Van Weezer — Weezer (Review)

Originally published in GIGWISE on May 1st, 2021.

Van Weezer is the holy grail. Initially teased by Rivers Cuomo in the distant past of February 2019 — fifteen months before its original prospective release of May 2020 — it’s been the talk of Weezerville ever since. The potential of Cuomo re-growing his infamous moustache for a Van Halen tribute was the stuff of dreams. Those dreams were dashed, however, when, on the eve of its planned release, the album was postponed for twelve more months.

Of the many blows dealt to the music industry by COVID-19, Van Weezer and its accompanying tour with Green Day & Fall Out Boy were two of its earliest high-profile casualties. Fast forward twelve months and, even with the pandemic subsiding in parts of the Western world, anticipating Van Weezer still feels like tempting fate. Some fans worry they will never hear it.

How appropriate it is, then, that this record — whose postponement signalled for many the beginning of the lockdown period — will soundtrack part of our gradual re-emergence from it. With vaccine rollouts contributing to the easing of social restrictions, Van Weezer arrives as we negotiate a path to recovery. It’s hard to shake the hopeful feeling, as its revved-up, triumphant power pop blasts out for 29 airtight minutes, that we may soon enjoy this album together.

‘The End of the Game’ — which was once a distant, forgotten lead single — provides instant evidence of how successfully, albeit inadvertently, Van Weezer has adapted to its unprecedented recontextualisation. Originally written back in 2019 with arena crowds in mind, its pulsating rhythm section and gigantic guitars already evoked images of rock-addicted throngs. But in a gig-starved world that’s now within touching distance of packing out stadiums again, its evocation of rock music’s hedonistic, joyful potential now feels like a promise of better days.

By the time we’re moshing again, some of us will have experienced two birthdays. So when ‘One More Hit’ unleashes a surprise thrash breakdown that’s more reminiscent of The Big Four than Van Halen (you read that correctly), the urge to be jostled and shoved by a headbanging horde is overwhelming. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some will turn their noses up at ‘All the Good Ones’ rap-singing and stomp-clapping (think ‘Beverly Hills’, or All Time Low’s Cuomo-penned ‘I Feel Like Dancin’), but there’s spectator-geared method in its sickly sweet madness. Ever since their formation, Weezer have pushed power pop to its cleanest and harshest extremes in order to explore its every possible angle; thrash metal detours sharing space with boyish, sugary crowd-pleasers should hardly be an unwelcome shock by now.

Repeated listens reveal that, by attempting to create a loving Van Halen pastiche, Weezer have crafted a spiritual cousin for Everything Will Be Alright in the End. The glam rock influences that appeared on the fringes of that album in 2014 (and saw the band hit excellent form) creep several steps further here. Take show-stopper ‘Beginning of the End’, the album’s undeniable, sky-scraping peak. Adapted from ‘Only a Cockroach’ (a demo from the Everything sessions), and slightly re-worked from its Bill & Ted soundtrack edit, its reflective defence of rock’s legacy and future is expertly juxtaposed against its soaring chorus and frantic tap solos. It rages against the dying of the light. Cuomo has also unearthed 1996 demo ‘Sheila Can Do It’, an empowering anthem written in support of its glammed-up, uninhibited, eponymous hero.

Where Everything’s approach to volume and dynamics was perhaps more considerate and textured, Van Weezer transmits perpetually at top volume. ‘Blue Dream’, another gem uncovered from seven years ago given the superloud treatment, combines underwater imagery with the unmistakable canter of Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Crazy Train’; ‘I Need Some of That’ packs a punch fit for the Loudness War, but it doesn’t distract from one of Weezer’s most addictive choruses since The White Album; ‘She Needs Me’ and ‘Hero’ feel underdeveloped against their surrounding numbers, and perhaps overcompensate by playing everything hard and fast, but they at least prove the immortality of Cuomo’s knack for instant hooks.

The adorable nerd still lives (“Listening to Aerosmith, later on I will call my mom”), and no matter how hard he tries, Cuomo will always be transparently susceptible to pure pop — the rock-star pose he strikes here is an affectionate cosplay that’s only moderately convincing. But this is Weezer stripped down to their essentials, sprinkled with glam, and played at maximum volume. As acoustic closer ‘Precious Metal Girl’ fades out, the debate over whether Van Weezer successfully apes Van Halen is one for the birds. It’s not got the power to carry us back to the normal world single-handedly, but its celebration of rock’s glorious communal spirit ensures it will be there every step along our way. It deserves the crowd it will one day be performed to.