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Weezer hits Las Vegas with adventurous new album

Before there was “Buddy Holly,” there was “Oorah!”

Scott Shriner is a rock star.

Now.

But barracks came before tour buses.

Flashback to 1985.

The Toledo, Ohio, native and future Weezer bassist enlisted in the Marines.

He’d never be the same.

That was the point.

“It was a rite of passage,” Shriner, 53, recalls. “I needed to get broken down by the Marine Corps to my true, core self. If you’re just this little pot-smoking kid who messes around with a bunch of stuff, if you take everything away from him and mash his brains in a little bit, he’ll figure out what he wants to be.”

And that was a musician.

Though boot camp is a long way from sold-out arenas, the former steeled Shriner for the latter.

“It was a challenge, and I still enjoy challenges,” Shriner says of his time in the military. “It’s like, you’re in front of a bunch of people and you’ve got to do this. And I would fail miserably. But I got used to being stuck in different situations and having to adapt. That was really good for me. It taught me that I could endure a lot more than my mind told me that I could. It was a real turning point, man.”

L.A. story

In 1989, after being discharged from the Marines, Shriner moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of being a musician.

It was in his blood: His dad sang and played in bar bands, and Shriner got hooked on music early, especially Elton John after seeing him play the Pinball Wizard in the film adaptation of the Who’s “Tommy.”

Shriner would kick around in various L.A. bands, including backing Vanilla Ice during his short-lived nü metal years, before landing the Weezer gig in 2001.

He’s since become the band’s longest-tenured bassist, playing on 10 of its 13 studio albums, including the latest, “Weezer (The Black Album),” released last month.

According to Shriner, the band had a specific aim with this album.

“We kind of do sit down and say, ‘We want to make this kind of record,’ ” Shriner says. “When we were doing ‘Everything Will Be Alright in the End,’ we had a really clear idea of how we wanted it. The ‘White Album,’ was kind of the same thing: We wanted a Weezer, sad beach album. On ‘Pacific Daydream,’ we were trying to be a little edgier and Clash-ish. On this record, I think we were looking for something a little dancier, a little groovier, a little bit more modern.”

Check, check and check.

The tone is set right from the start with “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” a Latin-infused soul shuffle that’s among the band’s funkiest tunes. From the driving dance pop of “Living in L.A.” to the hip-hop production flourishes of “California Snow,” where frontman River Cuomo sings of panic attacks while sounding as if he’s having one, the record is buoyed by a spirit of adventurousness.

Sure, there are plenty of familiar Weezer-isms here, namely, big guitar riffs soundtracking even bigger anxieties. Cuomo sings of loneliness, a prefrontal cortex overloaded with thoughts, and the power of music to serve as a lifeline to it all.

But with TV on the Radio guitarist-producer Dave Sitek behind the boards, adding electronic texture to a very detailed mix, the album has a fresh, invigorated feel as well.

Also, there’s Cuomo cussing for the first time.

“He’s a really odd character, isn’t he?” Shriner playfully says of his bandmate. “He doesn’t really swear in his day-to-day, walking-around life. But he kind of has this other side that’s kind of hip-hop-ish and a little bit edgier. It’s a little odd for me to hear, him swearing and stuff.”

True colors

“The Black Album” comes on the heels of “Weezer (The Teal Album),” a covers record released in January that was precipitated by Weezer’s take on Toto’s “Africa,” a surprise smash hit for the band last year.

Weezer’s version had unlikely origins: In December 2017, a 14-year-old fan from Cleveland, Mary Klym, tweeted at Weezer, urging the group to record the song.

They would eventually oblige — after first trolling Klym with a cover of Toto’s “Rosanna.” Weezer’s “Africa” racked up more than 30 million streams on Spotify alone and became the band’s first No. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart in 10 years.

Weezer never saw any of it coming.

“It was like, ‘holy (expletive),’ ” Shriner says. “We had no idea that anybody was going to care. It was just kind of something we felt like doing. Obviously, it’s a great song, but just because a band covers a super famous song doesn’t mean that song is going to do well. That it did so well, we’re like, ‘All right, let’s do a cover record.’ ”

Weezer tried its hand at everything from Black Sabbath’s rampaging “Paranoid” to TLC’s “No Scrubs,” which Shriner says he had never heard before hitting the studio to record it.

“Weezer (The Teal Album)” made it into the top five, giving the group another hit 25 years after its breakout, self-titled triple-platinum debut.

Now they’re on the road with fellow alt-rock luminaries the Pixies.

“We all admire that band very much,” Shriner says.

“I have no idea what they think about us,” he adds with a chuckle. “But we worship them.”

The tour concludes Friday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Eighteen years ago, Shriner made his Weezer debut in venues like this one: big rooms and big dreams coalescing.

“I’ll never forget, the first couple of arenas that I played in were right after 9/11, so that was a really weird situation,” he recalls. “But once the country started to get back on its feet, I remember going to Chicago and being in the arena where the Bulls are playing, and I just felt at home. Being up in front of 13,000 people just felt really natural to me. It’s like, I knew that I was meant to do this.”

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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