Weezer has always paved its own path in its music, pitting ever-conflicting elements of nostalgia, woefulness and veiled cockiness against one another to create one of the most timeless and enjoyable (and sometimes questionable) discographies in the industry. The band fares no differently on its 15th studio album, Van Weezer, putting its own undeniable spin on the heavy sounds that rocked the ‘80s and frontman Rivers Cuomo’s own growing years.
Released May 7, more than a year after its initial drop date due to the pandemic, Van Weezer is now second in a series of homages to rock legends, the first being OK Human, titled after Radiohead’s OK Computer. Van Weezer aims to channel the swagger of the great Van Halen, KISS and the likes, but Weezer, a fundamentally alternative rock band, cannot fully capture the bravado of the title’s namesake. But that doesn’t mean Cuomo and crew don’t pour their heart and soul into the album in an attempt to do so.
The first track, “Hero,” is nothing short of uplifting and heartwarming, a more energetic version of some of the band’s earlier hits. Most songs on the album are short and punchy, like fleeting memories from one’s youth, but the feeling they leave behind resonate well past the two minutes of sound. “All the Good Ones” boasts Cuomo’s go-to theme of unrequited female attention, its riff sounding quite close to “Beverly Hills” and digging up the joys of 2005.
Van Weezer at first comes off as just Weezer sounding entirely like itself but with a slight semblance to the rock of the 1980s. But as the songs progress, it becomes clear that Van Weezer is not only a tribute to venerated hard rock idols but also a monument to how they shaped Cuomo’s childhood in the good old days. The band makes a conscious effort to mimic the various bands it took inspiration from for the album.
The intro to “The End of the Game” sounds just like Van Halen, and then Weezer grabs the reins with the lyrics. “The melody can’t find you/ I’m incomplete without you” is a message all too familiar to the band’s longtime fans. Similarly, the riff of “Blue Dream” bears a striking resemblance to “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne, if not sounding exactly like it, and “Sheila Can Do It” starts off with a motorcycle revving just like on Mötley Crüe’s “Girls, Girls, Girls.”
The lyrics are like a gateway into the mind of teenage Cuomo, and there’s no one better to make that into catchy music than an adult version of him. In other words, Van Weezer is like Weezer (Blue Album), but with more confidence. Lines such as “Listening to Aerosmith/ Later on, I will call my mom” and “In heavy metal we trust” profess Cuomo’s unwavering love for his music-steeped childhood.
The most admirable part of Van Weezer is that it still sounds like Weezer back in the ‘90s, which is what the band has a knack for on a majority of its albums. Tapping into the vein of nostalgia that runs through the band’s very existence, it is as if Weezer hasn’t aged one bit, and it’s apparent from the playfulness of Van Weezer that the members like to think so as well.
Van Weezer is, above all, a feel-good album. Cuomo’s reverence for his rock idols flows through the album in waves of emotion. If Van Weezer was to be a member of Van Halen, it would be Michael Anthony — not as outwardly bold as the other members, but still grooving along and essential to the success of the band nonetheless. And, most importantly, it knows how to have a good time.