2019 has already been an insanely eventful year for Los Angeles pop-rockers Weezer. Following the mega success they had with the cover of Toto’s pomp-rock classic “Africa” at the tail end of last year — a success, by the way, nobody could have predicted — the band went all out with The Teal Album, a full-lengther packed with covers, mostly from the ’80s. That was in January and now, about six weeks later, they’re dropping The Black Album.
“It’s ridiculous to see how well The Teal Album was received,” drummer and co-founding member Patrick Wilson says. “It’s fun to have two albums come out so close together that people seem to enjoy, or at least anticipate.”
Fun, but it flies in the face of conventional wisdom. For as long as there’s been a music business, we’ve known that a band writes and records an album, maybe teases the release with a single or two, then releases the album and tours it. You allow the thing to breathe before releasing a new one, unless it’s a planned double release (see Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion 1 & 2). Even the The Beatles waited about half a year when they were at their most prolific.
“ ‘Africa’ got so popular that Rivers [Cuomo] thought, ‘Why not make an entire record of songs from that era?’ ” says Wilson. “Let’s not tell anybody we’re gonna release it, and we’ll release it a few weeks before The Black Album. Just as a super big ‘what the hell.’ That’s where we are these days — trying to have fun.”
The band members might be having fun, but not everyone is amused. Long-time fans (who should really know better) are lamenting what they see an an awkward stylistic shift into something more commercial yet somehow, simultaneously, less melodic and “Weezer.” We’ll dive into The Black Album in a sec. First though, who picked the ’80s covers that were chosen for The Teal Album?
“I don’t remember exactly, but I know there was a list of about 100 songs that were being considered,” Wilson says. “Somehow you whittle it down to the ones you end up doing. It’s pretty wild. I love ‘Take On Me’ [A-Ha] and I love ‘Everybody Wants To Rule the World’ [Tears For Fears]. I’m really pleased with those two and the way they came out. I really love ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ [Electric Light Orchestra], too. At first, I didn’t really understand the song or get into it, but as we got more into the recording of it, I realized that it’s fantastic and the type of music I really like.”
Wilson is right too — those songs are highlights, particularly the first two. There’s something about synth-driven electro-pop that lends itself to a Weezer interpretation.
“Lucky us, because so many good songs are from the ’80s, it’s unbelievable,” the drummer says. “It’s really crazy how much great music there was in the ’80s. People forgot how to write a song. Could there be a song like that again, as iconic as ‘Take On Me?’ It’s crazy.”
So that’s how Weezer kicked off the new year. Typically for Rivers Cuomo and his crew, he was delighting some people, irritating the living shit out of others, whole totally confusing more still. How could this beloved nerd-rock band, a group that helped people find meaning for their existence in the ’90s with tunes such as “Buddy Holly” and “Undone — The Sweater Song” be covering Toto, TLC and, oh shit no, Michael Jackson?
Again, it comes down to the musicians involved wanting to please nobody but themselves, while stretching their creative legs. That fact was hammered home when the funky first single from The Black Album, “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” was released last year (the crossover of releases from Black and Teal was extra-confusing, by the way).
“It’s definitely got a lot more groove than some of our older records,” Wilson says of that single. “I sort of thought of the production sound as a cross between Schoolhouse Rock — ‘Conjunction Junction,’ and all that — and mixed somehow with Public Enemy. Bands will hear that and go, ‘OK, Pat you’re no Public Enemy.’ ”
There’s also a song on The Black Album called “Living in L.A.,” which takes a long, hard look at what it’s like to live in the city.
“It’s a single person’s experience feeling lonely in a giant city, especially Los Angeles which I find to be inscrutable,” Wilson says. “There’s almost no way to really understand Los Angeles. I lived there a long time. If you saw Manhattan by Woody Allen, you’d say OK, that’s Manhattan. But I don’t believe anyone’s really made a Los Angeles movie I can really point to and say this is what Los Angeles is like. It just defies everything. I always tell people there is no Los Angeles. There’s a Burbank, there’s a West Side, there’s a Studio City — it’s not really a city.”
It’s also interesting that, after a Blue, Green, Red, White and Teal, this is the album that they chose to call Black (following hot on the heels of Spinal Tap, Metallica, and Jay-Z). The title hints at something darker, but the music really doesn’t.
“It’s an inside joke with us that The Black Album even got made,” Wilson says. “The rumor that we were gonna make something called The Black Album was kicking around for years. I almost wish we just kept saying we were gonna make The Black Album without actually doing it. Somehow we just said fine, this is the black album. I hesitate more and more as I get older to try to label anything. I would rather just take things on its own terms. It’s not like we had a grandiose plan. It’s more like, fine, black.”
Wilson says that, after coming here for years, he loves performing in the Bay Area. This time, they’re performing at the Oracle Arena in Oakland with The Pixies on Wednesday, April 10, and Wilson doesn’t quite know what we can expect from the Weezer set.
“I think we’re trying some different thing this time,” he says. “Maybe a couple more deep cuts. We’ll play the songs that we’re obligated to play, that are popular on the radio.”
See? They do still know how to please a crowd. And you all thought they were a bunch of ornery bastards.
Weezer, with The Pixies and Basement, Wednesday, April 10, 7 p.m., at the Oracle Arena.