There’s no point in giving Weezer any kind of reaction anymore. Their place in alt-rock history is firmly cemented as emo godfathers, 70s rock preservationists, and pop song professionals. None of the lows they’ve endured (self-inflicted or otherwise) have tarnished the diamonds they made from The Blue Album, Pinkerton, and The Green Album. They’ve been in a creative slump through their last four albums and keep falling on their faces in nearly all of their attempts to get with the times, yet the world just rolls its eyes and brushes off their latest embarrassment out of pity. And who knows, maybe mastermind Rivers Cuomo has one more “Say It Ain’t So,” or “Island in the Sun,” hell maybe a “Pork and Beans” left in him? If he and his band of eternal dorks can make a Toto song cool again, why can’t they use their classic rock influences and middle-aged emotions to make one more great album?
Van Weezer is not that album. It’s not even an attempt at a comeback or new direction for the band, rather a reminder of time gone past for the band and for us. Weezer’s 15th studio album was set to be released last year accompanying a tour with Green Day and Fall Out Boy, two bands who are also well past their prime and trying to find their footing in the modern musical landscape. If the fact that Harley Davidson being a sponsor of said tour wasn’t a sign of where Weezer are at in their careers, Van Weezer solidifies them as chasers of dad rock glory. Though barely over a half-hour in length, there’s nothing genuine about the fist-pumping energy the songs are going for.
That album title is not just a pun, for starters: Cuomo and co. mimic the sonic palette of not only Van Halen, but also Ozzy Osbourne, KISS, Motley Crue, and even Fountains of Wayne for some reason. Sure, the 10 tracks here have an overall sheen of pop glow thanks to producer Suzy Shinn (Panic! at the Disco, Fall Out Boy) and yes, Weezer’s tribute to their childhood music heroes is nothing new. But the hero worship on Van Weezer is so bland and basic that it feels less like a tribute and more like a lame parody. Though it starts with some Eddie Van Halen-aping fret-tapping, album opener “The End of the Game” has a musical charm closer to Bowling For Soup’s reference-laiden “1985.” “All the Good Ones” has the boom-boom-clap progression of an 80s KISS cut while “Blue Dream” is propelled by a heavy riff nearly-identical to Ozzy’s “Crazy Train.” The times when Weezer sound like Weezer are few and far-between, like on the chugging synth-tinged remembrance anthem “I Need Some of That” that wouldn’t be lost next to post-2010 cuts like “Go Away” or “L.A. Girls.” “She Needs Me” has the aura of 60s California rock before charging into a bouncy-enough headbanger. The only real diamond here is the album closer “Precious Metal Girl,” a simple acoustic ballad that’s written like the show-stopper in Rock of Ages but keeps its innocence with soft guitar work and Cuomo’s forever-adolescent voice.
That simplicity goes a long to cover Cuomo’s idea of romantic confession (“Look like you could’ve been in Faster Pussycat/In your leather jacket with the patches on the back”). Weezer’s best lyrics have always had just the right amount of emotional confession and blatant corniness to them, and Van Weezer is a mixed bag in both departments. At least Cuomo remains self-aware in his old age, shaking off any sense of hierarchy he might have on “Hero” (“You know, I tried to be a hero, but I was lying to myself”) while still making references to Iron Fist and Spider-Man. “Beginning of the End” is Cuomo describing his mid-life crisis occurring every time he goes on stage while also tying in to Bill & Ted Face the Music (“Nostradamus predicted a bomb would drop/And all our guitars will be hung in an old pawn shop”) while “The End of the Game” is Cuomo looking for the muse with hilariously outdated metaphors (“You got me cryin’ like when Aslan died”). However heartfelt the intent is, it’s territory that Cuomo and the band have covered before: finding yourself after heartbreak (“Blue Dream”), reminiscing about the days in the garage (“I Need Some of That”) and unrequited love in the most basic circumstances (“She Needs Me”). For someone who claims to have been around the world and seen so many faces in his time, Cuomo’s imagination has become rather boring in his later years.
It’s not that Van Weezer is a failure. Judging from the title and the commitment to the title’s theme, it’s exactly what Weezer wanted the album to be and exactly what to expect from an album called Van Weezer. The problem is that the expectations for a Weezer album have now gotten so low that it’s not even worth getting angry or even disappointed about. There’s a mutual agreement between the band and the public; they don’t overindulge in terrible music and we don’t delve deep into their downward spiral in quality. And it’s a shame that Weezer aren’t using their later years to try new things or test their abilities outside of past pop trends. So if Weezer aren’t willing to break the agreement, maybe it’s time to just let them go. We’ve had splashes of hope every now and then, but it might be finally time to let the sun set on Rivers Cuomo’s endless summer.