Scratch the plaid veneer of most American alt-rockers and you’ll likely uncover a sliver of spandex; ‘80s MTV hair rock is so deeply embedded in the US teen rocker experience that most decent grunge, emo and desert rock bands made their early albums while still encased in the faint after-scent of hairspray and rubber codpieces.
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Weezer, it seems, are no exception. Their riffs have always had a hint of the lapping tongue between devil horns about them, and their 15th album sees the mask drop completely. Following their subtle and sophisticated orchestral album ‘OK Human’, released in January, they go as unsubtle and unsophisticated as possible on ‘Van Weezer’, in as sharp a stylistic U-turn as any since 1982 Neil Young decided it was time to get on board with vocoder synth-pop.
Unfortunately, after the classical treatments of ‘OK Human’ gelled so well with Rivers Cuomo’s songwriting, the bull-snorting hellchords and squealing solos of ‘Van Weezer’ clash so hard with his style that the retro metal elements often just feel like slapped-on gimmickry. While heavy ‘80s rock riffs might often suit Weezer songs, Weezer songs – rarely strutting battle-cries of sex, sacrifice and boulder-eating testosterone – are generally too sensitive, smart and surf friendly to carry them.
“Plugging into a Marshall stack, I can be anything I want,” Cuomo declares amid the Leppard-spotted rock of ‘I Need Some Of That’, admitting to his power rock pretence in a nostalgic flurry of teenage rock fandom; ‘Beginning Of The End’ is a pomp-rock anthem about crippling pre-gig stage fright, as far from “Hello Cleveland!” as riff rock has ever got. The air of cock-rock cosplay hangs pretty heavily.
At its best (the crunching ‘Hero’ boasts one of Weezer’s greatest ever choruses), ‘Van Weezer’ marries soft metal and melodic geek culture to stupendous, festival-slaying effect. At its most frustrating (‘All The Good Ones’), it makes otherwise marvellous Cuomo songs sound like boy band rock pastiche. And at its absolute worst (‘1 More Hit’, ‘Blue Dream’ – most of the album’s second half, basically) the tokenistic thunder-chord segments, motorbike noises and Iron Maiden riffs distract from great songs.
Gorgeous acoustic closer ‘Precious Metal Girl’ proves that Weezer are more effective when singing about metal, rather than trying to emulate it. There’s a stone-cold classic Weezer album hidden beneath the fretboard flam – let’s have a whip round to get ‘Van Weezer’ an Albini remix.
Release date: May 7
Record label: Crush/Atlantic