by Pope Penguin
Sure, I could open up this review with a lengthy discourse about how long I've been a fan of the band, and how I've endured (or tried to endure) the downright bizarre twists and turns of their career (or, more accurately, Rivers' constant, overly melodramatic about-faces) over the last 11 years, just like every other independent reviewer will likely do. Then again, most of us probably blew our load on all that when the "green album" came out, so how much more can really be said? (See my review of said album for proof.) One thing I will say is this: it's May 9th, I've had a copy of the album for a few days now, the album officially "drops" tomorrow, and if I actually decide to purchase it, it will be the first time that I have ever bought a Weezer album on its release date *purely* out of nostalgia and tradition. Because, despite the hype by rags like Rolling Stone, All Music Guide and hopeful reviews by nostalgic indie boys all over the web, much like its two predecessors, "Make Believe" is, well, you guessed it...disappointing.
And yet I struggle to figure out why exactly this band inspires so much allegiance and devotion amongst its fans...even fans like me who have basically been running on auto-pilot since 2001. Is it merely wistful nostalgia that keeps us interested? Is it the mass of frustrating contradictions that is Rivers Cuomo? Or do we really secretly pray that Rivers still has another "blue album" or "Pinkerton"-level masterpiece stashed away inside the recesses of his mind? Since 2001, every time I've heard a new Weezer album, I've thought the same thing: 'god, I really *want* to like this.'
Don't get me wrong: it's unfair for anyone to expect an artist to remain sedentary for their entire career. I'm certainly all for change, and I applaud when an artist can successfully reinvent themselves over and over while still maintaining a high quality of output. (Beck and David Bowie come to mind.) But it's that last line that's key: "maintain a high quality of output."
I suppose that's where we all can admit that, in a way, we *are* indeed mired in the past, expecting Rivers & Co. to come up with great works like they did in the '90s. If you would have approached me in 1996 and asked me what I thought the next few Weezer albums would sound like, I could have offered you many suggestions. Of all the interesting directions Weezer could have headed in, I never would have predicted this would be the path they'd eventually settle on: bland, radio-friendly "alt-rock" with lyrics that sound like they were ripped straight out of a box of Hallmark cards.
"You've always meant much more to me
than you can ever guess,
Because you've done so much to fill my life with happiness"
No, that's not a line from the new album, but it damn well could be. Maybe it'll be an iTunes exclusive.
Compiled from three distinctly different recording sessions spanning two years, most of which were either produced or overseen by Rick Rubin, it's hard to decide whether the aptly titled "Make Believe" is actually better or *worse* than its two predecessors. Sure, there are improvements of sorts: it's the first Weezer album that shows the band willfully branching out in terms of production, styles and arrangements, especially with regards to piano and keyboard parts. It's also the first album since "Pinkerton" that shows Rivers making a conscious effort to wear his heart on his sleeve, lyrically. And, unlike the "green album," Rivers is playing, y'know, actual guitar solos. But for all those positives, there are just as many negatives that pull the album back down into "mediocre" territory.
Okay, so the lyrics don't sound like they were written by Tonto, Tarzan and Frankenstein anymore. However, in their place are lyrics that are far too literal, easy, and self-consciously anti-poetic...and not in a raw, ugly, confessional "Plastic Ono Band" kind of way, but in an obstinant, overly conversational, cloy kind of way. (Hell, the chorus of "Perfect Situation"--one of the finest songs on the album--consists of nothing but "oh-HOOOO!"-ing). With the possible exception of Rivers' solos, the instrumentation throughout is even more mannered and staid than the "green album." (Where the hell *are* Scott and Pat?) Most of all--and this is key--it's the first Weezer album ever that could be classified as (*shudder*) "mature."
Or is that just "make believe" maturity? (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
And maybe that's just it: Weezer have simply grown "old." Pat Wilson has said "Make Believe" sounds like a cross between the first two albums, with "Maladroit" solos flown in, which might be the biggest overstatement anyone in the band has ever made. Whereas the early Weezer alternated between awkward, geeky, honest emotion ("No One Else," "Only In Dreams," "Say It Ain't So," practically all of "Pinkerton") and hip, goofy, Everyguy coolness ("Surf Wax America," "Buddy Holly"), "Make Believe" largely sounds like the work of a man who is bawled up in the corner, crying "mea maxima culpa!"...in the most boring, unimaginative way possible, until you just want to slap some sense into him.
Lest I sound like yet another whiny, eternally disappointed longtime fan who longs for another "Pinkerton," I should point out that "Make Believe" is not without merit. "The Damage In Your Heart" is a devastating piece of music, with its wall of downbeat distorted guitars, tasteful guitar harmonics and sections that strongly recall "Pink Triangle." (Oops, there I go again.) The intro of "Perfect Situation" rides along on a bed of chugging, disorted guitars, which later drop away to reveal a tinkling piano, wonderful melody line and some admittedly nice imagery. (It's all ruined, of course, by the unimaginative "oh-HOOOOO!" chorus, but that's beside the point.) "We Are All On Drugs" moves at a brisk pace and is built on an interesting, repeated chord structure. If the lyrics weren't so damn preachy, it might be a highlight. "This Is Such A Pity" is a decent Cars pastiche, with driving eighth-note guitars and happy synths. Unfortunately, it sticks out like a sore thumb. "Freak Me Out," with its mellow vibe and plinking, water droplet guitars has a nice atmosphere, but is so slickly produced that it comes close to AOR.
You see what I mean now? For every positive on the album, there is an overwhelming negative.
And do I even need to mention "Beverly Hills"? This overt re-write of "The Sweater Song," with its string of self-pitying, hypocritical "I didn't get laid in high school" type lyrics, is easily the worst single they've ever released. In fact, I can't think of the last pop song I've heard that makes me want to slap the narrator so hard. (And that "gimme gimme" girl needs to die.)
The one real strength here--and, indeed, on all of Weezer's albums--lies in the melody lines. Rivers still proves himself quite capable at crafting effortless pop songs that are, for lack of a better word, "catchy." But V.D. is catchy, too. Doesn't make it good for you.
So yeah, I guess I am still, perhaps unfairly so, holding the band to the lofty standards they set with the first two albums. "Make Believe" is finally making me seriously consider those theories about Matt Sharp being the real soul of the band. What makes me so woefully sad about Weezer is how it seems they probably had a few more towering works left in them before Rivers went cuckoo and took the melodramatic decision to take time off. I've said this many times before: Rivers never "earned the right" to have a breakdown, as far as I'm concerned. You can understand why certain artists go into exile: Brian Wilson, for example, had a string of hit albums and singles where he was the main arranger and producer before his magnum opus "SMiLE" finally did him in. Andy Partridge had five fine, critically praised albums under his belt and XTC were poised to finally break big in America before he succumbed to incurable stage fright. However, the level of drama within the Weezer camp is simply not proportional to the amount of work they've put out *nor* the quality of said work.
I've given Rivers and the gang the benefit of the doubt for far too long. I still have some sort of obsessive affinity for Weezer's sound, but for the past four years, I've felt as if I've just been going through the motions as a fan. Hopefully, Rivers will realize he's got nothing left and this will be the band's final album. Oh, I'll still proudly wear my Mykel and Carli Tribute shirt, treasure my CD singles, laugh at the "Buddy Holly" video and re-read my copies of Rivers' handwritten lyrics from time to time, but I'm afraid this is probably the end of the road for me. I feel bad for saying it, but that's okay, since I'm sure at least a dozen young TRL-viewing "rawk" fans will gladly step in to take my place. Have at it, kiddies.
Now let's hope "Revenge Of The Sith" doesn't suck as well.
© 2005 Crapple Records, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this article may reproduced without the expressed written consent of Crapple Records, Inc.
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