Of the undetermined number of Weezer albums to be released in 2021 (because you just know they’ve got at least one more in the pipeline), this is the one that actually had some legs underneath it. Hell, maybe pushing the release date so far after the intended one was a blessing in the disguise, to quell any worries of it being a rush job originally set to come out less than a year after the much-maligned Black Album. But even then, it’s not like Van Weezer was set out to be some grand, boundary-pushing entry in Weezer’s canon, but rather a display of basic competence that they’ve been sorely lacking for a while. Maybe it’s the fact that a pivot to hair-metal and classic rock is a decision that makes so much sense, or because The End Of The Game was probably their most melodically rich and satisfying single in years, but Van Weezer sets itself up as a rare beast of a Weezer album actually worth looking forward to. Even after the somewhat understandable but still misguided OK Human might’ve soured some palettes earlier this year – and the delays haven’t helped – there’s still an aura of positivity around this album that’s impressive to see. Weezer’s own self-loathing and self-destructive attitude might’ve done numbers on their past handful of albums (and it wouldn’t be that surprising if the same was done here), but for a band who’ve been so allergic to fostering hope for their releases, it’s a nice feeling to have going into a new one, if nothing else.
And y’know, maybe it’s just the aversion to admitting that another modern Weezer album is kind of thin and insubstantial and probably won’t have a great deal of longevity beyond a couple of tracks, but the fact that Van Weezer is actually fun to listen to is a true delight all the same. For the first time in years, the glaring shortcomings that Weezer have forced everyone to put up with aren’t the defining factor on an album, and instead, in the spirit of the classic rock they’re pulling from, there’s a lot of big, stupid, overblown entertainment value that they can pull off really well. In concept, it mightn’t be too far from what they’ve attempted on the likes of The Teal Album and The Black Album, but Van Weezer has the crucial flair to make it work, or at least get it off the ground where the others instead sputtered out. Yes, the unfortunate Weezer-isms do still apply, but when they’re not as viscerally intrusive, it’s not impossible to overlook them and actually appreciate some effort for a change.
Well okay, maybe ‘effort’ is a bit too strong a word for what effectively boils down to Weezer knowing what sounds to pilfer to make this work. They do go a bit far at points, like lifting passages of Crazy Train and Master Of Puppets wholesale for Blue Dream and 1 More Hit, but the squealing, big-hair-in-a-wind-tunnel guitars that adorn The End Of The Game and I Need Some Of That are the best things that Weezer have done in years. It’s evident of an embrace of bombast that Van Weezer revels in, where the huge instrumentals coated in the recent pop-rock gloss have just the right amount of cheese to hit the sweet spot of Bon Jovi or Aerosmith at their most excessive. It’s not too far from a lot of 2000s power-pop in a way, particularly as the buzzing keys will lend a bit more sweetness and sharp colour to an already gaudy mix. And while there’s no stylistic innovation going on here, that guitar tone can be frankly amazing when its hits its highs (again, see The End Of The Game), or even just holds fast on arena-rock chugging like on Hero or Beginning Of The End. As much as it might be worthwhile to criticise a lack of real texture or organic presence to the bass and drums, those quibbles will end up being swamped out by the colour and vivacity that Van Weezer wears anyway. It’s such a self-evidently appealing sound that Weezer have latched onto this time around, and the fact that they actually go for it at full speed on more than a handful of occasions is what makes it even better.
It’s probably to their benefit that this is a sound that can afford to sound a bit shallow and flimsy, because that’s what Van Weezer feels affixed to overall. If you’re looking for a less-appealing feature of modern Weezer that’s survived the carryover, it would be this, though it’s more a case of Rivers Cuomo’s pronounced awkwardness that can leave some notable cracks in the overall mood. There’s the unwelcome return of his proud self-loathing on Hero, and She Needs Me is peak awkward Weezer relationship song, topped off by a vocal performance that’s no more impassioned than his usual flatly meek bellow. He’s probably the weakest link on this whole album, when it comes to an element that can actively drag things down, but he’s also thankfully given some wiggle room where some of the overall insufferability can be curbed slightly. Apart from 1 More Hit being a glimpse at some sexual proclivities that, for as much of an oversharer as Cuomo can be, haven’t gotten a lot of previous airtime, Van Weezer hits its best highs when similarly embracing its hard rock source material in uncomplicated, excessive bombast. The End Of The Game and All The Good Ones are perfect as big love songs; I Need Some Of That is wonderfully simple and easygoing as a throwback to simpler times in youth; even Beginning Of The End and Blue Dream, for what are little more than scene-painting exercises for the most part, still have some character and affability to them. It’s got a lot of the throwaway nature of the band’s modern output, no doubt, but it’s stylised and permed enough to match the vibe they’re going for. It could be a totally accident (it probably is), but you can’t really deny results.
That might as well be the tag line for Van Weezer, in fact. After nearly half a dozen albums of not having a single, solitary clue of where to go, stumbling into something like this can’t help but feel accidental. Even if Weezer have made their love for classic rock known, this doesn’t feel like a calculated decision for them, not at this stage. But when the melodies are this crisp and the sound is this unashamedly bright and enjoyable, it all comes around in what’s inexplicably their best album in years. Even then though, Weezer release so much music nowadays that that isn’t as worthwhile an honor as it might seem, and indeed, a backslide within a matter of months is not unprecedented in the slightest. This isn’t a direction they’re liable to stay on, and that regression can and will come again before the memory of this can even settle in. But with Weezer, it’s worth just holding on to small victories, where Van Weezer is a lot of fun at a time where this band felt utterly incapable of delivering that.
For fans of: Bon Jovi, The Cars, Fountains Of Wayne
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Van Weezer’ by Weezer is out now on Crush Music / Atlantic Records.