In a 2019 interview, Weezer ringleader Rivers Cuomo spoke about their most recent self-titled album at the time, Weezer (a.k.a. the Black Album). “My main goal for any album at this point is for it to have at least one song that the audience at our shows every night wants to hear,” Cuomo said. He was uncertain that the Black Album would fulfill that goal, but that Weezer “would fail in a different way, which is exciting to me.”
Cuomo goes on to describe himself as a resilient songwriter, and he’s right. He recognizes that fans likely won’t enjoy a new Weezer album nearly as much as 1994’s studio debut Weezer (or the Blue Album) or their second album, 1996’s Pinkerton, but that doesn’t preclude Cuomo’s lofty ambitions that Weezer will one day perform at a Super Bowl halftime show. That could be why Weezer has returned with the Super-Bowl-sized arena anthems of Van Weezer, their 15th studio album that was delayed by an entire year.
As its title implies, Van Weezer is Weezer’s take on hard rock, drawing from influences such as Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, and Aerosmith, to name a few. These songs undeniably sound like Weezer, but from the instantaneous guitar tapping on opener “The End of the Game,” it’s clear that Weezer is taking a new approach. “The End of the Game” was also the first single released from the record; released in September 2019, it coincided with the announcement of the Hella Mega Tour, which featured Green Day, Fall Out Boy, and, of course, Weezer.
Now that the tour has been postponed multiple times, Van Weezer is finally making its entrance. With production from Suzy Shinn (Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco), these songs sound absolutely massive. At times, the sheer loudness submerges Cuomo’s keen sense of melody in a wall of distorted guitars, and it’s also what makes the closer, “Precious Metal Girl,” stand out. It’s an acoustic track that sounds like it was originally written with the hard-rock premise in mind, but the band eventually decided to keep it as is.
“All the Good Ones” is Van Weezer’s thesis statement, and it’s eerily reminiscent of “Beverly Hills,” whose guitar solo inspired this record’s hair-metal motifs. It’s brimming with enormous power chords, booming drums, and a hook that seems designed to never leave your head, a technique Cuomo excels at. “Blue Dream” is Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” in a different key with new lyrics and vocal melodies. The chorus is different, but the idiosyncratic intro, verses, and guitar riff are lifted directly from the ‘80s hit.
Even though the hair-metal cosplay can be excessive, Cuomo undoubtedly knows how to write an infectious hook. This much is apparent on songs like “1 More Hit” and “Sheila Can Do It.” It’s a characteristic that permeates nearly all of Weezer’s catalog, and that pattern continues on Van Weezer. The group’s proclivity for colossal choruses is perhaps owed to the peculiar way that Cuomo writes songs.
When he was a guest on Song Exploder, a podcast that explores artists’ creative processes for particular songs, Cuomo explained his infatuation with Excel spreadsheets. He stores particular phrases that he likes and notes how many syllables are in each phrase, and he then inserts these phrases throughout his songs according to their syllable count, key, and melody. It’s how he wrote the White Album cut “Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori,” and it’s likely that he wrote Van Weezer with similar mathematical precision.
The album’s lyrics adhere to a collage-esque approach that hints at Cuomo’s obsession with spreadsheets. “Beginning of the End” contains an archetypical Weezer lyric like: “Nostradamus predicted a bomb would drop / And all our guitars will be hung up in an old pawn shop.” “Hero” contains the line, “I’d hammer down hard like I’m Iron Fist / Then disappear like I don’t exist.” Even if Cuomo’s lyrics are intrinsically meaningless, at least they can be amusing to pick out.
Weezer’s more recent output has abided by overarching themes and concepts. 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End signified a deliberate return to form, and it even featured a song where Weezer apologized for everything that wasn’t the Blue Album or Pinkerton. On 2019’s fifth self-titled studio album, better known as the Teal Album, the band covered a bevy of hit songs, including that “Africa” cover. Most recently, they channeled chamber-pop à la Pet Sounds on OK Human. Van Weezer continues that trajectory with its hard-rock/metal ethos, but it seldom feels like anything beyond a novelty.