACK ALBUM. It’s got a simple but satisfying rhythm and pretty funny lyrics, once again, sung with just the right touch of angst by Cuomo. Foot-tapping listening to it right now.
I was so surprised and excited to see that Laura Jane Grace of Against Me co-wrote a song on BLACK ALBUM, and “Byzantine” is that song. And it’s not the one I would have identified as such! The track is a relaxing, laid back, beachside bar in Rocky Point kind of song. And that’s not a dig! It’s a surf pop/rock composition, the closest to a Beach Boys homage on this record (and you can usually find one on most Weezer releases), a modern ode to Americana of the California type.
“California Snow,” the final track on the BLACK ALBUM, and therefore the resident “final track on a Weezer album ballad,” doesn’t actually fit into that category. Eschewing their tradition of leaving the listener off with an emotional, downbeat song, Weezer ends their most recent album with a kaleidoscopic, layered, soaring song not unlike “Zombie Bastards.” It’s really good, but I was looking forward to a song I could cry to. Oh well, guess I have “Angel and the One” for that.
So there you have it! Weezer’s BLACK ALBUM. I think it’s a great album, but I need more reflection before I can figure out where it fits within the Weezer canon of, now, fourteen albums. As I’ve alluded to throughout this “review,” the record is a kind of deceleration of the upbeat pop the band has been producing in recent years while embracing, even more fully, electronic and dance and modern pop music production. BLACK ALBUM is a far cry from even the relatively recent EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIGHT IN THE END (2014), which was lauded for its return to a guitar rock sound. But its clear that Cuomo and his songwriting collaborators are seeking something different in this experimental period for the band, and hell man, I’m on board. There are some great songs on WEEZER (BLACK ALBUM), and I’m sure I’ll appreciate them even more once I’ve listened to them a million times.