Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

Weezer – Africa

We’re covering this because it was demanded on Twitter by like… maybe one or two people!


Joshua Minsoo Kim: An exciting musical event for people who go online and say things like “You, good sir, win the internet today.”

Taylor Alatorre: What did Weezer have to do to get back in the good graces of the Hot 100 for the first time since the balloon boy hoax? Apologize for party rocking with Dr. Luke and Jermaine Dupri? Drop the affectations and release a cathartic summer bummer album featuring their single greatest track since the 90s? Put the affectations back on, using late-period Fall Out Boy as a guidepost rather than a cautionary tale? Nope. Apparently all they had to do was check their Twitter mentions. The success of Weezer’s “Africa,” along with Disturbed’s “The Sound of Silence” and Bad Wolves’ “Zombie,” portends a dark future in which guitar groups grasp onto whatever relevance they can by serving up unchallenging, irony-free leaf rubbings of pop’s past glories. It’s the easy path, and it’s also the best way to self-fulfill the prophecy of rock’s demise. If rock is destined to become the new jazz, 80s Greatest Hits compilations are the new standards. We should demand more audacious interpretations than this.

Hannah Jocelyn: A great shitpost functions like a Rube Goldberg machine, putting a maximum amount of effort into a minimal, slight result (see: the GameCube meme). The insistence that Weezer should cover “Africa” was great not only because of the dedication of the Twitter account, but because fundamentally it’s not a bad idea! Weezer has a sense of humor, and they’re particularly notable for their harmonies and guitar riffs. Yet the result is abhorrent, with the worst mix to hit the Hot 100 this decade, a superlative achieved from the first crash cymbal and distractingly metallic snare. As the song goes on, distorted guitars and multitracked harmonies fight for space, obscuring those drum and culminating in a synth solo that screams Free 80s Synth VST instead of remotely mimicking the original. “Africa” is a hard song to cover, so it doesn’t make sense to learn the song so meticulously and then utterly give up on anything else (harmonies and tom fills notwithstanding). The punchline should be that the cover is great, not that the cover exists st all — think Celine Dion’s contribution to Deadpool 2. Weezer’s lack of willingness to go the extra mile, unlike Dion, is frustrating and borderline insulting. Internet types suspect that the poor mixing is “passive agressive,” but what’s the point of that? It’s “Africa.” The best covers of a song like that, shitposters or otherwise, both play up the camp factor and taking the actual songcraft seriously. The camp is there with Weezer, but it’s still jarring hearing a version of “Africa” that feels dry and perfunctory instead of joyous.

Juan F. Carruyo: This is what happens when a (bad) meme comes to life: the boys from Weezer take a note-for-note trip through the yacht rock classic adding metal power chords in the chorus but undermining the groove by subtracting the congas from the mix, so all that is left is a joyless, by-the-numbers execution. 

Alex Clifton: I like “Africa” as much as the next white people, but did we need this? Who asked for this? Is this ironic or sincere? “Africa” has been so memed out and Weezer themselves feel like a meme band that I’m struggling to wrap my head around it. As a cover: it’s faithful and seems to love the source material. As a Weezer song: surprisingly not sarcastic, which is a nice change from Rivers Cuomo’s usual schtick. As a whole: it’s kind of a mess.

Tim de Reuse: I mean, it’s bad. The chorus, originally personable and warm, is here reduced to a straining mess of sugary guitars and phoned-in autotune. But even if there were an ounce of passion in the delivery, and even if the execution was in any way technically competent, and even if it didn’t have the air of a desperate attempt to hop on a long-departed bandwagon, this would still be a waste of everyone’s time, because Rivers Cuomo does not have anything meaningful to contribute to song “Africa” by the band Toto.

Katherine St Asaph: At least when Rickrolling was a thing, no one tried to convince me that Rick Astley was a serious studio musician and that I should give an actual shit about Toto, instead of recognizing “Africa” as Mannheim Steamroller-synthed dreck with unsingable verses and mildly questionable lyrics about Africa that should have been left in the ’80s alongside Dynasty hair and Ronald Reagan. That’s not the most damning thing about Weezer covering “Africa.” I also can’t help but note that with the possible minor exception of “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” this recanonization-via-meme only happens for the dudeliest of dudes. That’s also, surprisingly, not the most damning thing about Weezer covering “Africa.” Then there’s Weezer, endlessly criticizable Weezer, already a meme band when they released Snuggies in 2009, now gone full Smash Mouth Eat the Eggs Imgur-core. It’s Weezer in 2018, it’s a given they’re not trying, but it’s still remarkable how mushy this sounds, like the rains down in Africa drenched all their equipment. But that’s not the most damning thing about Weezer covering “Africa” either. The most damning thing is that Weezer covered “Africa” in a lower key. If you’re going to karaoke your way back to relevance, put up the high notes or shut up.

Edward Okulicz: I hate “Africa,” and Weezer sleepwalking through it is the sort of thing that didn’t need to exist, because it’s easy to imagine it, and it’s also easy to imagine something better. Like, say, Toto doing “Hash Pipe.” Or! Even better! The Rentals doing “Hold the Line.”

Alfred Soto: Let me attempt to clear the fetid air. Toto needed Boz Scaggs, Michael Jackson, etc, to be any good. “Rosanna” is awful. I don’t need Rivers Cuomo’s power chords to explain how nostalgia for secondhand colonialism works. Who is this cover for?

Jessica Doyle: So the original, while not exactly bland, is more cheesy than respectable; if the song has any notoriety at all it’s because the lyrics are soaked in self-absorption, describing without containing any actual information. The cover increases the guitar and, while not changing the lyrics at all, delivers them with a wink. (Otherwise why bother? The original’s not good enough for reverence.) And it works! The energy is fantastic, and the revisions make the original’s flaws charming rather than grating. I’ve been having a lot of fun watching their live performances, and — wait, what? Aren’t we talking about Dreamcatcher?

Thomas Inskeep: Not as smooth on the verses, and a little too hard on the chorus, but at least Rivers Cuomo dialed down the most whiny, grating qualities in his voice in an attempt to nail what makes “Africa” so perfect in the first place. This is a straight-down-the-middle second-base hit for me: I don’t love it by any means, but I don’t hate it. And that’s more than I can say for the past decade, maybe two, of Weezer’s career. It’s nowhere near as good as the original, but you knew that. 

Ian Mathers: Is it really a surprise that the dude from Weezer is a less compelling singer (even, or especially with clunky digital assistance) than the dude from Toto? Or that loud guitars don’t necessarily improve things? Or that anything good about this finely aged hunk of cheese is totally lost by trying to update it without even vaguely attempting to improve it? This does not bless any rains, anywhere.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: It’s impossible to review Weezer covering Toto’s “Africa” in a way that reveals anything more than just noting that it is Weezer covering Toto’s “Africa” in the year 2018.

Reader average: [2.42] (14 votes)

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7 Responses to “Weezer – Africa”

  1. shout out to Jacob for succinctly making everyone else’s blurbs completely superfluous

  2. I mean, on one hand, of course I’m the high-water mark here, because I am a total yacht rock stan and this is a cover of one of the greatest yacht rock songs of all time. OTOH, *I’m* the high-water mark on a fuckin’ WEEZER song?!

  3. glad joshua (and others apparently) also noticed the awful mix here

  4. @tim i honestly spent an hour trying to write a thoughtful blurb about the economics of nostalgia & meme culture eating itself but this was the only thing that stuck

  5. Welcome back, Taylor! Quite the way to return

  6. thanks Katherine!! your blurb was so good, and thank you for linking to that The Awl piece bc I’m always up for more critiques of Weezer

  7. @ Iain: Late late late reply but, thanks. Apparently all it took to get me blurbing again was seeing “Weezer” show up in an email notification. To be honest, I knew this cover would be dragged to shreds so I bumped it up a point, out of pity for the first band I ever became obsessed with.