Album Review: Weezer’s ‘Van Weezer’
In an interview in 2019Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo spoke about their latest self-titled album at the time, Weezer (aka the black scrapbook). “My main goal for any album at this point is for it to have at least one song that the audience at our shows every night wants to hear,” Cuomo said. He was not sure that the black scrapbook would fulfill that purpose, but that Weezer would “fail in a different way, which is exciting to me.”
Cuomo goes on to describe himself as a resilient songwriter, and he’s right. He acknowledges that fans probably won’t enjoy a new Weezer album as much as the 1994 studio debut Weezer (or the blue scrapbook) or their second album, 1996 Pinkerton, but that doesn’t detract from Cuomo’s lofty ambitions that Weezer will one day perform at a Super Bowl halftime show. This could be why Weezer is back with the Super-Bowl-sized arena anthems of Van Weezertheir 15th studio album which was delayed for an entire year.
As its title suggests, Van Weezer is Weezer’s take on hard rock, drawing on influences such as Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne and Aerosmith, to name a few. These songs undeniably sound like Weezer, but from the instant guitar tapping on opener “The End of the Game,” it’s clear Weezer is taking a new approach. “The End of the Game” was also the first single released from the record; released in September 2019, it coincided with the announcement of the Hella Mega Tour, which included Green Day, Fall Out Boy and, of course, Weezer.
Now that the tour has been postponed several times, Van Weezer finally makes its entrance. With production from Suzy Shinn (Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco), these songs sound absolutely massive. At times, the sheer volume overwhelms Cuomo’s keen sense of melody in a wall of distorted guitars, and it’s also what brings out the closest thing, “Precious Metal Girl.” It’s an acoustic track that sounds like it was originally written with the premise of hard rock in mind, but the band ultimately decided to keep it as is.
“All good” is Van Weezerand it is strangely reminiscent of “Beverly Hills”, whose guitar solo inspired the hair-metal patterns of this record. It’s packed with huge power chords, booming drums, and a hook that seems designed to never leave your head, a technique Cuomo excels at. “Blue Dream” is Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” in a different key with new lyrics and vocal melodies. The chorus is different, but the idiosyncratic intro, verses and guitar riff are taken straight from the 80s hit.
Even though hair-metal cosplay can be over the top, Cuomo definitely knows how to write an infectious hook. This is evident on songs like “1 More Hit” and “Sheila Can Do It.” It’s a feature that permeates nearly the entire Weezer catalog, and that pattern continues. Van Weezer. The band’s propensity for colossal backing vocals may be due to the particular way Cuomo writes the songs.
When he was the guest of song exploder, a podcast that explores artists’ creative processes for particular songs, Cuomo explained his infatuation with Excel spreadsheets. He stores particular phrases he likes and notes the number of syllables in each phrase, then inserts those phrases throughout his songs based on their syllable count, pitch, and melody. This is how he wrote the white album cut “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori”, and it’s likely he wrote Van Weezer with the same mathematical precision.
The album’s lyrics adhere to a collage approach that alludes to Cuomo’s obsession with spreadsheets. “Beginning of the End” features archetypal Weezer lyrics like, “Nostradamus predicted a bomb would drop / And all our guitars will be hanging in some old pawnshop.” “Hero” contains the line, “I’ll pound hard like I’m Iron Fist / Then disappear like I don’t exist.” Even if Cuomo’s lyrics are inherently meaningless, at least they can be fun to choose from.
Weezer’s most recent production has stuck to the overall themes and concepts. 2014 Everything will be fine in the end signified a deliberate return to form, and it even featured a song where Weezer apologized for everything it was not the blue scrapbook Where Pinkerton. On 2019’s self-titled fifth studio album, better known as teal scrapbookthe band has covered a slew of hit songs, including this cover “Africa”. More recently, they’ve channeled bedroom pop a la animal sounds on okay human. Van Weezer continues that trajectory with its hard-rock/metal ethos, but it rarely feels like anything more than a novelty.