Rivers Cuomo’s relationship with a certain subset of diehard Weezer fans has been fraught since the band reconvened in 2000. These fans, the ones who adore the band’s self-titled debut and turned Pinkerton into a cult classic, have been more than vocal about Cuomo’s change in direction and the band’s overall dip in quality post-millennium. However, for years Cuomo’s response was a split between blithe ignorance (Raditude more or less exists in a world where Weezer fans don’t) and occasional peace offerings like the deliberately retro Everything Will Be Alright in The End. On Weezer’s latest self-titled and color-coded offering, however, Cuomo seems to be done playing nice. Not only does the album sonically reach for a different audience altogether, it also contains Cuomo’s first explicit kiss-offs to some of his perpetually unsatisfied fans.
The opening salvo of what will likely be known henceforth as The Black Album is all middle finger, alternating between Cuomo going after his longtime fans and wondering what life would be like without a crowd of people over-scrutinizing and remaining perpetually dissatisfied with his work. “Can’t Knock the Hustle” bends over backwards to justify Weezer’s more commercial leanings with the argument that everyone’s got to do what’s necessary to make some cash, while “Zombie Bastards” frames the conflict between Cuomo and his fans from a different perspective where Cuomo is a perpetually chill guy who wants to keep moving forward in life while being beset with literal ghouls of his past. Then, there’s “High as a Kite,” in which Cuomo envisions a blissful existence where he can do what makes him happy and not have to worry about what other people think. Lyrically, it’s the strongest through-line on a Weezer album in decades, and it culminates half-way through The Black Album on the snarky “I’m Just Being Honest,” in which Cuomo takes the guise of one of the many critics who dismissed his work for all these years: “I listened to it/ But halfway through it/ I had to quit/ Your band sounds like shit.”
It’s kind of a shame, then, that there’s not as much musical cohesion to The Black Album. Though it improves on the scattershot mess that was Pacific Daydream, Cuomo is still very much throwing whatever he can at the wall and seeing what sticks. Thankfully, this time around, Weezer is paired with a safe set of hands in the production booth in the form of Dave Sitek, and he largely gives their songs the sort of atmospheric heft the band has clearly been striving to craft for a while. “I’m Just Being Honest” marries modern rock atmospherics and power-pop structure beautifully, and Sitek also helps to bring out some of the Elton John-esque bombast into “High as a Kite” in a way that points the band into an interesting new direction. Conversely, there’s Cuomo’s half-baked attempt at funk-rap on “Can’t Knock the Hustle” and the slow-building obnoxiousness of closer “California Snow,” which threatens to derail the enterprise altogether. Furthermore, even a relatively short album like this isn’t immune to Cuomo throwing in broad-reaching fluff songs like “Living in L.A.” or the flat, well-intentioned Prince tribute “The Prince Who Wanted Everything.” Cuomo’s lack of restraint is often a blessing on The Black Album, but it does keep the project from being a wholly satisfying listen, as well.
This feels like the end of an era for Rivers Cuomo now that he’s addressed the 20-year-old elephant in the room. For a while, it felt like Weezer was existing purely for fans who weren’t ready to let go of the band’s glory days and were hoping that Cuomo had another Blue Album or Pinkerton in him (even if the latter option really wouldn’t be that good of an idea.) But now there’s a new generation of kids getting into the band, fans who unabashedly love everything in the Weezer canon. Let’s not forget that Weezer’s current commercial and cultural resurgence occurred because a 14-year-old kid on Twitter thought that they would do a great version of Toto’s “Africa.” Cuomo doesn’t have to make music for an older fanbase that seems perpetually unhappy with him anymore, and he seems to be relishing this fact. Thus, as uneven and muddled as it can be, The Black Album gets one clear message through from Cuomo to the thirty- and forty-somethings who loved him in the ‘90s: thanks for everything, but it’s time we all moved on.