In the 19 years since their reunion, Weezer’s most memorable songs have been jokes. Recall “Beverly Hills,” in which Rivers Cuomo explains why he wants to be a celebrity, or “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn),” in which he reimagines “Simple Gifts” as a power-pop anthem that also includes choral singing and Cuomo’s Elvis impression. Out of boredom, contrarianism, or a burning need to atone for early moments of sincerity that embarrass him, Cuomo long ago decided to pursue a gleeful and appalling mode of silliness. Why is he the “greatest man that ever lived”? Because he comes up with dumb, hilarious ideas for songs—and then, when any normal person would laugh and move on, he actually records them.
Yet we can’t say it isn’t working. Weezer are enjoying a moment in the spotlight right now, and they have Cuomo’s penchant for novelty to thank, as well as Twitter, which provides Cuomo with more dumb song ideas and a readymade audience if he records them. You don’t need to hear the specifics of Weezer’s performance, which is quite faithful to the original, to know that Weezer fans started an online petition for Weezer to cover Toto’s “Africa,” that they in fact did, and that people found this funny. As with many more arcane viral memes, the “joke” with Weezer songs often isn’t their content, it’s their existence. If anything, the band’s resurgence should have happened sooner.
Weezer’s sixth self-titled album (a.k.a. the Black Album), released a month after their fifth self-titled album (the all-covers album that featured “Africa”, a.k.a. the Teal Album), is the unofficial sequel to their fourth self-titled album (also known as the White Album). Both 2016’s White Album and 2017’s Pacific Daydream were bright, sunny power-pop singalongs about sailing and summer romance, as the band tried to turn themselves into the Beach Boys. The Black Album is supposed to be a darker ode to the misery and ecstasy of L.A., where Cuomo attends raves, takes shots with celebrities, and bemoans the emptiness of the party lifestyle. But he wanders off theme with the distractibility of a songwriter who’s exhausted all the conventional topics and must reach for increasingly weird ones. Zombie apocalypse, why not? Freelancing, sure! Opener and lead single “Can’t Knock the Hustle” either satirizes or salutes the gig economy with a garbled collection of internet-related tropes (“Leave a five star review and I’ll leave you one too”). It’s also the song where Cuomo chants “Hasta luego / Hasta luego / Hasta luego, adios” to the sound of mariachi horns, for no apparent reason except that he wanted to sing in Spanish and this was as good a time as any.
Though longtime fans will miss the loud guitars, the Black Album sparkles most brightly when the band aims for a synthetic pop gloss intended to reflect California sleaze. Dave Sitek’s dense and lustrous production allows “Living in L.A.” and “I’m Just Being Honest” to glide over chipper electronic beats festooned with the keyboard fluff of a Foster the People song. The giddy, hyperactive “Too Many Thoughts in My Head” soars as smooth guitar strumming and echoey wah-wah effects enhance one of those big catchy Weezer choruses. Cuomo may have intended the song as a comment on information overload (“Stay up reading Mary Poppins / Overwhelmed by Netflix options”), but it plays as self-mockery, lamenting his terminal desire to be Rivers Cuomo. This is indeed a man with too many thoughts in his head, judging by how many get turned into songs. On “The Prince Who Wanted Everything,” he drops enough wink-wink references to indicate which Prince he means (“his paisley bones”), while reimagining the artist’s life as a bizarre, banal rise-and fall-story: “Life will make a beggar of rich men / Bring the sovereign to his knees.” It’s again unclear whether Cuomo means to celebrate or dis his subject, though the dinky guitar funk suggests failed homage.
Other fading veteran bands must envy Weezer’s current career phase: Long free of the obligation to be meaningful or relevant, Cuomo can write as many dorky, meaningless hooks as he wants, indulge any and all neurotic tendencies, and generally have fun. With this kind of creative latitude, he really ought to be even more outrageous. None of the songs on the Black Album are as garish, horrifying, or catchy as “Beverly Hills,” nor as totally committed to a one-dimensional concept as those of the White Album. By contrast, the Black Album sounds scattered, as if the comedy is beginning to lose definition. These songs evoke the end of a meme’s life cycle, when the joke has been so beaten into the ground that it barely even makes sense.