The latest in a slew of eclectic releases from the California cult favourite group, this hair metal pastiche unfortunately misses the mark.
The inside joke of Weezer’s recent output is quickly running out of steam. Barely 3 months after releasing one of their best records to date in the wonderful OK Human, the band have backslid with yet another attempt to diversify their catalogue. Van Weezer (yes, that is the actual name) is Rivers Cuomo and co donning a metaphorical 80s wig and sleeking over their usual pop-rock with overdriven tapping and harmonised solos. To be fair to the band, the passion is clear; from an (admittedly groan-worthy) interpolation of Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Crazy Train’ on total paradox ‘Blue Dream’ to the theatrical and almost choral instrumental sections of ‘The End of the Game’, Weezer are making sure that we know they love it. The trouble is everything else.
The most glaring issue here is the lyrics. The eccentric style that Rivers has been penning for a good few albums now was never genius, but it’s had its moments; “hyperventilating in wheelchairs” or “negative ions” saving his soul, for example, are kind of endearing. But on this record it feels random, rather than oddball. From riding ten-speeds in ‘I Need of Some of That’ to reading the Sunday Times in ‘Beginning of the End’, it starts to quickly seem as though Cuomo is running out of things to sing about. Homage-centerpiece ‘Blue Dream’ is giggle-worthy at points, with a first verse that sounds like a toddler wrote it: “The fishes are my friends / Underneath the sea”.
When the lyrics aren’t random on Van Weezer, they’re phoned-in and undersell the group’s instrumental conviction. ‘1 More Hit’ has a damned good hook, but a basic rhyme pattern undercuts its subject matter and as a result the song feels a tad shallow (“Could I have one more hit? / I promise I’ll quit”). As it turns out, it’s quite hard to sculpt drug addiction into an easy-breezy chorus. I’m not saying that Weezer of all bands need to be penning poetry; this is the group behind ‘Pink Triangle’ and ‘Hash Pipe’, after all. But when compared to 2016’s ‘Do You Wanna Get High?’, which features similar subject matter but bursts with character, it’s clear that they can do better.
This aside, the songwriting is usually passable. ‘All of the Good Ones’ is a stomp and ‘Beginning of the End’ (maybe my favourite track here, despite the disappointing structural edits made to the album version) boasts an infectious chorus. We were always going to get earworms from this record, even if some of the best hooks are more Weezer than Van. Unfortunately these can be let down by producer Suzy Shinn; some tracks wield an enormous guitar sound (especially ‘Blue Dream’) but many of the album’s biggest moments sound far too compressed, like intro of ‘The End of the Game’, or overly clean, as with the otherwise-likeable ‘Sheila Can Do It’. On the production side of things, Van Weezer could have done with a little more bite.
‘Precious Metal Girl’, despite some baffling lyrics which link financial investment to spandex, is cute enough, but does very little to put a bow on the album’s sound as the only acoustic track here. It encapsulates that this record is not the return to guitar-led form that I’m sure many fans will have been hoping for. As a Weezer album, a Van Halen pastiche, or an advert for the Hella Mega Tour, it’s underwhelming. Just spin OK Human again.
Van Weezer is available to listen to now via Crush Music. Check out ‘All the Good Ones’ down below.