Van Weezer has been dangled over our heads for at least a year now. The recording process began three years ago, with singles being casually dropped and the prospect of the Hella Mega Tour getting fans hyped up. Eventually the record was finished sometime in early 2020, only to have the tour cancelled and the album pushed out til later while the whole planet got put on hold. Fittingly, the world got OK Human as a stopgap earlier this year, an introspective, intimate soundtrack of being isolated at home that fell far from the energetic good-times tunes that Van Weezer promised. Now that Van Weezer’s finally been released, we need not speculate any longer as to what Weezer would sound like mixed in with Van Halen and other such raucous rock influences of yesteryear.
With “Hero”, Van Weezerdoesn’t open up on any sort of distinguished, unique note right away; it more or less sounds like standard Weezer with a little more gain in the amps. It’s not the worst thing in the world though, as the precedent should be set that regardless of whatever territory this record ventures into, Weezer is still Weezer at the end of the day. “All the Good Ones” is more of an anthemic number, a combination of Weezer staples like “Say It Ain’t So” and “Beverly Hills” with any pick of early-80’s Cheap Trick power pop cuts. “The End of the Game” lends the greatest credibility to the album title thus far; tapping and Eddie-esque chords and all, though when the verse kicks in and Rivers Cuomo does his usual non-threatening shtick it’s a little underwhelming considering the energy of the rest of the track comes in on (or at least purports to). The same goes for the melodic retrospection of “I Need Some of That” and the pastiche of 90s grunge chords and 70s guitar harmonies in “Beginning of the End”; The fusion of Weezer’s perpetual awkwardness with a potpourri of classic rock cliches is not entirely as smooth as it could be. There’s a missing danger, just even a little bit of electricity that would make these tracks fully live up to the hype.
Why “Blue Dream” starts off with the intro to “Crazy Train” and orbits around its famous riffs is anyone’s guess, but the track feels like a bit less of a sonic mismatch than the last few did. With that said, if there’s any track on this album in need of a compass it’s “1 More Hit”, which starts off with a menacing riff and some later guitar harmonies that blend fairly well with Cuomo’s vocals, eventually turning sharply into a short Slayer-esque thrash break, then boomeranging back again and ending with a key change. Thankfully “Sheila Can Do It” is way more straightforward, bouncing back to Ramones punk and late-70’s pop rock with a trademark sing-song Weezer chorus thrown in for a nice finishing touch. “She Needs Me”, the long-form musical incarnation of happy wife, happy life comes with the most punch thus far, managing to sound like Weezer but also before Weezer in a way that isn’t too much one or the other but fits just right in the middle. Finally there’s the acoustic cut “Precious Metal Girl”, a considerably tamer track than everything else on the record but nevertheless a good, contrasting number to end off on; concluding what ultimately amounts to a risky balancing act that didn’t totally work out but worked out well enough.
Despite the title Van Weezer, very few if any people probably expected Weezer to radically depart from their formula and start doing all kinds of instrumental acrobatics and huge, energetic stuff on this record (although the metal influences on this record have lead the band to compare it to 2002’s Maladroit). Nevertheless, it still could have used a little more van at times to warrant the name of a band such as Van Halen being invoked; the run-of-the-mill elements of Weezer splashed in with meme pieces of classic rock and old school metal don’t always fit as well as they could and sometimes sound corny and out of place. With that said, there are clear moments of synergy, and Weezer still deserve some praise for trying something different and offering an unabashed tribute to their influences. If they can effectively assimilate some of the more effective parts of this record into their sound for next time, that might be when you’ll see something truly electric.