When Weezer announced a black album, fans were expecting something tonally dark that harkened back to the Pinkerton days — a stark contrast to their recent endeavors on The White Album, Pacific Daydream and . Unfortunately, The Black Album does not deliver on what is perhaps that misguided promise of something along the lines of a Pinkerton 2, or even on sounding like “.” Expectations aside, highlights, like “High as a Kite,” “I’m Just Being Honest” and “Byzantine” save this hit-or-miss album.
“High as a Kite” is an immediate standout and is worthy of making it on a “Best of Weezer” playlist. Mixing piano-driven verses with a chorus full of guitar power chords is a refreshing composition for the group and is reminiscent of Pinkerton’s “Long Time Sunshine.” “Byzantine” has a chance at being the next “Island in the Sun,” an upbeat, beachy love song that apparently has . “I’m Just Being Honest” is an excellent example of mixing the old with the new. It captures the essence of Weezer with a 2019 spin by chronicling a series of awkward encounters where Rivers Cuomo is chastised for speaking his mind. A version of the song originally appeared on Cuomo’s Japanese-language side project, Scott & Rivers, under the name “Real Intention.” Those tracks celebrate Weezer’s past while embracing a new musical direction, and hint that at one point The Black Album was going in an artistic direction more in line with fan expectations.
The two lead singles from the album, “Can’t Knock the Hustle” and “Zombie Bastards,” are the least indicative of the album’s overall sound and are extreme diversions from Weezer’s signature alt-rock vibe. The group’s experiments have paid off in the past — see The Red Album’s “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)” — but the same can’t be said about those tracks.
Lyrically, Cuomo has always been able to get away with a lot and somehow makes the awkward endearing. For example, “What’s with these homies dissin’ my girl” and “The redhead said you shred the cello, and I’m Jell-O, baby” from “Buddy Holly” and “El Scorcho,” respectively, look like pretty dorky lyrics when written down, but work in the songs as part of its nerdy-guy-who-can’t-catch-a-break brand. Potentially similar lines from “Can’t Knock the Hustle” and “Zombie Bastards” look both dorky when written down and fail to work in the songs. “Higher education is the key to escape but I never learned to roll a joint” from “Can’t Knock the Hustle” and “I don’t know karate or kung-fu but I’m gonna make it in this world” from “Zombie Bastards” fail to be endearing and land flat.
The album’s biggest flaw is how scatterbrained it is. “High as a Kite” and “Piece of Cake” tackle darker themes and center around drug use. The tracks explore escapism and lost love, respectively. “Livin’ in L.A.” and “California Snow” are hollow, overproduced pop tracks desperately asking for radio play and mainstream success. “Byzantine” would have been more at home on Pacific Daydream and “I’m Just Being Honest” came from a different project. All of those conflicting musical themes leave the album lacking a feeling of cohesion, despite some of the ideas having their own individual merits. The whole is worse than the sum of its parts.
The Black Album varies highly in quality from track to track, making it difficult to speak of it generally. Successes like “High as a Kite,” “Piece of Cake,” “Byzantine” and “I’m Just Being Honest” show Weezer is capable of moving in new directions while holding onto what makes them Weezer. Perhaps some more time was needed on the weaker tracks to develop those new ideas. After all, this is the group’s fourth album in three years. It’s hard to escape the feeling that this was rushed out to capitalize on their current mainstream relevance stemming from their cover of Toto’s “Africa.”
Weezer has a way of growing on you overtime, though. For example, their sophomore album Pinkerton was initially met with horrible reviews, but . While ascending to cult classic status is likely not in The Black Album’s future, it’s not worth completely counting out yet — there are good ideas here that are worth coming back for.