Weezer (Teal Album) (Crush/Warner)
As with compilation albums, covers albums are often unfairly maligned.
The standard take is they’re the lazy route for someone who can’t rustle up enough new material, or can’t be arsed looking for new material as a contract expires. They’re the cheap route to attention and maybe the cabaret/Las Vegas circuit. They divert attention to the coverer rather than the covered.
As someone whose first album bought with his own money was Explosive Hits 75, whose first exposure to Al Green, for example, came via Orange Juice and Talking Heads, and who began a proper, and life-long, exploration and enjoyment of country music with Elvis Costello’s covers album, Almost Blue, I’m not in the anti camp. Or at least not automatically.
But I do have to ask, what is the purpose of this Weezer album?
You can assume the ten songs, which dip into the ‘90s (No Scrubs) and ‘60s (Happy Together and Stand By Me) but spend the bulk of their time in the ‘80s and ‘70s, are childhood favourites of Rivers Cuomo (who was born in 1970) and his band of guitar pop fans and occasional ironists.
You can assume they want their fans, many of whom have stuck loyally through the stylistic variations and quality fluctuations of Weezer since the self-titled debut, aka the Blue Album, in 1994, to share the love.
You could also assume they have taken the view that those favourites were essentially perfect as originally performed because most of the time here the arrangements and sounds of the originals are replicated either exactly or with as close an approximation as possible.
Take Toto’s Africa for example (and, of course it would be Africa, which along with Horses in Australia, is an inexplicably beloved song of the under-25s – none of whom were born of course when they were released) which except for a slightly tougher guitar tone at times is all but indistinguishable from the original. Or Take On Me, whose introductory drum pattern is slightly different from the A-Ha version but the song otherwise plays it straight.
Much the same can be said for Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) and Everybody Wants To Rule The World whose keyboard sounds are as faithful as a Labrador and whose vocal arrangements are as familiar as an election promise of tax cuts. And if No Scrubs doesn’t have the same slinkiness of TLC it can’t be blamed on any attempt to change too much bar some rock guitars in the middle 8.
Likewise, if Paranoid isn’t as dark and invasive as the Sabbath original, it has more to with Cuomo’s sweeter voice than some sudden desire to make it pop. Or country, or R&B or anything different.
So what exactly do Weezer bring to the table with this mimicry? Nothing that says “I’d never expect to hear this song done like this”; nothing that says “when exposed/explored this way it makes me see/appreciate this song for the first time”; nothing that says “I thought I knew the best songs from [insert name here] but here’s a revelation I must go back and discover”; nothing even that says “well we’re being ironic”. Nothing that says “this is so Weezer”.
Like the colour itself, the Teal Album is neither this nor that, and unlikely to inspire anything more than middling response and being forgotten at the back of the wardrobe/cabinet soon enough when a proper colour (or the original version) is available on any streaming service.
Such an odd, wasteful, thing to do with your new record.