(Atlantic Records, out Fri 1 Mar 2019)
If you listen to The Black Album as pop music, rather than with whatever else Weezer once represented in mind, it’s not at all bad. Trouble is, pop has never been what the people want from Weezer. Teenage memories die hard, and for some, this is the band using up whatever little goodwill remains on lightweight three-minute kiddie music. That black, gimp-suited front cover might suggest dark, twisted rock, but it’s a red herring. If you thought the recent Teal Album was them exorcising their cheese-pop urges, well, stay tuned…
“Die! Die! You Zombie Bastards!” sings Rivers Cuomo on the album’s cod-reggae second single of the same name, and it’s fairly representative of the mainstream fare on offer. Fan forums are convinced it’s a diss of them for wanting the old Weezer back. Maybe so, maybe no, but it’d be pretty hard to get with the track if you were craving the nerd-rock of old. Take the swears off and it’s not a million miles from something Peter Andre might have turned out back in the day.
But get over the cringe and you’ll find there’s bright moments. Can’t Knock The Hustle‘s mariachi and gospel tinges make a good opener. High as a Kite is a sweet, slightly sad ode to escapism with a Beach Boys-y verse, a big chorus and a middle eight that recalls, of all people, The Carpenters. Too Many Thoughts In My Head sets its ropey lyrics – “Stay up reading Mary Poppins / overwhelmed by Netflix options” – afloat on a bed of South American guitar before running into an earwormy 60s chorus. The glam rock chug of The Prince Who Wanted Everything turns out to be about actual Prince and his… erm… “paisley bones”.
The final duo are among the highlights. The bossa nova of Byzantine is most un-Weezer-like. Its lyrics paint a picture of a new relationship where playlists lead to passion. “I never heard of Sparks before / But I’m so glad you shared them with me” soon becomes “Put on your red beret, baby / Moonwalk naked across the room”. California Snow begins with starry hyperdrive riffing followed by Cuomo turning hip-hop: “This is the definition of flow/ Nobody cold as this”. Bold? Or ill-advised? We’re trying to put the cringe to one side, so we’ll go with the former.
A way with melody is always going to shine through, whatever the genre, and so it proves here. Whereas Weezer used to use it to sweeten up their alt-rock, now they’re aiming for something straighter or poppier. It works. Just not if you’re looking for another Say It Ain’t So.