Well, this is strange!
Wilfully nerdy nineties Rockers Weezer shadow-dropped a new covers album, and reactions have been mixed, to say the least. On its own merits, it’s… Nothing. At best, it’s a bit of inessential fun by a band who have been struggling for relevance for almost a decade.
At worst, it’s a cynical, grating piece of work.
The background to this record is the band’s cover of Toto’s ‘Africa’, which inexplicably went viral in 2018. A serviceable version of a beloved song, ‘Africa’ was pretty inoffensive. It was clearly a marketing gimmick, but it revived interest in the band and hinted they were building up to something.
Instead, The Teal Album doubles down on everything that was bad about that cover. Barring thirty seconds or so in ‘No Scrubs’, Weezer do nothing of any note with any of these songs. And even that interlude doesn’t exactly enhance the song. The covers are paint-by-numbers in the fullest sense, with Weezer simply mimicking the original recordings. ‘Paranoid’ sounds like Black Sabbath. ‘Take on Me’ sounds like A-Ha. ‘Mr Blue Sky’ sounds like ELO. And so on. There’s nothing to dig into here. If you’ve heard any of these songs before, these versions won’t hold anything for you. If you haven’t, it’s hard to see what you’d get out of these renditions.
Of course, that’s likely the point. No-one is coming to this album with fresh ears, and Weezer are counting on that. The track selection encapsulates the lazy, uninspired nature of the whole project. There’s no artistic drive. The band simply picked a few nostalgia-heavy hits. This leaves The Teal Album little to offer beyond the appreciation you get hearing a familiar song at a karaoke night. And Rivers Cuomo’s overproduced vocals often prevent our enjoying the record even on that level.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Many on the internet have come to the album’s defence, claiming that it’s just fun to hear a group you like cover songs you know. Maybe. And I’ll concede that nothing on here is actively bad. The songs are performed competently. ‘Africa’ had the same problems and avoided anywhere near the negative response The Teal Album has met with. So what gives?
True, stretching the shtick out makes it a lot more obnoxious. But who really listens to albums these days? Most will simply whack on whichever song they want to hear the Weezer-oke version of at that particular moment.
No, to understand why this album is so offensive, we must examine the state of the ‘guitar music’ industry. Weezer do nothing here that hundreds, possibly thousands, of bands don’t do every night. I’ve seen bar and function bands smash out these exact songs countless times, and often play them better. Yet where those bands slog away for pittance wages, Weezer receive national and international press attention for less inspired takes on the same material. It reeks of entitlement.
Worse, it may actually be bad for guitar music. It’s frighteningly difficult to get booked to play original material right now, for a litany of reasons too numerous and detailed to go into here. Nine times out of ten, venue owners take the safe bet and hire a band to play well known covers. In releasing an album where they do exactly that, Weezer contribute to lower standards and expectations. And for that, they deserve anything but praise. Let’s hope The Black Album is better.