Weezer, a band that has been active longer than I’ve been alive. Wild. From their first album in 1994, they’ve managed to cling onto the spotlight and produce numerous hits and several albums. I actually saw them live in concert once, they weren’t bad. They were slightly undercut by a Panic at the Disco! concert that came before them. Sorry Rivers Cuomo, Brendon Urie was just more, uhmmm, interesting to my preteen music tastes.
When they aren’t naming albums after everyone’s favorite Lost character, Hurley, they are naming their albums after colors. They recently released the Teal Album, which, much to the chagrin of fans, contains no original songs. The entire album is a series of covers, headlined by their remake of Africa which was well received last year. Imagine having such FU money that you can afford to produce an entire album of cover songs.
So I thought, wouldn’t it be fun if I reviewed the new songs and saw how they stacked up to the originals? Disclaimer: I’m not a music critic, so I really don’t know what I’m talking about. So I’m just gonna wing it. And I also realize that it’s very difficult for a cover to live up to the original, but I have high expectations for a band that can tour around the nation and devotes one of their entire studio albums to these covers.
Oh, and for further fun I will include one out of context frame from each of the original music videos.
In an effort to dissuade myself of any anti-Weezer bias, I listened to their cover first and then to the original, so as to not disproportionately become attached to the nostalgia of the classic song. This one I’d heard both the remake and the original the most, so I have a pretty decent idea of what I think. Most of the remakes in this album are definitively “rock” versions of the song they’re covering, and use many techniques to make the cover sound more modern and less processed. To my view, this is by far the most iconic song of their entire album that I don’t think there was ever any hope of their cover being able to surpass it. And frankly, I don’t think the Weezer version is that good of a song. It sounds more like an over-processed vaporwave parody of the original than a faithful rendition of Toto’s biggest hit. Cuomo’s voice lacks the soul and passion of David Paich and Bobby Kimball. The instrumental of the Weezer song is also pretty abysmal compared to the Toto version, it sounds like something out of a shitty SoundCloud technotronic rap. At its core, the song is about Africa and this reminds me more of Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto than a soulful ballad about the rains washing over the singer.
Decision: The Toto version, and it’s not even close.
Everybody Wants to Rule the World
Ah, the classic Tears for Fears track that’s really quite depressing if you stop and think about the lyrics. Surprisingly, I actually found myself being quite captivated by the Weezer rendition. Honestly, the Weezer version slaps. The Weezer here was also a great deal more faithful to core aspects of the original, which I think benefitted. But there are a couple areas where the Weezer version even exceeds it. The chorus, aided by Weezer’s usage of electric guitars and interesting riffs, greatly benefited the impact of the song and the ability for you to just let the music wash over you and start banging your head. That’s not to disparage the Tears for Fears, of course, but by injecting a modern rock sound the lyrics have much greater impact and modernizes the song. In the case of Africa, the “retro” sound, for Everybody Wants to Rule the World, I think I’d probably have to say taking a more modern approach while still being pretty faithful was the best route.
Decision: The Weezer version
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
I’ve never been the biggest fan of this song, I always found it a little too gritty and 80s sounding, but I suppose that’s part of the charm. Cuomo’s relatively soft-spoken demeanor comes out against him in this song, the Eurythmics original had a very strong vocal performance by Annie Lennox. The instrumentals of the song are also not innovated at all in Weezer’s song, their cover suffers from the fact that it is too similar to the original, it just sounds like a lukewarm rendition you’d hear in a bar. It’s a fine balance, I know. The Weezer version captures all of the somewhat bizarre and obtuse characteristics of the original with none of the charm. Not a big fan.
Decision: The Eurythmics version
Take On Me
I value honesty. And to be honest, the Weezer version really had no shot to begin with. I absolutely lovvveee the original version of this song by a-ha. But objectively speaking, this song doesn’t stack up to the original. The beats aren’t as good, Cuomo can’t get the range that Morten Harket could, and the song feels too processed. Weezer also does this weird thing where they introduce acoustic guitar strumming, which really doesn’t fit the synth-heavy song at all. It feels so out of place. Listen to the original! Hear the range and passion and all the best aspects of the 80s come out in it. The Weezer version lacks that. This is one of the most classic songs of the 1980s, it’d be near impossible to get a cover that could ever surpass the original. Probably my biggest issue with this song is the vocals, I just don’t think Cuomo really stacks up to the high expectations of the original song. He really can’t hit those highs, and he probably shouldn’t have tried to.
Decision: The a-ha Version, c’mon Weezer
Weezer has taken a decidedly older turn for their next track, the original being made in the 60s by The Turtles. Perhaps due to that age, Weezer does their largest conversion of the original to date. Most of the previous covers were the original with rock elements, Happy Together is a straight up rock song. And you know what, I actually kinda dig it. The original is mostly focused on vocals, but the electric guitar here is just a really nice touch and the drums go a bit more ham in the Weezer version. I think that’s a better balance. Maybe the original intent was for the song to be one about love, but I’ve probably heard it played at more sporting events than weddings so I think it’s probably more important for the song to be something you can really jam out to. And the Weezer take is a lot easier to jam out to than the original casual and calm ballad from the 1960s. See Rivers, sometimes you can experiment and I’ll like it.
Decision: The Weezer version
I’d never heard of this song before I did this. I’m familiar with Paint it Black than Black Sabbath, sorry to say. I really don’t have a stake in this particular race. This is like everytime my dad takes me to a football game to see his shitty college team play football. I’m just here for the spectacle of it. Unfortunately, no strong opinions about either song means I don’t have any good roasts. I think the Weezer version really utilizes the guitar a lot more, and a lot more effectively too. Weezer definitely is presenting a more clean sounding, and less aggressive song to listen to than the Black Sabbath version. Look, if you’re big into hair metal I don’t think Rivers is really gonna win you over with this track. For me though, it comes off as more accessible and easier to listen to than the Black Sabbath version. I will probably never listen to either of these songs again, but if I were to choose one, it’d be the Weezer one.
Decision: The Weezer version
Mr. Blue Sky
Sometimes when I listen to a song from the 1980s, it sounds a little weird and the type of singers they get probably wouldn’t be very popular today. But for these songs, like Mr. Blue Sky, that’s almost part of their charm. It just sounds like the original song was filtered and the pitch was awkwardly increased to the point where it is just completely over-processed. I’m not a fan. Electric guitar also isn’t really doing this particular song any favors. Another place where this cover falls noticeably short is in the parts where there aren’t any lyrics the singers are just sorta umming and awwing. You just can’t go toe to toe with ELO on this one, guys.
Decision: The ELO version
This sounds like a bad karaoke rendition.
Decision: The TLC version
Not a huge MJ guy, personally, but the chorus on this one is pretty good. Looking at the last two songs, Weezer has the King of Pop and the classic Ben E. King to go up against. Not light competition, to be sure. Both versions are very adamant that “the kid is not my son”, so a Maury Povich visit might be necessary to ultimately determine the father of this poor child. This is bizarre, the Weezer version honestly feels a little bit more dated in its choice of instrumentals than the MJ version, atrocious (by modern ears) sound quality aside. I think Weezer’s strength is their ability to breathe new life into older songs by utilizing rock techniques that weren’t around/popular in the era of the original song, while keeping faith to the original.
Stand By Me
Now you’ve fucked up Rivers. You DO NOT go after the classic one-hit-wonder BEN E. KING. And to make it the finale of your album of middling covers? It’s an insult. Coming at the ORIGINAL BEN E. KING sounding like a half-drunk high school band at their ten-year reunion. Step off bro. It is absolutely ridiculous man. Unbelievable.
Well, that’s all she wrote. This album wasn’t awful, honestly. It just wasn’t very good, in my musically ignorant opinion. I’m not a fan. I like a lot of their songs, Beverly Hills, Pork and Beans, and California Kids are solid bangers. I just don’t think it’s particularly creatively fulfilling to release an entire album based off of shit that wasn’t your own work. Same thing with Hollywood. No Weezer, we don’t need a Stand by Me cover, nor do we need a Harry Potter reboot. Have an original thought for once.