Back in 2018, when Weezer shared a co-headline tour with The Pixies, everything about the former’s end of set theatrics suggested the band’s need for an album like Van Weezer. As suggested in The Fire Note concert review at the time, when the set design switched from the “garage band practice space” to the “big rock show stage” set up, complete with the light-up flying wings “W,” it became quickly apparent that band didn’t have the songs left in their current repertoire to match the pyrotechnics and explosions going off around them. Earlier in the evening, Weezer had already served up rocking renditions of “Hash Pipe,” and “Beverly Hills,” and even “Buddy Holly” which might have fit the bill nicely. So, given what they had to work with, Weezer did everything they could to make their current techno-pop single, “Feels Like Summer,” feel like an arena rock anthem to modest results, followed by their somewhat suspect, but fan-pleasing cover of Toto’s “Africa.” Thank God, a smoking version of “Say It Ain’t So,” with a short side trip into Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” provided an encore that allowed the band to live up to the expectations created by their stage set, however the somewhat anti-climactic music selections left me thinking that Weezer needed to write some more rockers.
So it was all I could do to avoid a cosmic “told you so,” when Weezer announced that their next album would be influenced by hard rock and metal acts like KISS, Metallica, and Van Halen. And it was supposedly due just in time for the band’s Hella Mega arena tour with co-headliners Green Day and Fall Out Boy, originally scheduled for the summer of 2020. Then the pandemic put concerts on hold, so Weezer leader and primary songwriter River Cuomo turned his attention to completing the poppier, piano with orchestra focused, OK Human, which was released back in January. Which means just in time for summer when things are pointing in the direction of a return to normal, the band has readied it’s 15th studio release, Van Weezer.
And as advertised, Cuomo leads the band through a series of Weezer songs full of metal references, kind of like the way he celebrated the “Beach Boys” on 2017’s Pacific Daydream. There’s plenty of direct nods to the hard rock influences that they are happy to emulate. “Blue Dream” borrows those great Randy Rhoads’ guitar riffs from Ozzy’s “Crazy Train,” “1 More Hit” leans hard on Metallica, while “The End of the Game” emulates Eddie Van Halen’s fret tapping signature approach to the electric guitar. The trick is that underneath the riffs, that stance and swagger, Cuomo & Co. returned quickly to their more natural habitat in the power pop hooks that are more front and center on “I Need Some of That,” which name drops Aerosmith but sounds more like the tribute to Ric Ocasek that it is. “Beginning of the End,” a version of which first appeared on the Bill and Ted Face the Music soundtrack,” may celebrate that “In heavy metal we trust,” and may borrow the guitar hook from “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” (which KISS performed on an earlier Bill and Ted adventure), but Weezer here sounds more like the polished AOR pop rock of Boston than the soul crushing heaviness of the Painted-Faced Ones.
So, Van Weezer isn’t as heavy, hard rockin’, or metal as you might have hoped, but it’s still a pretty good Weezer album, and there’s definitely 3 or 4 songs here that would have been good, good fun during that third act of their live show with all the fireworks, flash pods, smoke and mirrors. “Sheila Can Do It” is one of the strongest Weezer songs in a while, and I can even imagine a quick aside into the Ramones’ “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” and maybe the direction for Cuomo’s next project. One noteworthy improvement on metal’s misogyny, is that while Cuomo still sings about girls wearing tight jeans, and platinum blondes with spandex on in “Precious Metal Girl,” he likes that she also reads Nietzsche as a conversation starter and admits that she’s “my best friend in the world.” If you’re really into metal, while these songs will add to your enjoyment if someone drags you out to the Hella Mega Tour, you will have to take comfort there’s bound to be some new Metallica any day now. But if you’re a Weezer fan that goes all the way back to the early days, of “Say It Ain’t So” and “Beverly Hills,” well they’ve delivered more of that, even if Ozzy and Eddie (R.I.P.) wouldn’t lose much sleep over the new competition.
Key Tracks: “Sheila Can Do It” / “I Need Some of That” / “End of the Game”
Artists With Similar Fire: Beck / Death Cab For Cutie / Boston
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb
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