The black void of nothingness
With a career spanning a quarter of a century at this point, Weezer, the famed alternative rock/pop-rock band, have released their thirteenth studio album, The Black Album. Frontman Rivers Cuomo and company are most acclaimed for their ’90s output, though the band maintained popularity in the 2000s thanks to a shift into more commercial songwriting. This attachment to commercial appeal and trend-chasing has plagued the band’s catalog many times since the ’90s, and The Black Album continues this trajectory.
The Black Album has been given a good name because “black” aptly describes the music on it. Is it dark? Is it moody? No. Instead, listening to this album is like staring into the abyss. The abyss of uninterestingness. The abyss of a lack of good ideas. The abyss of having given up.
As Weezer chase trends with the earnestness of a dog chasing its tail, The Black Album unsurprisingly shoots for the sound of typical modern electro-pop-rock. Cuomo and friends are pretty successful at creating the sound. They have a drum beat that is possibly synthetic and usually very cyclical. The songs have bass and guitar, though they are often muddled and pushed to the back to play second-fiddle to the keyboards. Then there are Cuomo’s vocals, sanitized and polished until you can see your face in it, to make sure that radio won’t be afraid to play the songs. Everything is as it should be, and nothing is out of place. Unfortunately, this kind of music sounds like the gritty rock has been replaced with gleaming, inert chrome.
“Zombie Bastards” features a reggae strum pattern, a very simple drum pattern, tinny synths and “hey!” vocals on the hook. The song could be played on the radio right after a Fall Out Boy song without a hitch. Although the sentiment of not wanting to live like a zombie is relatable, the feeling is not being accomplished with a track that just wants to blend into its surroundings as quickly as possible.
The lyrics are just as offensive as the music. The lyrics on “I’m Just Being Honest” are so dime-a-dozen it is hard to believe. The central metaphor on “Piece of Cake” is fine, but the lyrics on the verses are meandering and aimless. “Living in L.A.” features the trashy “oh-whoa-oh” background vocals.
Throughout the album, there are only a couple of moments where the music steps out of the germ-quarantine zone. The opener, “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” features distorted guitar, female background vocals and a chorus sung in Español. Horns on the hook and an angular guitar line on the bridge add additional Spanish swagger. It is an upbeat track celebrating a great work ethic. “Byzantine” might be the best track on the album. While the shuffling tropical beat is a little tacky, the instrumentation is gentle and calming; it sounds like a stroll with a significant other at the edge of the water. The lyrics describe cute examples of intimacy.
Weezer’s ability to pen a catchy chorus saves this album from total disaster, and nearly every song is hummable. Also, Cuomo’s youthful and innocent approach to lyrics is at least interesting on a personality level. However, the sounds are simply too safe and saccharine to recommend. Weezer’s The Black Album cannot be called art and barely deserves the title of entertainment.