REVIEW: Weezer pays tribute to classic metal bands with ‘Van Weezer’


FILE-Rivers Cuomo of Weezer performs at Riot Fest 2014 in Humboldt Park. (Kirsten Onsgard / The DePaulia)

So… Weezer is still around.

Best known as one of the most iconic alternative rock bands of the 1990s, Weezer is still making new music nearly three decades later. Turning 50 hasn’t stopped frontman Rivers Cuomo from writing the catchy rock ballads, filled with nerdy teenage angst and awkward romance that propelled the band to fame in 1994.

“Van Weezer,” the band’s 15th studio album, is no different. Taking inspiration from classic 70s and 80s hard rock bands like Kiss, Metallica, and (obviously) Van Halen, the project features heavier guitar riffs than some of Weezer’s more pop-inspired albums of late. Cuomo explained that he could sense that fans were missing this style from much of modern rock music.

“It feels like maybe the audience is ready for some shredding again,” he told Entertainment Weekly during the album’s development.

Despite this shift, the band manages to retain the classic Weezer sound with their simple ear-worm chord progressions and Cuomo’s immutable songwriting. Tracks like “Sheila Can Do It” and “1 More Hit” seem like they could fit in on “Blue Album” with their catchy choruses. Considering “Blue Album,” Weezer’s studio debut, is arguably the band’s best work this should be good news for longtime fans. 

On the other hand, “All the Good Ones” and “Beginning of the End” both feature the types of epic guitar solos that inspired the album in the first place. With their anthemic instrumentals and frequent guitar riffs, these songs seem much more committed to “Van Weezer’s” stadium rock theme than some of the others on the track list. Nevertheless, Cuomo’s perpetually boyish voice makes even these tracks undeniably Weezer.

But as with any Weezer album released after 1996, “Van Weezer” has a few duds, too. “She Needs Me” is painfully uninspired, and probably the most forgettable track on the album. Meanwhile, “Blue Dream” pays direct homage to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” by duplicating its classic guitar melody. That’s about all it does, though — it would have been nice to see the band get a bit more creative with this track’s instrumental.

Finally, the album’s closer “Precious Metal Girl” is completely acoustic, and a nice juxtaposition from the rest of the album. While the melody itself is very pleasant, Cuomo’s lyrics here fall into the familiar Weezer trap of being maybe too corny. Don’t get me wrong, Weezer isn’t a group that takes themselves too seriously, but that’s just part of their charm. However, the lyrics from some of the band’s songs have a tendency of being distracting or borderline cringeworthy. “Precious Metal Girl,” for me, was one of those songs.

All in all, “Van Weezer” is far from the band’s worst work, especially considering how surprisingly active Weezer has been of late. Back in January, they released “OK Human,” an interesting orchestral album that was well-received by critics and fans alike. “Van Weezer” is the band’s second solid album of 2021. Its theme is fun, and the songs are catchy enough to appease longtime fans of the pop rock group.

But make no mistake about it, this is absolutely a Weezer album. If you listen to “Van Weezer” expecting edgy, headbanging heavy metal, you’re going to be disappointed. Weezer has always been more Beach Boys than Black Sabbath, and despite the heavy riffs and lengthy solos, that hasn’t changed with this album.