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The Art of the Cover - Weezer's 'Teal Album'
3rd February 2019
Following their successful cover of ‘Africa’, Weezer have surprised many by dropping a full cover album, paying homage to a selection of largely 80s and 90s tracks that would not be unusual to hear in a Klute playlist. The songs chosen are easy crowd pleasers, and Weezer’s album is naturally pleasant to listen to.
However, Weezer, regardless, face the battle that all covers do - trying to bring something fresh to the table. The best covers have brought so much of their own style that some will choose to play covers over the original; think Johnny Cash’s Nine Inch Nails Cover of ‘Hurt’, which is so tragically delivered through Cash’s deep vocals that radios will introduce the song without so much of a mention that it isn’t an original, and any innocent listener could note how personal Cash renders it. Indeed until researching, I had no idea that Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ was indeed a cover of Otis Redding just two years before her. Even the Nobel Prize winning Bob Dylan is no stranger to being overshadowed by a cover, with the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’s iconic guitar hook becoming one of their best-known tracks. A small element of the riff is present through a harmonica in the original but possesses nowhere near the power of Hendrix’s adaptation. Thus, in the hands of a skilled individual, an original song can become a canvas for greater development, and turn a simple mid-album track into something iconic.
Weezer certainly have a lot to live up to, having chosen to not only take on the great challenge of living up to the original in a cover, but picking songs so iconic that the we cannot remove the originals from our mind as we listen to Weezer’s interpretations. This is not only because they have picked popular songs, but also because, sadly, Weezer adds very little to the originals.
Opening with what was perhaps the driving feature for this album, Weezer commence with ‘Africa’, which fans had driven through online campaigning. Weezer brings their own style in the distorted yet not overpowering guitars in the chorus, adding a chunky sound that adds to the power of the belted chorus. Though Rivers Cuomo’s vocals are well delivered in this song, it falls victim to heavily muted production on the vocals, with the higher notes on ‘I bless the rains’ barely audible.
The next two songs are known both for their originals and covers, and neither adds much to the songs. The Weezer edition of ‘Everybody Wants to Rule The World’ boosts the instruments used with their signature distorted guitars, and additional solo guitar focus in the ending. While this is a good take on the song, the band could arguably do with keeping less in faith with the original. Tears For Fears were also covered on the same song by Lorde, in a dark and suspense-filled take, which is definitely worth a listen to if anyone would like to hear the potential this song has for experimentation. Weezer's Eurythmics cover is another pressured one, covered by Marilyn Manson in their typical raw, dark and ominous style. Weezer, in contrast, keep more in touch with the original. The ending is a nice edit, which draws attention to Cuomo’s vocals on an exposed final note.
The Weezer take on ‘Take on Me’ is perhaps the most disappointing one on the album, losing a lot of the vitality from the original, removing the descending and ascending keyboard notes in the final section and again falling prey to the muted production. Its saving feature is the impressive vocals from Cuomo, proving himself more than capable of Morten Harket’s range, beautifully belting out the key chorus high note.
The next is marked by a clear attempt to stick strictly to Black Sabbath’s vocal style and this loyalty removes the opportunity for Weezer to put their own stamp on the song. Had Cuomo kept his usual vocal style, they may have stripped ‘Paranoid’ back to its pleas for help and shown a more sentimental side to the lyrics.
‘Mr Blue Sky’ is the song most alike to Weezer’s music to begin with, which is nicely exploited, as the orchestral and synthetic instruments are switched out largely for high treble guitars in some sections and distortion in others, creating sections of contrast in the song that weren’t there before.
‘No Scrubs’ is the most surprising choice on the album and without a doubt the best interpretation. The only song originally performed by an all-female group, Cuomo’s voice has an interesting effect on the original, which is added to by his snappy intonation. The additional guitars are perfectly balanced in too, as they don’t drown out the original relaxed hook, and instead add angsty sections in the bridge, somehow rendering this TLC 90s classic an easy addition to a laidback emo album.
Taking on what would usually be a trap, Weezer’s Michael Jackson cover does a good job but also doesn’t overwhelm. High notes are again low volume, but Cuomo’s crooning take on the chorus redeems.
The album ends on the biggest ask, on one of the most covered songs of all time: ‘Stand By Me’. While not an incredible cover of this classic, it is a nice touch that the 80s hits elements explored by Weezer across the album are brought together on the final track, with synthesised additions to the bridge stamping a new decade mark on Ben E. King’s classic.
Overall, the Teal album is a good listen and I have no doubt that fans will love it. It is arguable that this album is largely a fan service and works as such. There is also likely to be an element of this being Weezer enjoying their favourite songs and sharing this with their fans. However, in terms of originality and interpretation, this album is very safe, rarely attempting to change much beyond instruments, although ‘No Scrubs’, and ‘Mr Blue Sky’ work well with Weezer’s style and showcase that Weezer are very capable of a unique cover, though they do not achieve it across the whole album.