Rivers Cuomo, a man with a voice like acid-washed denim damp with an unknown liquid, has decided to cheer up the other creeps that are somehow still in Weezer in 2019 by going into the studio and recording the setlist of a cover band that hasn’t realized that you have to put a few singles in the tip jar before the show or else it just looks sad.
It’s tempting to say that nobody asked for this but someone actually did – a Cleveland teenager who started a viral campaign to get them to cover the suddenly ironically popular 1981 yacht-rock hit Africa, proving the observation of one of my colleagues that Weezer has somehow had a stranglehold on the exact same demographic since 1994. Mistaking this for a genuine desire to hear Now That’s What I Call the 80s as sung by a man who once listed the races of all the girls in all his songs on MySpace to prove that he didn’t have a thing for Asian women, Weezer scraped together nine more covers and called it the Teal Album. Now we have to actually face up to the fact that it exists because they didn’t have the common courtesy to drop it in the wake of some other big release so that those of us with theology and geometry can safely ignore it.
There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding here of what made pop hits of the 80s so catchy, clean, and satisfying. The lead track, Africa, does away with the delicate vocal harmony of the chorus and Porcaro’s clean bongo groove, replacing them with a GarageBand alt-rock drum loop and flat vocals. The same holds true for Everybody Wants To Rule The World, where the delicate Prophet-5 chords punctuating the chorus are replicated by some goon whaling on an electric guitar. That electric guitar comes back on nearly every track on the album, always at hilariously inappropriate moments. Its omnipresence gives the distinct impression that whoever arranged it knew that the keyboardist wasn’t good enough to nail certain parts, and they were right.
The real sin of this album is the synth programming, which by all accounts was done by a team of bonobos let loose in the keyboard section of Guitar Center. A bad keyboardist is something you absolutely cannot afford to have on an album composed primarily of 80s synth-pop, and it robs us of so many of the little joys of the genre that would have been so easy to replicate. The keyboard solo on Africa, deep bass on Billie Jean, and triumphant resumption and variation on the riff after the bridge of Sweet Dreams all sound like excerpts from the MIDI track of an alien-themed pinball table. The delivery of “shying away” on Take On Me is stretched awkwardly – shyeeahn aweeyh instead of the neatly swallowed participle of the original. It’s hard to see how that got through whoever post-processed the vocal tracks for this album because Rivers’ voice seems to have been polished to the texture of the type of weatherproof plastic they make above-ground pools out of.
The song choices here are extremely questionable. They actually did No Scrubs as if the album cover wasn’t four white dads in pastel sport coats and floral shirts. Look at these men: are they not all the quintessential Scrubs, also known as Bustas? Nobody in this band has enough funk in them to pull off Billie Jean or Stand By Me either, the latter of which should get them haunted by the vengeful ghost of Ben E. King. Surprisingly enough, though, they do a half-decent cover of Paranoid. Rivers does a convincing Ozzy, there’s no keyboards to screw up, and the guitar that’s so inappropriate introducing the chorus of Africa feels right at home here. I’d listen to an album of Weezer covering Black Sabbath because it would just sound like Black Sabbath with cleaner production and a slightly worse guitarist.
That’s the core of the problem with this album. Is it a bad thing to put your own spin on a cover? No, of course not, but you actually have to do it in your own style. Weezer stays so safe in the harbor that any deviations from the sound of the original appear to be incompetence. Even if I were a Weezer fan I don’t think I would return to anything on this album other than for the novelty of playing the Weezer cover of No Scrubs to annoy my friends. As it stands it’s a cheap attempt at holding the spotlight of the music press until they release their upcoming Black Album, something that will go largely unnoticed because it doesn’t have funny anachronistic covers on it that the original artists have to come out of the woodwork and begrudgingly approve of.
That’s the problem with being Weezer: once your teenage fanbase gets old enough to go to the casino shows you would otherwise be playing they’ve already moved on to better music. Instead of just living off the dividends from the Buddy Holly mutual fund they have to constantly keep up with what 12 to 16-year-olds are into, and right now that means covering Africa. Won’t someone rescue Rivers Cuomo from this pop-punk purgatory and let him sink into comfortable obscurity?