Written by: Dustin Lennin Choto
Back in late 2017, Mitski published an analysis of Weezer’s then-recently released Pacific Daydream to Talkhouse.com. Throughout the piece, she comments on Cuomo’s current writing method, involving organizing lyrics and chord progressions onto a spreadsheet based on syllable-count, word emphasis, beats per minute, tempo and key. While recognizing that the absence of direct emotion may displease those who appreciate clear direction in lyricism, Mitski concludes this omission of ego—meaning the cut-and-paste lyricism being the driving force of any emotional resonance rather than the artist’s own biases if he were to have written lyrics in a more traditional manner—encapsulates a more accurate portrayal of frontman Rivers Cuomo: “who he’d like to be, who he’d like us to see.”
On March 1st, Weezer’s The Black Album finally surfaced after months of delays, featuring a song catalog comprised of varying pop subgenres, with new insights on Cuomo’s thinking and his interests.
“Too Many Thoughts in My Head,” an homage to French yé-yé dance rock of the 1960s, includes a bridge ending with the lyric, “I’m really tired of this Lawrence Welk shit,” Welk being a television personality and musician from the 1960s. Following “Zombie Bastards” and “High as a Kite,” this is the third time on the tracklist Cuomo expresses his frustrations with being a known entertainer, always expecting to perform to an audience with a sunny disposition. Lyrics like, “I only want to disappear / So let me play this game for children / And vanish into the atmosphere” illustrate this grief. Of course, this isn’t a new revelation considering the Weezer fanbase; Blue & Pinkerton loyalists versus Post–Pinkerton followers (a dynamic parodied in an SNL sketch from late last year).
On a poetic level, this isn’t anything new for the band. All the way back in 2002, Weezer alluded to their annoyances with their fanbase on Maladroit’s “Space Rock” (“You wanna cry / When you’re dealing with the kids”). In an April 2002 interview with Kerrang Magazine when asked whether fans would enjoy Maladroit, Cuomo stated, “Probably not. Weezer fans don’t really like our albums.”
However, relating The Black Album to Cuomo’s early-2000s angst does disservice to the larger theme of the project: combating the fear of worthlessness. From the latin alternative-inspired opener “Can’t Knock the Hustle” to the prog-pop arpeggio synth notes on the closing track “California Snow,” the search for both personal and stylistic reinvention consumes the entirety of The Black Album. Moreover, as it’s the third album in-a-row inspired by Southern California living, the sound accurately reflects the socio-political tensions consuming the area—and to a greater extent, the entire country. If viewed through this lens, cuts like the 90s alt-rock treat “The Prince Who Wanted Everything” and the twee lounge-pop surprise “Byzantine” echo the comfortable lives of the bourgeoisie, while new fan-favorites “High as a Kite” and “I’m Just Being Honest” serve to actively represent the tired youth of today.
Maybe that’s why 2017’s Pacific Daydream failed to construct a positive impact for the band, being their lowest commercial performance in their discography, debuting at number 23 on the Billboard 200. The sound was too passive, meandering with established pop tropes, not reflecting on the current cultural zeitgeist. In a time where sedative trap music like Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO Tour Llif3” and mid tempo electro-pop like Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” reigned, the relatively safe pop-rock of “Mexican Fender” and “Weekend Woman” didn’t convince general radio consumers to pay attention to the rock alternative. 2016’s The White Album at least benefited by being released before the presidential election, allowing for a sunny, guitar-driven power pop album to be marketable in a less heinous time.
Considering where in Weezer’s discography The Black Album falls in—as well as being aware of the socio-political climate of the USA—the album will end up one of two ways: either it fails due to its inability to stay focused, or it succeeds based entirely on its incoherence that mirrors the uncomfortable times we’re in—and its desire to escape (a sentiment validating The Teal Album’s own existence).
However, even after almost 25 years in the industry, one factor of Weezer’s music hasn’t changed: Rivers’ gift of composing ear-wormingly infectious melodies.