Photo Credit: Brendan Walter
Barely three months after their last full-length studio release, OK Human, Weezer have already put out their next one (some of this apparently has to do with making up for time lost during the pandemic). Although originally reported (or maybe just rumored) to be an album comprised entirely of Van Halen covers (in tribute to Eddie Van Halen, whom we lost in 2020), Van Weezer is in fact another album of originals which – supposedly – are inspired by ‘70s and ‘80s hard rock in general, and thus seemingly have a bit of a harder edge than some of Weezer’s recent work. About which, this past January’s OK Human was essentially a tribute to the 1966-era Beatles and Beach Boys, full of ‘60s style hooks backed by elaborate production and/or orchestras or horn sections. All of which worked, for the most part. Given the promised dichotomy of this album, one would think Weezer’s new aim was to strip everything back to basics. Yet what we end up with is, on many levels, needlessly complex.
Among the most confusing aspects of the album is why longtime leader Rivers Cuomo and the band chose to dole out songwriting credits as they did. “I Need Some of That”, for example, gives them out to current – or former members of Blue Oyster Cult and Asia, even though the parts of the song, which supposedly necessitate this, are barely noticeable (the track overall sounds more like Fountains of Wayne than either of those bands). And apparently nobody has any idea why Billy Joel (!) gets a songwriting credit on “Beginning of the End.”
Still, we listen to an album for the music, not the writing credits. However, the one such credit on the album that can be easily explained is that of Ozzy Osbourne and the late Randy Rhodes on “Blue Dream”, which does in fact use the classic riff from “Crazy Train” verbatim. By this point in the record, the whole notion smacks just a bit too much of thrash metal band Scatterbrain’s 1990 track “Down with the Ship (Slight Return)”, which used instantly recognizable snippets for about a dozen classic rock songs from, among others, Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Yes and – ahem – Van Halen.
But “Blue Dream” then does a 360-degree turn with the lyrics, which are straight out of The Little Mermaid: “The fishes are my friends // Underneath the sea… // The octopus says ‘hi’ // He’s quite a gentleman ” etc. (so why not give a songwriting credit to Ringo Starr, who composed “Octopus’s Garden”? The selectivity of this new Weezer practice is another thing that’s difficult to understand). All that said, “Blue Dream” is possibly the best cut on the album, not because of or in spite of either the Ozzy riff or the contrasting child-like themes, but simply because it sounds like classic Weezer, as does “All the Good Ones”, “Sheila Can Do It” and mid-tempo album closer “Precious Metal Girl.”
Back in the mid ‘90s, R.E.M. was similarly concerned that they had become too mellow and risked becoming, as they themselves phrased it, “James Taylor for life.” Thus, they released their “look-we-still-rock” album, Monster, which was not only another classic but managed to get the point across without any gimmicks. While Weezer has always had something of an irreverent sense of humor (we need only think back to the “Buddy Holly” video as one just example), on their early 2021 almost-twin releases (Irish twin releases?) they allow it to overshadow the music just a bit.
Van Weezer’s opening cut “Hero” also sounds like classic Weezer, as do the best tracks and elements of the whole album. The song, ironically, sums up the best way that the band could have approached the whole project: “It’s not that I don’t love to solve a mystery // But life is hard enough with [just] one identity.” While it’s unfair not to applaud any artists’ musical ambition, Weezer should be happy just being Weezer considering it’s never failed them before. There’s much great music on Van Weezer, but the listener shouldn’t have to be asked to weed through so much baggage just to get to it (let’s hope we’re spared Led Weezer, Iron Weezer and/or AeroWeezer).