Throughout the course of their now 15-studio album discography, alternative rock band Weezer has continued to shift their styles and try out different genres over the years. With so many records, there have been some that are now staples in alternative rock, such as the gripping Pinkerton, as well as duds like their more recent cover album Weezer (The Teal Album). Even with the back and forth reception from fans throughout their album releases, things were looking up recently with their early 2021 record OK Human. Doing well with many fans and coming with some more soft string-based tracks that fit the band’s sound well, it sounds more authentic than some of their other works. But on their latest record Van Weezer, the band sounds less like they’re in their element and instead like a bad rock band satire. Instrumentally, they definitely get the style down even if it comes across as uninspired, but with the absolutely elementary level of songwriting, it makes the project hard to even take seriously.
Delving immediately into the metal style that they are tapping into on parts of this record, the opening track “The End of the Game” begins with some shimmering electric guitars that lead into a nice drum backing and builds up the headbanging rocker vibe up well. Thinking about the era that they are channeling and the sort of songs that stand out, a huge part of them is the instrumentation and the feeling that composition invokes in the listener. With this track being the opener of the project, it creates a real excitement for what’s to come and the feeling of being in a stadium rocking out with hundreds of people seems to be on the horizon. On top of that, the vocal delivery from Rivers Cuomo is actually skillful on this track. It is extremely simple and similar to a lot of other rocker songs from the past, but on this track the simplicity does end up working as it shifts the focus once again to the strong instrumentation.
After the beginning of the record, there are a couple of songs that land as well as this one, but unfortunately, many of the others fall flat and kill the huge potential that came with this introduction.
Shifting from the more intense feel of “The End of the Game,” “I Need Some of That” goes for a more relaxed mood for the listener but still keeps the overall rocker tone of the record intact. The instrumentation is again the highlight of this song, with the drums laying a great foundation for the rest of the instruments and allowing the guitars to add even more layers to the production with both lower and higher pitched sounds throughout. Another highlight of this track that stands out similar to “The End of the Game” is the vocals. Cuomo’s vocals sometimes sound whiny or childish if not used well, but on this song he makes sure to not go too crazy and keeps it right where he’s comfortable, leading to a genuinely pretty impressive performance from him.
But even with the positive aspects of “I Need Some of That,” this track falters exactly where the rest of the album struggles significantly — the songwriting. Weezer may be trying to go for more simplistic lyrics on this project because of the more instrumentally focused style they seem to be aiming for on some tracks, but even so, it becomes too difficult to ignore even with that in mind. With lines like, “Even when the sun was fading, I was in my hatchback raging / Riding up and down this block, ‘Cause I owned this block,” the lack of merit in them stands out in a negative way. Again, the instrumentation is still strong at this point in the record, but with the underdeveloped lyrics rearing their ugly head, it begins to spell disaster.
Coming shortly after is the track “Blue Dream,” which shows everything wrong with the album as a whole in one song. The instrumentation begins to get somewhat stale as the record runs on which is very disappointing considering the runtime of the entire album is only 31 minutes. It isn’t that it sounds objectively bad — it features much of the same electric guitar and drum focused compositions that some of the previous tracks did that had enjoyable musicality. Instead it’s the lack of Weezer using their instruments in any unique ways that begins to lessen the positives they provide to the songs. If there were more changes made throughout the tracklist to the style of playing, even slight ones, then it would provide a much needed breath of fresh air.
One more thing to note about the instrumentation specifically on this song is that for the entirety of the song but most noticeably at the beginning, there is a blatant rip off of one of the guitar riffs at the start of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” The worst part of this isn’t even that they took a riff from an already iconic song and slapped it on theirs just for an easy way to connect it back to their 80’s rock gimmick but rather the fact that it simply adds nothing interesting to it. You would think if Weezer takes a classic rock song and borrows something from it, they would at least put something of their own on it to make it transformative. Instead, they do absolutely nothing of the sort and end up creating a song grasping at nostalgia that’ll be forgotten within a week of listening.
Nearing the end of the record is the track “She Needs Me,” which perfectly shows the transition from decent writing earlier in the tracklist to lyrics later on that make it impossible not to cringe just hearing Cuomo sing them. If it weren’t for the atrocious lyricism the song would actually be redeemable because the first 30 seconds of the song, while short, do provide a much needed change of pace with a soft, emotional tone of voice. But funny enough while singing in a more stripped down delivery that is welcome on this record at this point, Cuomo delivers one of the worst lines on the whole album: “In this big, bad world, there’s things I do / When she needs help, I come through / Sometimes she hands me a jar of Jif / and I feel good when I open it.”
Hearing a grown man unironically describe how strong it makes him feel to open up a jar of peanut butter for his wife is already comical in the worst way, and then when all he can think of to describe how he feels about it is “I feel good when I open it,” you can’t help but laugh at its pure absurdity. That’s the main issue with mainly this song but some others mentioned as well: certain elements are so out of place it simply ruins the rest of the song. Whether or not the instrumentals are great, whether or not the vocal delivery is great, when such an important element like songwriting is absolutely in the garbage on a track, it doesn’t end well for the rest of it.
Van Weezer as an album is something that simply is a disappointment, but not because it was a bad concept or terrible execution all around or anything like that. What ends up bringing the record down are individual elements, most specifically the songwriting, that end up poisoning the rest of the song everytime they are present. And when listening all the way through, that’s what ends up being so frustrating about this project. The huge amount of potential that is there to pay homage to a beloved era of rock in a modern way is so enticing, and then instead of developing the tropes of the genre and adding unique aspects to them, Weezer decides to stick to the classic formula and still manages to ruin what is already there.
From repetitive instances of instrumentals to the bouts of genuinely boring and lazy songwriting, Weezer takes a record that had everything lined up for them and steers it all the way off course.
Liam Fitzpatrick is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl