Despite groans and snobbish pontification by the music criticism community, Weezer has finally released their fifth self-titled (and fourteenth overall) studio album: the Black Album.
Weezer has endured a turbulent history, both with its fans, its former fans, and music listeners in general. Their debut album, Weezer (the Blue Album) received almost universal praise from critics for combining singable, memorable power pop with nerdy lyrics and crunchy guitar riffs. But disillusioned by the rockstar lifestyle and the success of Blue, frontman Rivers Cuomo began another project. Songs from the Black Hole, a science fiction rock opera that highlighted Cuomo’s disenchantment with life in the spotlight, was slated to follow Blue in 1996.
Wanting to become a better songwriter, Cuomo enrolled at Harvard at the end of 1995, where he became socially withdrawn. As a result, his songwriting became “darker, more visceral and exposed, less playful,” according to the liner of the Pinkerton deluxe album. He eventually scrapped Songs from the Black Hole—but salvaged some of its songs—and began working on Pinkerton. The latter album, which was ultimately released in 1996, retained the power pop sensibility of Blue but featured messier guitar riffs and darker, creepier lyrics. Although mercilessly reviewed in 1996, the music community later came to recognize Pinkerton as an essential staple of 90s alt-rock and a bona fide precursor to mainstream emo.
After the release of Pinkerton, Weezer took a five year hiatus before dropping its second eponymous album: The Green Album. Although met with generally positive reviews, Green was less experimental, less gritty, and less emo than the first two albums. The pop-mindedness of Green defined many of Weezer’s subsequent records, but guitar work remained the focus of most of the band’s songs.
Missing the grittiness of Blue and Pinkerton, many alternative and indie rock fans defected from the band upon hearing bubblegum guitar pop songs like “Beverly Hills” and “We Are All on Drugs” from 2005’s Make Believe. Many of those who stayed past Make Believe abandoned Weezer upon the release of 2009’s Raditude, which featured atrocious, mindlessly commercial songs like “Can’t Stop Partying” (featuring Lil Wayne) and “I’m Your Daddy.”
Weezer purists enjoyed a brief “comeback period” between 2014 and 2016 with the release of Everything Will Be Alright in the End (2014) and The White Album (2016). The former, with its crunchy guitars and power chords, sounds a lot like Blue and Pinkerton. In its lyrics, Cuomo even apologizes to his fans for having eschewed the classic Weezer sound of the 90s. In “Back to the Shack,” Rivers apologizes that he “tried to get a new audience” but “forgot that disco sucks.” And in “I’ve Had It Up to Here,” he laments that while “he tried to give [his] best” to his fans, “they put up [their] ears.”
The White Album, a sunny, California-themed record, is the band’s first concept album since Pinkerton. Songs like “Do You Wanna Get High” and “L.A. Girlz” feature epic guitar bridges that could have been Blue album b-sides. Nonetheless, “Wind in Our Sail,” “Jacked Up,” and “Thank God for Girls,” by de-emphasizing guitar and including more electronic sounds, foreshadowed the synth-heavy, guitar-minimal era of Weezer music that we are currently in.
After the release of The White Album, Rivers Cuomo promised a sequel that would be darker—both lyrically and musically. He began crafting a collection of darker, “Beach Boys gone bad” songs, conditionally calling it ‘The Black Album”. However, he completed a folder filled with more experimental, synth-centric songs first—and this folder ended up becoming the band’s 2017 release, Pacific Daydream.
Although Weezer purists and snobs in the indie music community were quick to write it off as a shameless attempt at radio success, Pacific Daydream was Weezer’s most different—and thus, boldest—album to date. It’s far from my favorite, but it is the first of the band’s album in which the majority of the songs do not center around the crunchy power chords that defined every other record. Rivers knew that his fans, ever so ruthless and demanding, would give him hell for Pacific Daydream, yet he released it anyway.
Weezer’s latest release, The Black Album, is even bolder than Pacific Daydream. Although not quite as dark as Rivers promised, guitars are minimal in this record. Opener “Can’t Knock The Hustle” is a funky, Beck-inspired single with horns—but more importantly, it marks the first time Rivers has used the word “fuck” in a song. Other songs, like “Zombie Bastards,” “Byzantine,” and “California Snow” delve into other, newer musical motifs.
If I’ve given a compelling enough background of Weezer and its discography, and you’re interested in what I think about The Black Album, stay tuned for a review soon!