It's impossible not to be won over by the infectious energy and thrilling fun of Weezer's fifteenth album.
After the string laden bliss of lockdown diary OK Human marked one of Weezer's finest moments over the past two decades, it was easy to be skeptical about the band's long awaited fifteenth studio album, Van Weezer. A return to "big guitars" sounded all well and good for the legendary rockers, but the idea of an album founded on the basis of crowd reactions to Rivers' lengthy solos during live renditions of 'Beverley Hills' on recent tours was hardly reassuring. Depending on your own predilections, nor was the obvious influence in the albums rollout of cheesetastic rock icons such as KISS and Aerosmith.
All of which is to say that my expectations were not exactly high for Weezer swapping string quartets and piano keys for guitar amps in a current context, but I couldn't be happier to be proven wrong. Forget slow and sad songs, throw those hand horns up and surrender to the almighty rock, because Van Weezer is an absolute blast.
What sounded like a bad case of Rivers indulging his worst impulses is actually a barnstorming tribute to the heavy metal icons of Cuomo's youth - the very same ones that a young Rivers reinterpreted to invent his own gloriously distinct brand of indie rock in the mid nineties on two of the greatest albums of that decade, while in turn birthing an entire genre of guitar band in the process. And so it follows that this collection of hair, thrash and glam metal inspired anthems pulls off its unabashedly cheesy and loud presentation by retaining the inherent melodic sensibilities that The Blue Album and Pinkerton were built from.
'Hero', 'The End of the Game' and 'I Need Some of That' are all delirious early standouts, skillfully blending finger tapped arpeggiated riffs and ripping hooks with Weezer's unfailing gift for earwormy guitar pop, while heavier takes such as the thrashy 'Blue Dream' and '1 More Hit' never sacrifice songcraft for volume - the band's undeniable harmonies are safely buried beneath these walls of noise. As well as metal giants like Van Halen, Black Sabbath and Metallica - whose presence dominates Van Weezer - less obvious influences peek out in the record's later stages too. Sunnier compositions 'Sheila Can Do It' and 'She Needs Me' subtly recall the surfer rock of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys (an eternally resourceful Weez inspiration that Cuomo has mined since 1994 and most recently the fantastic White Album) while the lovely acoustic comedown of 'Precious Metal Girl' brings the record to an unexpectedly gentle finish a la Pinkerton's classic closer 'Butterfly'.
The band don't quite knock every ball out of the park - 'All the Good Ones' is the least inspiring throwback on the record, namely because it's actually a rehash of one of the worst singles in Weezer's own catalogue, the aforementioned 'Beverley Hills'. Clearly Rivers was inspired to rework the smash hit after audience response to his in concert guitar theatrics initially gave him the idea for Van Weezer, but 'Good Ones' doesn't fare much better than the original, which marked a misguided turning point in the band's discography (at least artistically, if not commercially) back in 2005.
Taken as a whole though, it's impossible not to be won over by the infectious energy and thrilling fun of Van Weezer. This is music made to be turned up to eleven in the biggest arenas around the world, which is pretty good timing as the band get ready to finally embark on the gigantic Hella Mega Tour with Green Day and Fallout Boy in tow. More importantly, it's stone cold evidence that there is merit in Cuomo's stubborn refusal to bow to his critics and reel himself in from his mad genius - the iconic frontman's lack of fear in indulging his own peculiar artistry has led to great and terrible moments in the band's existence, but you get the feeling that without the worst of Weezer, we wouldn't have the Blue, Green or White.
With the rate that Weezer are churning out albums four decades into their career, they can afford to experiment to their heart's content. This year is a prime example of the benefits of that experimentation and daring to try new things this deep into their tenure as elder statesmen of indie rock - when the final result is getting two vastly different yet ultimately rewarding sides to one of the best bands of our generation within five months, it's really hard to argue.
7.0 / B-
Best Tracks: 'The End of the Game'/'I Need Some of That'/'She Needs Me'
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