Favorite Tracks: lol
Remember when Bono’s voice, effect-laden and as rip-roarin’ as it had sounded in a minute, came rushing in on “Vertigo?” “Unos, dos, tres, catorce” he shouts, his accent colliding with an echoing effect in a way that almost made it feel like its own language. It was, in many ways, the final nail in the U2 coffin, a bold and definitive moment symbolizing just how corny the once “greatest rock and roll band in the world” had become. It wasn’t just that it was cringey, although obviously hearing a middle-aged Irishman misinterpret Spanish for zero reason IS cringey. It was that the illogical songwriting, which again not only had zero context but also just actually made zero sense, was a less-than-subtle reminder that U2 didn’t really have anything to say anymore outside of political grandstanding, regardless of how catchy “Vertigo” and the rest of HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB was. That opening line became a representation of their late-career stature long before Twitter or the internet would regularly call Bono a hack.
The opening of “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” Weezer’s first song on their latest self-titled record (or THE BLACK ALBUM) is far less grandiose than “Vertigo.” Where the latter still, at the very least, feels like we’re in the presence of one of the greatest radio rock bands of all time even amidst the end of their run, the former awkwardly rings in feeling instantly uncomfortable across the board. That Rivers Cuomo, just as cringing as Bono did, takes to his foreign tongue to quiveringly repeat “hasta luego” over some of Weezer’s least becoming production in years is not just a sign that they have nothing to say any more, but begins to beg the question of whether they EVER had anything to say at all.
For a majority of music fans, the question of Weezer’s brilliance has often been a subject of debate, so much so that an institution as mainstream as SNL was willing to glibly take it on. And yet it’s hard to admit that a band that abjectly means so much to so many people also made “Can’t Stop Partying,” “We Are All On Drugs,” “Back To The Shack,” or even (and especially) WEEZER (THE TEAL ALBUM). If Weezer are truly brilliant, what does a hit like “Pork & Beans” say about them? Why is it that when other bands create art that goes for broke in blanket mainstream appeal, often bordering on stupidity, they’re immediately dismissed and, if we’re continuing to argue for their past outweighing their present, when will the good will dry up?
All of these questions feel like they’ve come to a particular head this year, with Matt Damon, Toto, FORTNITE, and WEEZER (THE BLACK ALBUM) all forcing us to reckon with Cuomo and co. in a way that even the mainstream success they saw in the last decade hadn’t. Suddenly people from demographics far outside the traditional WEEZER (THE BLUE ALBUM) and PINKERTON stan were having to reckon with their so-called genius—somehow, someway, Weezer spent months finding ways to target everyone but the very people who have been defending their admittedly shaky legacy. And in spite of all the legwork and promo and months of putting themselves in the zeitgeist, of course the album they choose to represent the obvious climax of this cultural conversation is their most embarrassing release ever.
If the clunkiness of “Can’t Knock the Hustle” doesn’t ward you off, the CALL OF DUTY anthem no one was asking for, “Zombie Bastards,” with its chorus of “Die, die, you zombie bastards / Keep on, blah, blah, blah” (that’s real) is cringey enough to genuinely make you feel hot and embarrassed as you listen to it. These types of moments are minefields on WEEZER (THE BLACK ALBUM). The unbecoming fun.-style anthem “Piece of Cake” opens with, and I can’t stress enough how spine-tingling this is to listen to, a 48-year-old man childishly urging us to do “hard drugs” to “fix your problems,” as though we’ve never seen a picture of Rivers Cuomo before. This kind of (and PLEASE heed the quotes around this word) middle school “coolness” is all over this record, especially on “Can’t Knock The Hustle” when he drops, “Don’t step to me, bitch,” again like we haven’t seen him before. But even beyond some of Cuomo’s stranger attempts at boldness, lyrics like, “Once upon a time, there was a prince / He tried to save the world with funk rock riffs” (“The Prince Who Wanted Everything”), “Walk soft with a big stick, woo / Now I play guitar, it’s sick, woo” (“California Snow”), and “Stay up reading Mary Poppins / Overwhelmed by Netflix options” (“Too Many Thoughts In My Head”) are just as perplexing starts to songs as the asinine pandering to youth and dullards that follow.
Similarly to their last record, the bland but barely passable WEEZER (THE WHITE ALBUM)-cash-in PACIFIC DAYDREAM, there are songs here that are probably passable in someone else’s hands—in the era of “Baby Shark,” the bar for stupidity is low. But making a 2011 Foster the People song (“Living In L.A.”) or a basically unlistenable basement pop song like “Byzantine” is just so far outside of their own realm of sound—a rock sound, incidentally, that they’d spent the early part of the decade reconfiguring and successfully sounding fresh again. Listening to these songs and hearing pure and tasteless grasps at whatever modern rock might look like now doesn’t just make me grossed out—this band “sold out” with “Beverly Hills”—but it makes me sad; I suppose I should be happy we didn’t get a dubstep remix or an attempt at being AWOLNATION and yet somehow that’s in the shitty DNA of “California Snow,” so what am I even happy about.
When asked about why he jumped, in a foreign language, for the number three to the number 14 at the top of “Vertigo,” Bono apparently told Rolling Stone “there may have been some alcohol involved.” Which is, in this writers humble estimation, a fair enough reason to count down the impending end of the relevancy of your band—we all say stupid things drunk after all. The justification for some of the stupidity on WEEZER (THE BLACK ALBUM) however is, naturally, as demystifying as the album itself. From a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, here’s Cuomo on “Byzantine:”
“Some of (the songs) extend back to my very beginnings in the early ’90s… The bridge of the song “Byzantine” is from 1991, a very early-’90s, grunge, Soundgarden type of song. But we reimagined it as this French-pop ’60s thing with a drum machine.”
And on “Zombie Bastard:”
“When I came up with the line about ‘being cast out of Egypt,’ I remember telling Dave, ‘Any time you can make a pop song with an Old Testament reference, you have to do it.’ I think that’s a very good rule of thumb for any artist.”
And from Billboard, on “Can’t Knock The Hustle:”
“I got the karaoke drums from a Justin Timberlake song, whatever song he had on the radio, like, eight months ago. I love Justin Timberlake.”
Fuck this guy. I cannot believe I listened to this album half-a-dozen times for this review. Somehow I will continue to hear songs like “Across The Sea” and “Dope Nose” and “Surf Wax America” and consider Weezer’s early brilliance, but for now? For now it’s going to be hard to not hear Cuomo’s quivering voice singing “hasta luego” in my sleep.