February 12, 2019 | by Jeffrey Thiessen
I’m currently listening to Weezer’s The Teal Album, their new surprise release consisting entirely of covers. Truth be told, I’ve been listening to it all morning and afternoon, which is certainly not how I expected to spend Superbowl Sunday.
The Teal Album is my entire relationship/history with music, compounded into a soul-shattering homecoming of sorts, a singularity that has swallowed me up and thrust me into a world that no longer makes any sense to me, yet one that shimmers with boundless possibilities of auditory pain and pleasure. In a way, it reminds me of the puzzle box in Hellraiser, but instead of the High Priest of Hell paying me a visit, it’s Rivers Cuomo. And instead of a labyrinthian maze of the most purest form of existential anguish, I’m treated to Weezer covering hits by Eurythmics, Michael Jackson, and TLC. To truly examine this new reality is pointless, as the limitations of good/bad are stretched into the infinite, and all I’m now left with is a hellbound heart and the brutal realization that The Teal Album is now in full control of my musical destiny.
This truly is the result of gazing into the abyss too long.
The Teal Album is 10 cover songs. Here’s the list:
Tears for Fears, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”
Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”
A-Ha, “Take on Me”
Turtles, “Happy Together”
Black Sabbath, “Paranoid”
Electric Light Orchestra, “Mr. Blue Sky”
TLC, “No Scrubs”
Michael Jackson, “Billy Jean”
Ben E. King, “Stand By Me”
As you probably know by now, one of the more random musical developments in 2018 was Weezer’s cover of “Africa.” It was a truly baffling release, even for a one-off thing, and I found myself struggling with its presence in my world more than I really should’ve. It’s not that it wasn’t good — well, it certainly wasn’t a good cover by any reasonable metric — but it just occupied a very uncomfortable musical terrain within me that I didn’t know existed. This isn’t my reaction as a music journalist; this is my reaction as a human being. The song’s continued rotation in mainstream music just made me vaguely uncomfortable. I knew I wanted to rake it over the coals, but it was such foreign territory I didn’t even know where to start. Little did I know, that mutant dot stretched into a Mobius Strip with the release of The Teal Album. I have no mouth and I must scream.
Listening to their version of “Africa” is believing... no, unfortunately, the jury is definitely out in regards to believing in what exactly. Turns out “Africa” wasn’t a smokescreen after all — that ultra-faithful cover, better described as a grotesque replica, actually was a sincere warning shot. The paradox here I suppose, seemed to be the following: Weezer’s version was as close to the original as humanly possible, and there wasn’t anything in there that could be considered even a remote variation. So with that said, if you love the Toto original, why would you ever handpick Weezer’s? And if you didn’t like the Toto song, what chance could you have of liking the Weezer one?
The more I wrestled with this, the more I realized it’s just a circular hell where nobody really wins. And this concept seems to perversely excite Weezer for reasons I cannot begin to fathom, as this formula is expanded to a full-length release with The Teal Album.
I've given this a great deal of thought, and after much consideration, I think this how it probably all went down (if you insist I discount my more fun but less plausible, a Josie and the Pussycats type supervillain being the architects behind this entire album hunch):
Weezer fans started this humorous petition to get them to cover "Africa," this gains enough traction, so the band does oblige the demand, albeit in a shmucky, kind of snarky cover that sounds identical to original. Somehow this actually works, as many people expressed great admiration for their version. Now, caught in the throes of some eerie, messianic trip, they actually start to believe people will begin to prefer their note-for-note covers over the original classics, thus The Teal Album was born. Perhaps not an airtight theoretical construct, but you got anything better? I didn’t think so.
With that said, I really can’t overemphasize enough how astoundingly close to the original versions these songs are. Weezer kept all the arrangements in lockstep with their counterparts, even the bridges remain untouched for the most part. It really doesn’t take long, maybe five songs in, once you finish “Happy Together,” to realize you’ve taken time out of your day to listen to a karaoke record, one created in a world where the stars don’t shine.
And yet, the more I listen to this, the more I’m realizing the almost creepily meticulous attention to detail on these tracks. One of the coolest parts on the original “Sweet Dreams” is how Annie Lennox effortlessly alters the cadence of “this” in the hook, so it rhymes with “dreams.” It’s actually a really impressive feat, considering how self-regulating she keeps herself throughout that entire song. Well somehow, Rivers does this too, and when my ear picked up on this I was more than a little shocked. This clearly is uncharted waters I'm drifting through. After all, this was the moment set up for him to fail, this was the moment of truth that would’ve allowed us to banish The Teal Album to the same land of wind and ghosts we send all those other lame, ineffectual cover albums to. Weezer seems ahead of the curve here, yet also strangely ignorant as to why they feel such an intense responsibility to the source material. I don’t know if all nerdy bands have the capacity to be this openly sadistic, but either way, “Sweet Dreams” proved to be the moment my eye began to twitch uncontrollably.
A similar thing happens on their “Take on Me” cover. The dramatic ascension Harket seemed to nail in A-Ha’s 1984 single was a surprisingly nimble performance. Push it too far and the song loses some of its 80s pop fun; not enough and it sounds like a bad Duran Duran song. He actually walked a very fine line in terms of the famous hook, the theatrics had very little room for error. And wouldn’t you know it, Cuomo strolls in and somehow walks that exact same tightrope. This proved to be the moment my other eye began to twitch uncontrollably.
I suspect I’ll find more examples as I go on listening, but they continue to creep up on me and I hope this essay isn’t reading as complimentary. Yes, these musical cuteisms are impressive, but it’s impressive in the same way one has to marvel at a fully intact hair doll police find at the scene of a hideous murder. There’s no part of us that wants to see the unhinged maniac create this thing, and nobody really carries any tangible desire to hold it. But for many of us broken folk, there’s something buried deep inside that is truly astonished that so much beautiful effort and craftsmanship can go towards something so beyond the pale that only he could justify.
At this point you might be wondering if it’s a purposefully ironic release, and I’m the one missing the joke. I haven’t quite discounted that theory, but the more I listen to this, the less likely it seems. Any time I think I catch a hint of detached irony, I’m thrown off the scent by a song or moment way too steeped in outright sincerity (not sure if that’s the right word here, but adjectives fail me fairly constantly when it comes to this album) to lend credence to the “in on the joke” postulation. If Weezer delivered a full album of “No Scrubs” and “Billie Jean” type songs, I think then we can run with that a bit more, but when you pair them up with “Paranoid” and Electric Light Orchestra, I’m afraid chaos theory is the one we have to read up on.
When “Africa” came out, the knee-jerk reaction I initially had was, “Well, Weezer has jumped the shark, it’s clear now.” Then I heard it again, and I actually seriously started questioning their sanity. Not seriously, of course, but just one of those fun back-of-your-mind, what-if hunches that never really goes away. Now as I listen to The Teal Album, I’m questioning my own sanity. I can’t hate it, but I also can’t accept it. I just now am starting to embrace the fact that it’s actually me caught in the mouth of madness. My brain is hanging upside down. I’m nobody’s bozo, I’m everybody’s bozo… don’t send help.