Monday, September 18, 2017

Weezer: A Tale of Two Black Albums

Which one should see the light of day first?
With Weezer’s 11th proper studio release, Pacific Daydream, set to drop on October 27, loyal fans who stuck with them long enough to enjoy their redemption over the course of the last two albums might find a handful of reasons to scratch their heads at things that shouldn’t be all that surprising.  On the most basic level, listeners who became complacent with the marked increase in quality of Weezer’s recent records may wonder how the bottom could once again drop out with lead singles “Feels Like Summer” and “Mexican Fender”. However, this becomes less of a shock when one takes into account how few artists successfully recover from a mid-career slump and actually give justification to the music press’ obligatory comparisons to their classic period.  Indeed, when adding the latest single “Beach Boys” to the mix, the most surprising thing about the band’s return to vanilla becomes the fact that it’s taken them this long to explicitly glorify the Hawthorne, CA legends in one of their songs.   That being said, the rise and fall of Weezer had already become a tired narrative by the time 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End showed that they could still win over some of the “Matt Sharp or bust” crowd.  As such, an aspect of this album cycle worth paying more attention to is the non-release of a previously hyped Black Album.
Building up to Pacific Daydream’s announcement, leader Rivers Cuomo had mentioned the forthcoming Black Album a handful of times in the press. Speaking to DIY Magazine in April 2016, he predicted the follow up would be “less summer day and more winter night” than the then-newly released White Album. While darker, more mature themes and coarser language were projected, the band ultimately scrapped this pursuit in favor of what became Pacific Daydream. Clear details regarding the quantity of abandoned material, or whether any of it carried over to the official product have yet to surface, but this change of direction should also not surprise longtime fans of the band. After all, a wealth of unused material has been the band’s calling card since at least as far back as when the demoed concept album Songs From the Black Hole was pushed aside in favor of 1996’s now-acclaimed Pinkerton.  A few years later, over 60 songs would be rejected before 2001’s Green Album’s 28 minute program was finalized, with the self-bootleg Summer Songs 2000 representing some discarded highlights that had seen the stage. In a similar fashion, 2005’s platinum Make Believe arose from a stockpile of more songs than Weezer had released to date. Though the sheer quantity of tracks left behind even halfway through their career is staggering,  the group’s productivity still grew to excess even past the 20 year mark, with approximately 250 contenders that didn’t make it past pre-production for their White Album. Clearly, Weezer is a prolific rock band who keep completionists hungry by the change of their moods, but even if they’ve built a brand on color-coding identically titled albums, it is still somewhat baffling why they would begin work on a second Black Album before even releasing the first.
Yes, between the Green Album and 2002’s Maladroit, another Black Album neared completion. At this point in their career, though they had just lost bassist Mikey Welsh (to what were long mysterious circumstances), Weezer was riding high on their first of many comebacks, and were creative as ever. With a heavy touring schedule sandwiching their studio dates,  new material was tested out on the road, like Black Album tracks “So Low” and “We Go Together", as heard on their occasionally bootlegged October 2001 HBO Reverb special. Having momentum on their side, work continued until November 2001, when a tentative 12 song sequence was assembled.  Perhaps the group was unsatisfied with the performances or expected that better songs would appear in short order, but for whatever still yet-to-be-explained reasons, this album made it no further than this step in production. Soon after, in December 2001, work on what would become Maladroit commenced. A majority of the original Black Album songs were also attempted during these sessions, but only two (“Fall Together” and “Do You Want Me To Stay”) would make it onto the released disc.  Fortunately for hungry fans, Maladroit-era Cuomo took great interest how the then-recent popular adoption of the internet could help bridge the gap between the band and their followers, and several work-in-progress demos were leaked from the man himself, including new versions of songs featured on the Black Album. However, by the time Maladroit was released in May 2002, the abandoned Black Album faded into obscurity for good.
Enough time has passed since then for many fans to reappraise Maladroit as a worthy successor to the Green Album and a hidden gem in the storied band’s cannon, though Weezer’s increasingly greatest-hits oriented concerts currently leave all but minor hits “Dope Nose” and “Keep Fishin’” off the stage. The intervening years have also treated listeners to variety of long-lost tunes, including some of Make Believe’s “Fallen Soldiers” on 2010’s Death To False Metal, and a complete (albeit discontinuous) release of Songs From the Black Hole via Cuomo’s Alone series of demo compilations. It’s a testament to how low of a priority for the band the original Black Album is that it wasn’t revisited on the above archival releases, and that no questions were raised when a second Black Album was hinted at in 2016 speaks volumes of the press’ commitment to research on the matter. With enough motivation, listeners today can approximate what the lost record may have sounded like via circulating demos, but between Weezer’s continued productivity and how overdue the deluxe edition of the Green Album is, a proper release of 2001’s Black Album doesn’t seem to stand a chance in the foreseeable future.

Black Album (2001) : 11/3/01 work in progress track list (courtesy of

1. My Weakness
2. Change The World
3. The Dawn
4. Ain't Got Much Time
5. We Go Together
6. Fall Together*
7. Diamond Rings
8. Your Room
9. Living Without You#
10. So Low
11. Faith in the Light
12. Do You Want Me to Stay (a.k.a. Love Explosion)*

*remade and released on Maladroit
#remade and released on the Japanese release of Maladroit

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