Twenty-five years after “Buddy Holly,” Rivers Cuomo still remains peerless in his ability to get you humming a line like “leave a five star review and I’ll leave one too” until the only way to un-hum it is by stabbing yourself in the thigh with the nearest sharp object. The 13th Weezer LP is full of such confounding moments. It arrives just two months after the band followed up their surprise hit version of Toto’s “Africa” with The Teal Album, an all-covers set that felt a little like overkill (inspired take on TLC’s “No Scrubs” notwithstanding). Musically, their latest portends a bit of a change-up. Cuomo primarily composed The Black Album on piano, and brought in Dave Sitek of experimentally minded indie-rockers TV on the Radio to produce. But even if he primarily composed on pan flute, it’d still be what it is – another edition of their signature precise, poker-faced California pop-rock.
The fact that the album shares its title with a historic Jay-Z record turns out not to be wholly meaningless. “Can’t Knock the Hustle” taps the same winking rap-rock Cuomo kicked back on the 2005 hit “Beverly Hills,” though this time out the sense of irony is somewhat less blanched and the music a great deal more fun. Elsewhere, “California Snow” has an emo grandeur that sort of brings to mind Post Malone if he ever heard Pet Sounds.
The shadow of soft-rock looms large on piano ballads like “High As A Kite” and “Piece of Cake,” as well as the Casio-synth bauble “Byzantine,” a horndog plea about a hottie who wakes up each day to Neil Young on her phone and does Rivers the kind service of introducing him to Seventies glam oddballs Sparks. The album’s self-styled ‘blackness’ primarily comes through in Cuomo’s depiction of midlife-rocker malaise, which, admittedly, can get pretty grizzly: “Stay up reading Mary Poppins/Overwhelmed by Netflix options,” he sings, letting his dad-flag fly on the frantic, congas and wah-wah-driven “Too Many Thoughts In My Head.”
There’s some predictably trollish tongue-in-cheek teen-angst (“Zombie Bastards”), and a glam jeremiad on the wages of stardom (“The Prince Who Wanted Everything,” which comes with allusions to the actual Prince that seem a little off for a jaunty joke song; too soon, Riv). On “I’m Just Being Honest” the crown he wears is heavy indeed; over a guitar grind that shimmers like alt-rock radio circa 1995, Cuomo sings about living in a personal hell of his own creation, where bad thirsty musicians bug him at his gigs looking for feedback on their CDs: “I had to quit/Your band sounds like shit,” he intones. He’s a five-star dude in a one-star world; that may not be enough to earn our sympathy but on most of The Black Album he’s still holding our attention.