Well, here we are, five months into 2021, and we have two Weezer albums. The fifteenth (!) album from Weezer, VAN WEEZER, was supposed to be the fourteenth but was delayed by the pandemic. I heard about this album way back in the halcyon days of 2019 and thought, “gee, that sounds neat, Weezer with an ’80s hair metal filter.” Two years later, VAN WEEZER is here, and it’s the best Weezer album since 2016’s self-titled “White Album.” The four albums in between saw Weezer meander back into mediocrity chasing trends, embracing full-on pop, and releasing a semi-competent (but hugely forgettable) covers album. Like all good and true Weezer fans, I have given up on this band more times than I can count. And yet, every time they put a record out, I show up with my Buddy Holly glasses on, ready to party. Early this year, the band put out OK HUMAN, an electric guitar-free album of baroque pop songs that oscillated between thoughtfully introspective and patently navel-gazing. Everyone and their mother told me OK HUMAN was a good record, but I couldn’t be bothered to attempt a second listen.
Let me cut to the chase: VAN WEEZER was teased as a big guitars throwback record. The single “The End of the Game” left it a bit ambiguous if that’s what we would be getting. See, that track opened with squealing, Eddie Van Halen guitar noodling but quickly devolved into a classic Weezer track. Subsequent singles followed the same pattern. VAN WEEZER is chock full of throwbacks (more on that later), but mainly, it’s an album that has more in common with the ban’s Green Album than, say, VAN HALEN II. This return to the sound of the band’s classic run (1994-2002) is undoubtedly welcomed after four disappointing albums, though I must admit I wish there were more guitar heroism. I wish there were more Van Halen on VAN WEEZER. There’s more early British metal on VAN WEEZER than Eddie Van Halen, which I must stress is only an issue of branding. The album is good, nearly great even, but I wish they’d have called it something else.
The album opens with “Hero,” which is a classic Weezer loner/outcast track. Hearing Rivers sing about how he’s not a superhero and that he’s an outcast is pretty goofy at this point. This song’s ultimately fun but a bit embarrassing with its grown-man singing about Spiderman quality. “All the Good Ones” brings us the return of Rivers doing his awkward white dude half-singing/half-rapping thing that he does. The core idea of the song, “all the good ones are gone, where did you come from?” is cute, and the hook is catchy enough for me to overlook that this song is a re-write/ripoff of their 2005 single “Beverly Hills.”
“End of the Game” is the album’s thesis statement with its Eddie Van Halen intro and opening lyrics that directly reference the classic Green Album track “Island in the Sun.” The song ostensibly is about the end of a relationship but could be read as a metaphor for the band’s relationship with their hardcore fans. Hearing Rivers coo, “Am I your go-to or am I uncool? With all of these extremes that I go to, All I want is to be wanted by you” made me feel a tinge of guilt for only giving the last few Weezer albums a single spin. “End of the Game” definitely feels like a summer song, the kind you listen to with the windows down as you cruise around your neighborhood. And I bet it’s going to kill when the band plays it live.
VAN WEEZER then proceeds to get weird in the middle. The first time I listened to the album, my ears perked up when I heard the classic, unmistakable sounds of Black Sabbath’s “Crazy Train” melt into Weezer’s song “Blue Dream.” Repeated listens revealed other songs were naggingly familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite place in what way. Unnerved by the blatant rip-off of “Crazy Train,” I went online to look at the album credits. Sure enough, the band gives co-writing credit to “Blue Dream” to Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads. And sure enough, I saw that other tracks gave co-writing credits to other bands–Blue Oyster Cult and Asia are both credited on “I Need Some of That” while Billy Joel (of all people) is credited on “Beginning of the End.” I find this very strange; Weezer doesn’t cover or sample these artists; they just…generously borrow from “Crazy Train” and “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” Some of these are distractingly obvious (“Crazy Train”) but others are so obscured I can’t believe they had to be credited (Joel’s “For The Longest Time”).
You’ll note that none of the bands Weezer borrows from is Van Halen. Van Halen and the intense hair metal all but vanishes from VAN WEEZER. Which is a bummer. I enjoy “Beginning of the End,” which is probably the album’s most deadly earworm (I sang it around the house all week). It’s a fun track about the end of the world (seriously). “I Need Some of That” opens exactly like Asia’s “Heat of the Moment,” which is kinda funny because it’s all about youth and never wanting to grow up. “Blue Dream” is a half-baked attempt at Weezer-infused metal with surreal Octopus infused lyrics. The only reason the song works is because the guitar hook is so damn good–thanks, Sabbath.
I really like “1 More Hit,” a brooding song about drugs and addiction that also reads as Rivers confessing just how desperate he/the band is for another “hit,” i.e., musical success. That said, the song has the incredibly awkward lyric “pump it up, into me, please daddy, please daddy.” The first time I heard it, I had to stop the song and start it over as I thought for sure I’d misheard the lyric…but no, this is what he sings. It’s hilariously unfortunate.
“Shelia Can Do It” is an almost Fountains of Wayne-Esque pop song that doesn’t fit with the VAN WEEZER-esthetic at all but is so sweet, fun, and infectious. It reminded me of the track Rivers wrote for The Monkees album GOOD TIMES! a few years ago. The album closes with the acoustic strummer, “Precious Metal Girl.” The song is an overly cutesy ballad that’s probably not as clever as it thinks it is, but like many good Weezer songs, it wins you over by the end.
VAN WEEZER is an enjoyable listen, but I think the album was hurt and helped by the delay in its release. On the one hand, it was smart to delay its release until the pandemic abated enough to (please God) let them tour. These songs are going to sound great live and will fit nicely between the band’s classic material. That said, the delay also hurt VAN WEEZER because it was hyped as this epic hair metal album that it simply is not. I would have liked less borrowing from classic rock, and more turned up to 11 guitar heroics. As I stated earlier, the album’s title probably shouldn’t have invoked the mighty Van Halen. Still, the album proves that one can never truly count the band out three decades into their career. Check out VAN WEEZER for the strange middle section, but keep listening for the hooky pop songs that bookend the gimmicky stuff.