Responding to a Twitter handle dedicated to convincing Weezer to cover the Toto classic "Africa," the Los Angeles alt-rockers released their version in May 2018. (The art for the single even features one of the account's tweets to Rivers Cuomo.) What I assumed to be a standalone release has become the lead track of the band's Teal Album.
Unlike Weezer's previous four self-titled albums, this one is made up entirely of covers. And despite its "Miami Vice"-inspired artwork, it's not made up entirely of '80s songs, and Cuomo doesn't sing lead on all of them, leaving one to another member of the band.
It's Brian Bell, guitarist, who does his best Ozzy Osbourne impression on a true-to-form interpretation of "Paranoid." Rather than bringing out the the fuzz and power-pop that Weezer's known for, Cuomo and Bell are happy to channel guitarist Tony Iommi.
That's a reoccurring theme. The band doesn't try to drastically reinvent arrangements on the majority of the songs re-imagined here. Still, there's something new to take away from most of these remakes. Cuomo's voice has become so distinct. Simply adding his voice to a song like Eurthymics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" separates Weezer's version from the Annie Lennox-fronted original, despite the similarities of the backing tracks.
Another example is "Mr. Blue Sky." As iconic as Jeff Lynne's vocals are on the ELO classic, it's interesting to hear Cuomo's enunciation. The lyrics sound clearer than ever. While I love the original, it's nice to hear it in a different way, especially because the quality of musicianship compares well with ELO.
Also, it's nice to hear updated technology on synth-heavy selections like A-ha's "Take on Me." Cuomo's vocal performance is compelling. Instead of taking a sing-along, cover band approach, the frontman seems to show care to convey the lyrics' original intention. There's an element of sincerity in his voice.
One of the songs that stands out the least is the Tears for Fears cover, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." It's a solid performance, like every other song on the album, but Relient K covered the song eight years ago, and there's was better. Given the bands' similarities (especially being from roughly the same era), it's hard not to compare the two versions.
The most current song to get a Weezer makeover is TLC's 1999 hit "No Scrubs." And it's the song that (albeit briefly) strays stylistically from the original the most. Around the halfway mark of the track, it cuts into the heavy fuzz, reminiscent of "My Name Is Jonas." And what's interesting about this, is for those 20-plus seconds, it sounds more like a classic Weezer song than anything from the band's last LP of originals, "Pacific Daydream."
In some respects, "Stand By Me" also takes a different approach than Ben E. King's 1961 classic. And given it's the oldest song tackled on the Teal Album, that makes sense. While they don't come in initially, the band's power-poppy guitars (as well as the synth break) were obviously absent from the original. And while "Billie Jean" features the strings and beat of Michael Jackson's version, it would be hard to believe that Chris Cornell's version didn't influence Weezer, at least in part.
I'm certainly not calling for "Weezer" (Teal Album) to win a Grammy, but it's considerably better than it has any business being. For a surprise cover album, it seems to have been put together with an exceptional amount of care. The production and performances are great. And while it would have been easy for Weezer to add "Rosanna," the b-side of their "Africa" single, to cut corners, they didn't do that.
This record, which is only available digitally for now, should serve its purpose of getting fans excited for the March 1 release of the Black Album.