“Van Weezer” Makes Old Things New Again

In 1994, I was encouraged to listen to “the Blue Album” by a new rock band called “Weezer.” Upon the first track hitting my ears, I was instantly in love. Their relatively short, catchy songs were an ode to 1950s and 1960s rock-and-roll but with a definitive modern sound. Their most famous song to this day is titled “Buddy Holly.” Many of the lyrics, often autobiographical riffs from front-man Rivers Cuomo’s upbringing, were quite amusing. The well-educated quartet were those really nerdy guys who had figured out rock music and could out-do their tough guy punk rock and heavy metal counterparts.

In 2002 my girlfriend (now wife) and I took in a Weezer concert to promote their third studio release, “The Green Album,” at the Irvine Meadows amphitheater. Their live delivery was outstanding – album quality, in fact. I have yet to see Weezer live again, but I followed the band religiously until about 2010, a year after they released their largely criticized album, “Raditude.” Around that time I discovered sports talk radio, and so Weezer and most other bands took a back seat on my drives about town. In fact, it was only in late 2020 that I joined the ranks of the musically inclined with a Spotify membership. In the interim, I missed three studio album releases by the band.

But a few months ago, I learned that Weezer was working on a tribute album to the glam rock and heavy metal of the 1970s and 1980s. Upon its release in May, I downloaded it to Spotify almost out of sheer curiosity. But as the songs of “Van Weezer” piped through my earbuds, all things old became new again. Only 30 minutes and 53 seconds in length, the 10-song album instantly reminded me why I loved this band in the first place.  

The first track, “Hero,” is actually one of the album’s few weak spots, though isn’t a single song to be skipped. The clever and humorous lyrics of several of the songs reminded me why I always considered the band “advanced” rock-and-roll. Take lead singer Rivers Cuomo’s longing for the music of his youth in “I Need Some of That,” where he sings, “Summertime, I press rewind, and go back to a simple place,” and explodes with the chorus, “Even if we blow up, we’re never gonna grow up – this is where it’s at!” In the catchy “Beginning of the End,” listeners can muse along with Cuomo as he belts out, “Watch us kick up the dust, in Heavy Metal we trust!” The upbeat “Blue Dream” even steals the guitar riff from rocker Ozzy Osbourne’s popular hit, “Crazy Train.”

The overall sound and tone of the album is more classic Weezer than authentic heavy metal, per se. But the band has changed up their emphasis on guitar riffs and brief solos that earlier albums didn’t attempt to master. In addition, several lyrics are more anti-establishment and wryly tackle topics evoking the hard rock sounds of earlier decades. Even in themes as serious as addiction, a song like “1 More Hit,” teasingly pleads, “Could I have one more hit, I promise I’ll quit, this shit ain’t good for me.” In “All the Good Ones,” the front man laments in frustration that he’s missed out on all of the world’s available women.

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This album is so good through-and-through that it’s tough to pick a favorite track. If I had to select two, I would encourage the curious to check out the very Pinball Wizard-inspired “Sheila Can Do It” for its very Who-like shifts and changes. An argument can also be made for the album’s closing track, “Precious Metal Girl.” The melodic, slower sound of that song gifts listeners with, “I don’t invest in stocks, I don’t invest in bonds, and who needs real estate when I’ve got you?” and, “You look like you could have been in Faster Pussycat in your leather jacket with the patches on the back.”

It’s been a long time since I listened to an album and really paid attention to the lyrics. But Weezer’s frivolity and nostalgia for an era that matches my own childhood make “Van Weezer” so much fun you want to take it with you everywhere from a party to the beach to a long drive. But mostly, it takes me back to my 23-year-old self that first discovered the Blue Album, and lets me revel in familiar sounds like I was living that life again … if only my muscles and joints would cooperate.   

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