Weezer has had an active last couple of months. The California alt-rockers made the charts for the first time in years this summer with their meme-cum-radio hit cover of Toto’s “Africa”. This was followed up by a few singles for their upcoming Black album, which seemed like the only cover left in their quintessential run of colors albums. (Blue, Green, Red, White).
Then they found a new color: teal. The teal album came out on January 24th, and was composed entirely of cover songs, led by “Africa”. The album goes over pretty much the way you’d expect: Cuomo and Company doing their best to sound like the original artists, which isn’t entirely displeasurable, but not exactly impressive either. It turned out to be an entirely bankable product however, as the album made #5 on the billboard top 200.
Unfortunately, their latest effort, The Black Album leaves lots to be desired, and an interview of Rivers Cuomo by Entertainment Weekly’s Darren French reveals several possible reasons why. The topic arises, as it unavoidably had to, that the biggest thing Weezer has done in recent years is a song by another band; Cuomo responded with a bit of cynicism.
“We’ve never been that successful that we’re playing at the Grammys. We haven’t been on a stage that big. But most of the time I’m thinking, ‘We’ll get there someday. We just gotta keep working. Someday we’ll play the halftime show at the Super Bowl. We just gotta get the songs right. We just gotta keep pushing. We’ll get there.’ But here we are, 25 years in, watching the Grammys, and I just felt, like, I get it. These people are super entertainers. And I’m cool with that. ” — Rivers Cuomo
I felt sad reading this, because for these past 25 years Weezer has been a lot of people’s favorite band. Through the grungy rage of the 90s and the blingy excesses of the early 2000s, Weezer was consistently unconcerned with being cool; a reminder that coolness was not all it was cracked up to be. They were four clean cut, slightly nerdy looking guys from California. They didn’t care what anybody thought about them, not in an attention hoarding way; in a “standing in the same position on all of their album covers” way. Yes, it is technically true that Weezer never reached the enormous heights that many artists of today are achieving, seemingly effortlessly, but the band always gave the impression that they weren’t in it for that reason.
Reading that interview really brings out the hollow nature of their new music.
“This girl I likeLiving in L.A.
I’m talking ’bout this girl I like
But I feel so lonely, feel so lonely
Uh, uh, yeah, I’m living in L.A
This girl I like
I’m talking ’bout this girl I like
But I feel so lonely, feel so lonely
Uh, uh, yeah, I’m living in L.A”
What the heck does this mean? Nobody ever accused Rivers Cuomo of being the world’s greatest lyricist, but his earnest anthems about love lost, and feeling like a loser were usually coherent. This song feels like three different choruses, that don’t jive at all, smashed into one.
Gone are the delightfully crunchy power chords of Blue, the chilled out choruses of Green, the caution-to-the-wind experimentation of Red, and the triumphant anthems of White; We’re left with empty musings of a man refusing to act his age, and drab instrumentation that caters to the lowest common denominator; plus, Cuomo curses relentlessly on this record, which is fine I suppose, but comes across like that kid in middle school that starts cursing a lot so people will think he’s cool.
Back in 2008, Weezer found themselves in an interesting spot in the music industry. Releasing Red, their first album in four years, after Make Believe, which featured “Beverly Hills” one of the biggest songs of the band’s career. Red garnered barely a fraction of the success that their previous album did, and the sentiment expressed throughout the album made it seem that Rivers Cuomo was actually perfectly fine with this. “If you don’t like it, you can shove it / But you don’t like it, you love it” he said on the ego-anthem “The Greatest Man that Ever Lived”.
“Timbaland knows the way to reach the top of the charts / Maybe if I work with him, I can perfect the art” Cuomo crooned sarcastically on the album’s lead single “Pork & Beans”. Taking shots at Chris Cornell’s apparent sellout on Scream (which Timbaland produced) Cuomo seemed to acknowledge that Weezer’s brand of rock was no longer in vogue, and not as radio friendly as it once was. “I ain’t got a thing to prove to you…I don’t give a hoot about what you think” he yelled in the chorus.
Unfortunately, on their latest release, Weezer seems to be trying way too hard to prove themselves with a batch of their most soulless, algorithmically composed music yet.
This isn’t to say that changing things up isn’t good for an artist; on the contrary, I think it’s neccesary, so long as Artistic Integrity remains intact. I’m a big fan of the Urban dictionary definition for the term (“creating art for the heck of it”) but it is more than that. The ultimate measure of an artist is to move forward in their art while holding on to what makes them who they are. This is something that can’t be quantified or broken down to a science (perhaps this is why Rivers Cuomo fails at it so miserably) but is extremely present in today’s musical landscape. Since I cannot recommend The Black Album in good conscience, here are some other songs and albums from THIS YEAR that are great examples of artists doing new things with their sound.
Switchfoot: Native Tongue
I can’t pin the essence of this album to a single track, so I’ve gotta recommend the whole thing. This record finds the San Diego alt-rock veterans in possibly the most experimental place they’ve ever inhabited. Fully embracing synths and drum machines, working with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder to obtain a smoother production, and tapping into all manner of untried song structures, the band demonstrates on Native Tongue their ability to grow, collaborate, and thrive, even two decades after their genesis.
Fidlar: “Get Off My Rock”
Channeling Beastie Boys energy, Fidlar opens Almost Free with this quasi-rap ode to personal space. “Get off my rock!” the chorus screams as guitars fuzz and a harmonica lays down a rustic sounding riff.
Ariana Grande: “Fake Smile”
Ariana Grande is slowly getting closer to becoming the hip hop artist she was always meant to be. “Fake Smile” can be taken as the emotional heart of thank you, next, as it finds Grande finally admitting to herself that she isn’t fine emotionally, and deciding not to pretend otherwise. Accompanied by a slickly produced beat and a classic Wendy Rene sample, this song demonstrates that despite being pop music royalty for many years now, Grande still has plenty of artistic growth left in her.
SWMRS: “Steve Got Robbed”
The final track on SWMRS’ hard hitting sophomore effort Berkeley’s On Fire is a curious blend of hip-hop, crunchy power chords, and sweet harmonies. The verse of the song is sung in a particularly unsettling faux-patois, that sounds fantastic over the simple but heavy repeating riff. Laid over snappy snare drums and the occasional 808 bass thump, this song is a fun (and pretty hilarious) headbanger.
Gary Clark Jr.: This Land
Hailed as blues rock’s savior for the past few years, Gary Clark Jr. has subsisted on being pretty much the last bastion of hope for growth the genre has left. On his latest album, he’s doing tons of things differently. The song’s are deeper and more introspective, the music is more soulful — there’s as much Stevie Wonder on this record as there is Stevie Ray Vaughn — he’s even using solid-body guitars. The title track features an electrifying bass synth is a ticked off, politically charged anthem. Check it out!