“I bless the rains down in Affffricaaaaaa.” Rivers Cuomo wraps his mouth around the words. The band play behind him. It feels flat. The internet explodes.
In this week’s big-time music news, Weezer covered Toto’s Africa after a fan’s request went viral. And everything about it was wrong.
What a bland out. No twist, just a straight-up cover. Technically proficient but devoid of irony or flair.
We hear this kind of thing all the time. Covers of hits long past. But this time it wasn’t at the behest of a cloying corporate interest. Pepsi wasn’t offering Weezer a million dollars here, the demand came from a 14-year-old fan and a viral groundswell that built around her.
The band didn’t initially consent. The heckling continued, six months of it in fact. They covered another Toto song, Rosana, first. But pressure continued, and almost reluctantly, they acquiesced.
And it was sub-par. Does the interpretation render anything new? Do the band push it full of soul, make it swing or invert it with some ironic meaning? Nope. They just crank it out like a covers band heckled at the local pub.
Toto aimed to please when they cut the single back in ‘82. They struck with it but really it was just another in a long line of hit singles by a faceless mob of crack studio musicians. As the old jokes went “Can you name a member of Toto?”
So why do we like Africa? It’s familiar, comforting, and nostalgic. It demands instantaneous recognition. After all, it’s been blasting over commercial radio for the last three decades. It’s even found new purchase with the internet generation. In fact, it’s their favourite song.
Weezer’s cover is a viral hit. Odd combinations are in vogue Think pro-Trump Kanye or Grimes and Elon Musk. An artist’s role is to disrupt the patterns and codes of social discourse. So maybe this is the new way, gaming the algorithm. Creative minds are playing with the fabric of the click economy with bizarre combinations, the odder the better.
This attention economy is hungry for entertainment. Throw it out there, sure thing guys. But Weezer, you’re freezing out art. A limp cover arrives at the expense of the meaningful. Something advancing perception and self.
Shouldn’t Weezer be setting this fourteen-year-old fans mind on fire with rebellion and possibility? Instead, they’re peddling dull corporate conformity. Legitimising the idea that if the masses want it they must be right. This kind of populist pandering worked for Trump, Brexit, the Alt-Right and flat-earthers right? Why not they?
Say it ain’t so. But hey it’s not entirely their fault. Like all established bands they’re just trying to keep it relevant. Weezer are at a point in their career where that can get by safely recycling the past of their own musical legacy. They’re entertainers, not iconoclasts. This outfit serves the fans and after all, when you’re already covering your own musty hits, Africa isn’t too much of a leap.
But for all other bands, the floodgates are open. This whole be a musician and play your own songs thing The Beatles kicked off in ‘63? The gig’s up. We’re back to standards.
Within this cover’s flaccid confines, creativity and self-expression are held hostage. But chill out and welcome to the new era. Bands on demand.