We should have seen this coming.
To understand why The Teal Album is so obvious in hindsight, let’s wind the clock back a little. Last time we checked in on Weezer here at RAM was in 2016 with The White Album, the final piece of a three-part (Hurley was underrated!) “return to form” arc that proved Rivers Cuomo and company could still write swooning power pop when they wanted to after the band cratered in the late ’00s/early ’10s. About a year later came Pacific Daydream, a not-great album that, to its credit at least zagged where Everything Will Be Alright in the End and The White Album zigged by shirking the latter pair’s ’90s revivalist sonic pallet for a splashy attempt at modern pop rock, a reasonable enough idea that fell flat because no one knows what modern pop rock sounds like (although, if you wanna hear some of Cuomo’s most bizarre lyrics over the best song Foster the People never wrote, have I got a happy hour for you). Pacific Daydream was a rare holding pattern for Weezer: not good enough for “they’re back!” praise, but not bad enough to bury them, either.
And then, fucking “Africa” happened.
Okay, so if you know you know, but if you don’t: somewhere in December of 2017, a 14 year old from Cleveland started an online campaign for Weezer to cover Toto’s “Africa.” It started, in the kid’s words, as an absurd joke, but between the fact that Weezer are the sort of shamelessly earnest quirksters who boosted YouTubers before they were fashionable (in every sense of the word) and that “Africa” has unseated “Don’t Stop Believin'” as the internet’s semi-ironic throwback jam of choice, there was always a chance that “And now, listen to Weezer’s cover of ‘Africa'” was going to be a real thing. Well, six months later, it happened, and the cover itself is…not great; “Africa” as done by Weezer has the stilted ribbing of a corporation trying to monetize a meme, and while the execution is fine, it lacks a certain vividness. Oh, and it’s also the band’s biggest hit of the ’10s (#51 on the Hot 100), and it’s generated more buzz than anything off Pacific Daydream.
And, because Cuomo is willing to dedicate himself to any pursuit if he thinks it’ll garner a response, here we are, reckoning with The Teal Album. Teal is a 10 song (“Africa” and 9 more) cover album that the band surprise released last Thursday, and unlike most cover albums that aim for cred-booster selections, Teal encapsulates a believable setlist for any cover bar band in the union: “Sweet Dreams,” “Take on Me,” “Stand by Me,” and the one daring choice in the bunch with “No Scrubs.” These are all such obvious choices that I already know cover versions for half of them off the top of my head. You’d think that’s kind of damning, but honestly…Teal might be sort of good?
How can I think that Teal‘s decent when I abhor the song that started it all? Well, part of it is because of how Weezer engages with humor and irony. In short, Weezer are incapable of being funny on purpose. Endearingly oddball? Yes. Bizarre, even? You bet. But as soon as Cuomo even sniffs at a joke, he’s dead in the water; compare the effectiveness of “Buddy Holly”‘s earnest, dorky huff of “What’s with these homies dissin’ my girl?!” to any other forehead slap inducing use of rap slang in Weezer’s discography for an example. Writing in 2014 for Grantland, music writer Steven Hyden called this phenomenon “fog of Weezer,” stating “It’s possible that Cuomo is so profoundly awkward that his sincerity comes out sounding funny and his jokes come off as sincere” and posits that Cuomo’s questionable sarcasm can be confusing or infuriating. I think that’s what happened with “Africa:” Weezer were aware that them covering the song was a gag, and so they waffled on the punchline, and I hated it.
But Teal is entirely the band’s creation. It’s irony free, and all the better for it. Weezer aren’t doing these covers and going yacht rock because it’s funny, they’re doing it because they think it’s awesome. The band fully commits to nailing the song, and so you get results like the playful “Mr. Blue Sky,” a spirited “Sweet Dreams,” and a surprisingly apt vocal for “No Scrubs,” which is way better than it has the right to be. Cuomo is more deft as a singer than Weezer’s reputation suggests, not only does he crush “No Scrubs,” but he faces down “Take On Me” and walks away clean.
Another reason Teal succeeds as a fun novelty is that, ignoring a touch of distortion here, some extra “Bah bah bah” backing vocals on “Happy Together” there, these are mostly note-for-note recreations with a little extra muscle and polish. On one hand, there’s something to be said for originality–Marilyn Manson‘s snarling, buzzsaw version of “Sweet Dreams” is guaranteed to outlast what Weezer offers on Teal–but on the other…aren’t “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “Happy Together,” and “Paranoid” perfectly written stone cold classics already?
Teal only really biffs once (twice, if you’re counting “Africa”) with “Billie Jean” neglecting the low-end, but it’s enjoyable as a one-off. Teal has, as it inevitably would, prompted a hint of backlash from oldhead Weezer fans writing faux-disappointed “Why won’t this band just die already?” pieces, and at this point, it’s worth taking a step back. “Beverly Hills,” a song considered the nadir of Weezer’s existence when it came out, is now about the same age I was at its release. Raditude, which in one song contains rock bottom for not just one but two careers with plenty of low-lights between then, turns ten this year. If you want a ’90s band whose going to honor the sanctity of the era and their canon then, I don’t know, see what Eddie Vedder’s up to. Weezer long ago decided they were going to go their own way, and so when you see Rivers cue up “No Scrubs” on the karaoke machine, you have to know you can either sing back up or head for the door. He’s gonna go for it, regardless.