Less than two months on from releasing The Teal Album, Weezer return with new tracks of their own. With an experimental new production style, The Black Album marks a solid and perfectly listenable – though not particularly memorable – thirteenth studio album.
When you’ve made that many records it’s difficult to find the balance of producing something fresh, but not so fresh that you’ll alienate your fanbase – make something everyone’s heard before and it’ll be easily forgotten but stray too far away from your creature comforts and you take a huge risk.
The Black Album is interesting in this regard. While it’s got some of Weezer’s well-established stylistic tropes, the production by Dave Sitek (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio) brings a super-glossy, hyper-produced pop feeling with it. The drums lead the tracks and punch through everything and the distorted guitars are in relative moderation (for a band like Weezer anyway) – more often used for impact than for key structural track sections. Though I do like the way the guitars in general are used, they don’t fill the tracks in the way they probably should, sounding over-compressed to the point where they aren’t loud anywhere – which is kind of the point of dirty guitars. An example of this is in final track California Snow. The track is crying out for a thick, loud guitar line to lead it between sections but the instruments that are there just feel restricted. Though the production is probably the album’s finest asset, this is a feeling that crops up more than once.
There are a couple of throwbacks to Weezer’s older music in terms of in both composition and production, most notably on I’m Just Being Honest. I’m don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is probably the best (and definitely the most authentic) track on the album. Though the lyrics are goofy, they have a nice bite to them:
Walk into the venue, you slipped me your CD
Asked me if I’d listen, give you my critique
I listened to it, but halfway through it
I had to quit, your band sounds like shit
The lyrics on the rest of the album are okay at best, with Too Many Thoughts in My Head providing some of the worst:
Stay up reading Mary Poppins
Overwhelmed by Netflix options
Boy found brains he never knew he had
Meet me there in London Canyon
Fuel up, bitch, there’s no more slackin’
Moses looks upon the promised land
I mean, I know it’s a song about being high but come on.
Drugs are obviously a big theme on this album, along with feelings of loneliness and reflection, and even though none of the lyrics on The Black Album are incredible, I do like the honesty. Lead singer and lyricist Rivers Cuomo has never been one to mince his words and I admire his ability to turn the mundane into the entertaining.
But, you don’t listen to a Weezer album to be wowed by the sensitivity and articulation of the lyrics, so the most frustrating aspect of this album is that the songs have little-to-no connection with each other. The Black Album moves from pop-based upbeat pop songs like Living In L.A and sedate rock tracks like High as a Kite to bossa nova in Byzantine and swing in The Prince Who Wanted Everything. The result is a record whose tracks are only slightly more familiar to each other than the covers on The Teal Album which, given it contains Black Sabbath’s Paranoid and TLC’s No Scrubs, is not exactly an achievement.
Despite its flaws though, this is a fairly decent (and very eclectic) album. What it lacks in good lyrical content and overall coherence it makes up for with smart production and catchy songs. It was always going to be difficult for Weezer to successfully try something new and though far from perfect, The Black Album is an easy listen.