The Teal Album
performed by weezer
1 out 5 rains blessed in africa
The music business is like the writing business---there are no new stories. There was orpheus and eurydice before romeo and juliet before bella and edward before hazel and augustus. And there was chuck berry before the beatles before led zepplin before the sex pistols before weezer. Drawing from the common well, attempting to recreate success, isn’t a crime, it’s a tradition. But weezer’s release of the teal album, comprised entirely of covers, is a crime against music because it neglects its duties during the recycling process.
Personal bias exculpatory paragraph. Weezer’s always flown below my own personal radar. Their brand of nerdpunk never tickled the ol’ music gland, although their blue album lingered in my cd case like months-old lasagna leftovers. Before this, I had no idea what the band’s been up to. So teal was an odd experience---rediscovering a band via a bundle of prepackaged songs that’re so well known they’re practically family.
Like the rolling stones, weezer’s resurfacing prompts the question, ‘Wait, those guys are still around?’ It seems appropriate then that this ‘new’ album (released while working on their actual new album, the black album) lacks any semblance of originality. A musically honorable cover should keep some of the same spirit as the original while also injecting fresh je ne sais quoi. It’s not an easy criterion to meet; too much fiddling perverts the song’s intention, too little leaves it flat and stinking of sameness. If a song exists somewhere out in the aether, whole and unto itself, yanking it down to earth and spotify should be done with care. In their lackluster efforts, weezer has dragged these tunes out of some idealized memory realm and shoved them in front of us like a cat proudly laying someone’s roadkill at your feet.
Note for note, teal’s tracks are, at best, about the same as the originals, but there are a few cringers. ‘Billie jean’ is particularly stillborn. Michael jackson, like prince, layers his songs with a vibrant, animalistic musicality. It has a synesthetic effect----seeing with your ears as mj prowls and struts in front of you. This is largely through little percussive, breathy Michael-isms throughout the lyrics that seem unconscious, singular, irreproducible. ‘Billie jean is not my girl-uh.’ He uses his breath to augment the tension in the song. Rivers cuomo, weezer’s lead, sings in a flatter, four-four, straight man style. Squeezing mj’s vocal hip bumps into weezer’s brand of two-dimensional rock strips the funk out completely.
‘Mr blue sky’ is similarly tragic. Electric light orchestra’s version pairs bouncy lyrics with bouncy piano bars to evoke an endless, summery optimism. Released in 1977, it harkens back to before the flower power revolution was occluded by all that cloudy vietnam business. weezer, despite filling out the the depths of song with extra helpings of dubstepish bass fuzz (as opposed to e.l.o.’s cheerful, tuba-ish low end), fails to capture even an iota of e.l.o.’s energy. Maybe ironic nerdpunk bands shouldn’t touch zany americana anthems, as a rule.
Just like learning that paul is dead in ‘revolution 9,’playing this record backwards reveals a secret message: ‘why bother?’ There are a couple plausible hypotheses why an established band would upchuck this project---for love, and for money. Toto’s ‘africa’ was the first to receive treatment, done at a 14-year-old’s twitter request. What’s interesting is that weezer’s epitaph will read, ‘somewhat clever, kinda subversive, faintly memorable,’ and ‘Africa’s will be, ‘universally liked, never loved.’ That is, a lukewarm band chose a lukewarm song. It would seem to be a recipe for blandness (‘the beige album’?), but whatever its temperature it viraled through the internet like tuberculosis. A quick retreat to the studio and teal was born, wretched and encephalitic. Streams soared, critics scorned. And but so it seems possible that while jamming out to Toto-an grooves, their grubby, nerdy little hearts grew three sizes and their eyes met over the soundboard and they knew they had to share the love. Perhaps. More likely, the ageing band---whose fan base is mostly still teens---leapt at the chance to meme-ize themselves in a bid to grab a shred of cultural relevance. The friend who alerted me to this album sent her own concise explanation: ‘because covers.’ Indeed.
Overall, teal would be a better backyard barbeque jam session than a produced album. This group of songs is meant to be seen live, with west coast sunshine playing over your bare feet and mai-tais at hand. As a packaged album it’s stale and uninspired. In my review of chumbawumba’s ‘tubthumping’ I quoted a manifesto of theirs: ‘The only thing you can do to music that will damage it is not to change it.’ Weezer, in compiling a set of covers that are, at best, indistinguishable from their originals, has damaged music. They’re trying to revive ten hit tracks that were perfectly healthy all along.