The Lowdown: Rock has changed. What used to be “give ’em enough rope” has now become “give ’em what they want.” Basically, the entire genre has fallen to its knees in service of the asshole in the crowd screaming, “Freebird”. Of course, that’s one way to look at it — a more cynical approach, if you will. Rivers Cuomo isn’t that type of cynic, though. At least not anymore. When fans spent a year begging the Weezer frontman to cover “Africa”, his younger self — the guy who wrote Weezer and Pinkerton — probably would have stopped at “Rosanna”, but no, he went full nelson, feeding the frenzy, which ultimately gave the band their first highest charting hit in a decade.
Here’s the thing, though: This type of On-Demand mentality isn’t just relegated to rock, it’s all over pop culture. We live in a society where the hive mind wins, particularly in fandom, and Cuomo isn’t just hip to this, he’s willing to play along. And why not? After all, the band delivered one of their strongest albums to date with 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End, and the goddamn thing attracted probably a third of the people who tripped over their coffee table to put their “Africa” cover on Spotify. Within the first hour. So, with that in mind, Cuomo’s insistence to double down on the demands is what makes their surprise covers album, Weezer (The Teal Album), so hilarious.
Yet also genius. Looking at this tracklist, it’s clear that Cuomo picked the most popular song from each of the chosen artists on Spotify and hit record. He essentially Moneyball-ed the joke and he’s the one laughing the hardest. Sing, dance, laugh, or scoff all you want, but it doesn’t really matter. The proof isn’t just in the pudding, as the old adage goes, the proof is in the charts, the headlines, the social media feeds, the fact that they’re one of the very few rock bands heading out to Indio this April for two weekends. That last part says everything you need to know about their current success. They’re an anomaly. After years of tinkering, the Harvard graduate solved the equation.
The Good: Surprisingly a lot. As anyone could have gathered after a first listen of “Africa” or “Rosanna”, the latter of which is sorely missing on this compilation, the band doesn’t just half-ass the cover, they meticulously replicate each song with Fincher-like obsession. Sure, they’re not exactly offering their own spin on it, but that’s also kind of the point. The fact that these covers are so reverent to the source materials kind of plays into the joke that Cuomo is literally givin’ em what they want with no room for error. It’s like live band karaoke, and everyone is invited, which is all this really boils down to at the end of the day. They’re not reinventing the wheel, they’re using it.
Even songs that seem beyond their reach — such as TLC‘s “No Scrubs” or Michael Jackson‘s “Billie Jean” or Tears for Fears‘ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” — are replicated to staggering precision. What’s more, Cuomo never cheapens out on the thrills. Do you absolutely adore the forecast report in the beginning of “Mr. Blue Sky”? You got it. Do you love the way Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman sound like they’re on another planet from the rest of the harmonies of “Happy Together”? No worries. What about Ozzy Osbourne‘s “Ohhhhh yeah” on “Paranoid”? 10-4. It’s almost a game of Simon Says to Cuomo, and he plays it like Van Sant doing Psycho.
The Bad: Even if the choices here are supposed to be obvious — or, at the very least, as basic as playing “Africa” these days at the jukebox — there are a few that are so obvious they go by unnoticed. At this point, if you’re going to do a-ha‘s “Take on Me”, even ironically, you should try to do something with it. Their take is so pitch-perfect, especially Cuomo’s vocals, that you honestly forget you’re even listening to Weezer. Again, it’s all part of the joke, and certainly a major conceit behind this extended covers album, but you start to think, Well, if they can do this perfect, why not at least try to do something a little more obscure? You know, a little more Weezer?
Because, say what you will about the request, but “Africa” is a far more left-field cover than, say, “Billie Jean”, or “Paranoid”, or “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”. No, “Africa” requires an assembly of instrumentation that very few bands can pull off, and while it’s been overplayed over the years, it’s not like everyone’s covering it. Or even has covered it. You can’t say that about the majority of these songs, which is why a handful of these work more like one-stream novelties than, say, something that feels defiantly Weezer. In other words, the joke might have been even funnier had they not only given fans what they wanted, but given them what they didn’t know they wanted.
The Verdict: Perhaps that’s a tall order for what ultimately amounts to a gag gift. And perhaps that’s an unnecessary one, too. Besides, it’s not like Weezer (The Teal Album) is built to last. It’s built for the moment. At best, it’s a blueprint or rather a teaser for their forthcoming tours, as if to say, “Well, you loved ‘Africa’, look what else we can do? Come out, folks.” Again, that’s a more cynical outlook, but hey, maybe Cuomo is being cynical. Maybe this is the self defeater in him, acknowledging the times, knowing damn well that if he’s going to give ’em what they want, he’s going to meet them at their level with a shit-eating grin and walk back to the bank.
That Cuomo isn’t fun to think about, and also doesn’t seem emblematic of the Cuomo we’ve seen in recent years. Look at that album cover. They’re wearing Miami Vice threads for Christ’s sake. That’s not just a callback to the era these sounds are from, but a barb to their own state of being. They’re the old rock band now; the bands they used to frown upon that probably were in Miami Vice. They’ve said as much for ages — it’s all over Everything Will Be Alright In The End — and both this and their cover last year acknowledges it. They came, they saw, they’re good. Contrary to what Moz thinks, who they don’t cover here, that joke will always be funny.
Essential Tracks: “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, “Happy Together”, “Mr. Blue Sky”