Weezer Sticks to an Old Bag of Tricks for the ‘Black Album’

Weezer emerged in the early nineties with an idiosyncratic humor all of their own, and a sound that would become the template of countless later bands. Somewhere down the line, they seemed to fall into a rigid mode, reacting by veering into territory that was often confoundingly laughable, A little over a month ago saw the release of the “Teal Album,” a collection of covers with an impressive range that seemed to revitalize the band’s lasping sound, and infuse it with some new vitality. This, however, has proved something of a short fuse, as their latest effort, the “Black Album” does little to excite or inspire, although it will generally satisfy the devoted fan, and provides enough enjoyable moments to the relative newcomer as well.   

While Weezer has a signature sound, immortalized in early hits and fan favorites like “Buddy Holly” and “Say It Ain’t So,” the band has freely dabbled in disparate musical styles over the years, mostly to critical reception that was tepid at best. That has done little to discourage them, as made clear on the latest effort’s opener “Can’t Knock the Hustle.” Festive and upbeat, with gospel choir bits fashioned after the silliest strain of eighties pop, along with some understated Latin stylings, and a refrain of “Hasta Luego,” it’s a rather odd beginning, although worlds better than previous “world music” forays. The ironic appropriation of hip-hop lingo in the title follows in a long Weezer tradition, but for that very reason, seems a bit old hat at this point. Fortunately, “Zombie Bastards” salvages things with a more recognizable demonstration of the band’s zany silliness. Rivers Cuomo sings the words “Die die, you zombie bastards” to a bouncy, sing-songey, and what more could one want?

Whatever the source of Cuomo’s dissatisfaction, it finds it way into escapism upon the following track “High As a Kite,” which gleeful relates an account of parasailing. One of the least becoming moments on the “Teal Album” was the awkward cover of “Billie Jean,” and the band seems bent on dwelling on the idea, judging from the uncharacteristically disco-friendly one-two backbeat of “Living in LA.” On the other hand, it fits with the titular sentiment, although we’ve heard “Beverly Hills” before, and Cuomo sounds again to be running out of ideas. “Piece of Cake” is a delightful detour — a McCartney-esque number, albeit with Cuomo’s perennially adolescent and unmistakably American vocals giving it a feel all of its own.”I’m Just Being Honest” has the modestly power pop drive, restrained geek chic frivolity, and catchiness that has long characterized the band, making a likely highlight for old fans.

Next comes the apocryphally titled “Too Many Thoughts In My Head,” on which Cuomo references Mary Poppins, Netflix, and Deepak Chopra. His audible frustration upon the line “I had a fucking night and my brain needs a break” is rather adorable. On “The Prince Who Wanted Everything,” Weezer revert to a tired bag of tricks. The instrumental stylings are so similar to those of “Beverly Hills” that they simply sound lazy. Still, there are fleeting moments when the band lock into an infectious groove, and shine with all their trademark attributes. Latin elements return on “Byzantine,” which follows a vaguely Bossa Nova beat, and finds Cuomo hooting away with a certain innocence of delivery that again recalls McCartney, in his most family-friendly, head-wobbling days. Things take a sonically adventurous direction on closer “California Snow,” with outrageous metal arpeggio indulgence, and Cuomo alternating between speaking and howling. The piano on this number is especially prominent, giving it the most distinctly classic rock feel showcased yet.

Like much of Weezer’s catalogue, the “Black Album” is a rather patchy work. Moreover, it can often sound hackneyed and uninspired. On the other hand, it shows a group of veteran musicians pioneers of a now ubiquitous style — who, at their finest, fall comfortably into a sound that millions have grown up on, and tap successfully into a collective consciousness that will surely make for a fair number of thoroughly satisfying moments.

Black Album” is available March 1 on Apple Music.