Weezer (Black Album)
The greatest trick Rivers Cuomo ever pulled was convincing people that Weezer’s Pinkerton was a blood-letting autobiography. He’s since confirmed that the record was a character-based experiment in narrative—no more a glimpse into his tortured psyche than The Blue Album was—and the eleven (!!) albums Weezer’s made post-Pinkerton confirm him to be an unrepentant formalist. What he cares about is how songs work—structurally, compositionally, mechanically. Every Weezer album is an excursion into pure craft.
What The Black Album proves is, maybe pure craft only takes you so far. Following closely on the heels of the surprise-release Teal Album—a fairly anodyne all-covers karaoke set, seemingly without a point except to let Cuomo once again show his almost academic obsession with pop songwriting—these ten new originals were produced by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, who coats everything here in a kind of neon-reflective, after-hours sheen. Those expecting Black to equate with moody introspection—a blood-letting autobiography, perhaps—don’t know Weezer: It’s as dorky as anything they’ve ever done, including the one where Cuomo brought in Lil Wayne and the one with Jorge Garcia on the cover. Only now, it’s dorkiness that’s meant to soundtrack late-night cruising down the strip; a swaggering party record that occasionally works its way into something resembling a groove.
To the extent that it adds new wrinkles to the Weezer formula while still sounding every bit like a Weezer album, you can call this a smashing success. But to the extent that anyone would ever use this music as the backdrop to a night out—sans irony, anyway—well, that’s much more debatable. Try as he might to sound brash and nonchalant, Cuomo still comes across like the goofball nerd that he is; you never forget that he’s playing a part, which means that when he awkwardly rattles off the word “bitch,” as he does multiple times here, he sounds like a teenage asshole who just learned a new curse word. When he references drug use—again, something that crops up repeatedly—he sounds like a cop. And when he pays decidedly non-funky tribute to The Purple One on “The Prince Who Wanted Everything,” it doesn’t feel like loving homage; it just feels like Cuomo came up with a jokey premise for a novelty song that only the members of Weezer will find funny.
That’s not to say Black can’t claim a few highlights: The effects-laden opener “Can’t Knock the Hustle” has a jostling energy that’s winsome, while “Too Many Thoughts in My Head” rides an irresistible New Wave pulse. “I’m Just Being Honest” may be the real knockout, a chiming synth anthem with the kind of earworm that only skilled pop craftspeople can write. It’s Cuomo at his best, on an album that too often finds him at his worst.