The Wide, Wide World of Weezer

Jeff Christensen

For many, their first introduction to Weezer was via its video for “Buddy Holly” that came as a sample media file on the Windows 95 installation CD-ROM. The video, and song, were anything but the grunge that at the time ruled the airwaves:

Weezer was rapidly embraced as the rock band for people who wanted to hear rock‘n’roll but didn’t want to be rockers; the most un-rock star rock stars imaginable, led by the patron saint of introverted insecure kids with glasses Rivers Cuomo. This image was shattered by the band’s second album Pinkerton, an effort far more akin to a primal scream than the power pop fans devoured from Weezer’s first album, which was eponymous but came to be known as the Blue Album courtesy of its cover’s prominent hue. Everyone hated Pinkerton, and for a while it appeared that Weezer’s time in the spotlight would be brief indeed.

A funny thing happened on the way to the where are they now file, though. People started giving Pinkerton a second listen and started hailing it as great. Cuomo set aside his studies at Harvard — yes, Harvard — to get the band back together. Five years after Pinkerton came the Green Album. It was a hit, led by a song devoted to … well, an entirely different subject matter than one usually hears on the radio:

The band hasn’t looked back since.

Fast forward to 2021, and the now middle-aged Cuomo and company faced a dilemma. A couple of years earlier, Weezer had started working on an album that, as a challenge to itself, would be entirely absent electric guitars, instead relying on acoustic instrumentation including an orchestra. Then the band found itself scheduled to be park of a 2020 stadium tour with Green Day and Fall Out Boy. This didn’t seem like an optimal setting in which to introduce a set of delicately instrumented tunes, so a new album was hastily assembled featuring nothing but screaming guitar rockers tapping into Cuomo’s pre-Weezer days as a heavy metal maven. Yes, really.

As expected, the stadium tour was postponed (now most likely happening in 2022). So, Weezer pushed the release date of its heavy rocker album from May of 2020 to May of this year. In the meantime, Weezer went back and finished its acoustic album. Titled OK Human, the album was released in February. The rocker album, Van Weezer, finally hit the shelves on May seventh. Both are well worth a listen.

OK Human, a play on Radiohead’s OK Computer, showcases Weezer at its most tuneful. The band has been experimenting with different textures for the past three albums in lieu of nearly omnipresent guitar-driven power pop, but on OK Human the textures are inextricably woven into the songs as showcased here:

Cuomo has always had a gift for melody, and OK Human is no slouch in this department. If anything, its format has spurred Cuomo into refining his tunes all the more. It’s still unmistakably Weezer, but it touches on something far more substantive than for which the band is credited by all save the passionate hardcore fans who’ve caught the vision of Weezer’s quirky nervous charm.

The only thing nervous about Van Weezer (the album title was selected before Eddie Van Halen’s passing) is how it could make the neighbors nervous if turned up. A semi-tribute to Cuomo’s aforementioned metal days, almost every song is a sledgehammer, especially when compared to OK Human’s subtlety. It would be tempting to dismiss Van Weezer as parody, given how much of Weezer’s persona consists of poking fun at arena/hard rock’s excesses, but the delivery is too solid for it to be thus dismissed:

At times the acknowledgement of influences is almost too clear; “Blue Dream” is so closely modeled on Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” its writers are credited along with Cuomo, while “1 More Hit” would be perfectly at home on a Metallica album. Despite these excesses, the album succeeds as a one-off homage, not abandoning Weezer’s standard tunefulness despite the screaming guitars.

And so, there you have it. Van Weezer is a joyous romp through the ‘80s heyday of big guitar riffs and even bigger hair, while OK Human is a far more intimate yet equally exhilarating listen. Weezer remains the best band unfortunately far too often taken for granted instead of feted for its consistent excellence.