So I was going to talk about the new double albums from Ryan Adams and the Eels this week, complete with the requisite raving and, no doubt, at least one “this will be in my top 10 list” pronouncement. And then I heard the new Weezer album, and hell, it’s been way too long since I’ve really lit into something, but this record deserves it. It’s absolute crap, and if I can, through my meager efforts here, keep just one person from laying down their hard-earned cash for this thing, then I’ll have done my job.
Honestly, I’ve never understood the big deal about Weezer. Somehow, the smirk-pop of their first two records has become, to many, genius-level brilliance. I don’t hear it. Weezer has always been a fun rock band, even when lead basket case Rivers Cuomo was wrestling with his own insecurities on Pinkerton. There wasn’t much to his work there besides “I’m so sad, and unlucky in love,” but I guess that spoke to his fans’ very souls. I don’t know, I’m grasping at straws. Pinkerton just ain’t that good.
There are, it seems, two types of Weezer fans – those who love Pinkerton, and those who dig the Green Album. I’m not even sure, at this point, which one Cuomo likes better – the commercial semi-failure of Pinkerton precipitated his five-year hiatus, and its subsequent lionization has loomed over his head like a guillotine blade ever since. The Green Album, the opening salvo of Weezer Mark Two, presented a different Cuomo entirely, with its 28 minutes of stupid melodic pop that refused to take itself seriously. It was the anti-Pinkerton, in a lot of ways, and I think Cuomo is better when he’s not trying to be the genius everyone seems to think he is.
So I’m a Green Album fan, which right away strips me of credibility to those on the other side of the aisle. Perhaps, they’re thinking, when I say the new Weezer album, Make Believe, is crap, I mean it’s not dumb-pop enough. Perhaps I mean it resembles Pinkerton, which many have intimated, and given that, perhaps I should buy it and see, they’re probably saying. To them, let me say this: Cuomo has delivered an album that, in the spirit of bipartisanship, both sides of this debate can hate equally. If you can listen to this whole thing and still believe Cuomo is anywhere close to brilliant, well, I’ll eat Brian Bell.
Who is Brian Bell, some of you may be asking, and that brings up a terrific point. While there are three other members of Weezer (and Bell is one of them), this band has always been the Rivers Cuomo show. He writes all the songs, provides the whole personality, and even sends the band into extended periods of downtime when he’s not feeling up to being a rock star. In a sense, the other guys get a good deal – they get to be in a hugely popular rock band, and still walk down the street anonymously, ‘cause no one’s paying attention to them. And, if the records suck, they can hide behind Cuomo, because it most certainly is all his fault.
And there’s a lot of blame to lay on Cuomo’s slumped shoulders for Make Believe. Start with the atrocious first single, “Beverly Hills.” Never mind that it pinches the guitar line from the chorus of “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” and never mind that it just repeats the same dumbass riff for its entire running time, the song itself is just stupid. If it’s meant to be ironic, I can’t tell. I’m too distracted by the godawful talk box solo, straight out of “Life’s Been Good to Me,” but not quite as cool. The gang vocals shouting “BEVERLY HILLS!!!” over and over, the sampled female voice DJ’d into every chorus, the asinine lyrics – it’s as if Cuomo took a class on crappy songwriting, and this was his final exam.
Wait, it gets worse. Apparently reversing his determined stance of the past few years, Cuomo has tried to make Pinkerton II here, “opening up” and “sharing his feelings” on most tracks. Thing is, he’s mistaken treacly sentiment and fourth-grade-level poetry for emotional content. He’s also failed to back up these amateur-hour words with music and melodies that may distract you from them, as he did on the Green Album. There are rare cases here where the lyrics ruin otherwise good songs, but for the most part, they’re on the same level. And that level is the basement.
Where to begin? “This is Such a Pity” is an obviously calculated attempt to cash in on the ‘80s new wave boom, so out of place is it with the rest of Weezer’s catalog, and it hinges on the line, “We should give all our love to each other, not this hate that destroys us.” Fine sentiments, Raffi, but couldn’t you come up with some less, shall we say, stupid way of putting it? “Peace” actually contains this couplet: “All these problems on my mind make it hard for me to think, there’s no way I can stop, my poor brain is gonna pop.” Rather than hide the last line’s ridiculous lapse, the band drops most of the music out at that point to emphasize it.
The album also suffers from a plague of power ballads, the curse of Styx and Journey and Air Supply. “Hold Me” fares pretty well, considering, but it’s still a lighters-in-the-air laugh riot – “Take me with you ‘cause I’m lonely” is the most insightful it gets. “We Are All on Drugs” sounds like the title to a pretty neat, funny song, doesn’t it? Wrong – it’s pretty much a straight-ahead Nancy Reagan cautionary tale. “My Best Friend” is probably the funniest thing here, with lyrics that pinch one of Queen’s worst songs – “You’re my best friend, and I love you, yes I do.” Seriously. Even Vanilla Ice picked a better Queen song to rip off. If you can get through “My Best Friend” without giggling, you’re a better man than I.
Is there anything worth listening to on here? Well, sort of. “Perfect Situation” is mediocre piano-pop, but it isn’t embarrassing. Same goes for “Pardon Me,” which hits upon one or two interesting lines – “I may not be a perfect soul, but I can learn self-control.” And “Haunt You Every Day,” the closer, is the best thing here, a power ballad that actually has some power. But that’s really it, and none of what I’ve mentioned approaches the work you’d expect from someone of Cuomo’s esteem. It takes a whole album of bland songs for him to tell us a) “I’m lonely” and b) “Don’t do drugs.”
Which brings me back to my original question. Why do people idolize Cuomo? His work has always been varying degrees of mediocre – Make Believe is his worst simply because his lousiest tendencies have all come to the fore at once, but they’ve always been there. I wouldn’t even care, but this band has the full force of the record company behind them, and goddamn “Beverly Hills” is everywhere, while genuinely good bands go unheralded. I’m trying to be as nice as I can, but I just don’t get why this band is considered worth investing time in.
I also don’t get why critics are willing to give Cuomo a pass. Is it because he’s an interesting person? Sure, he’s elevated quirky-shy oddness to an art form, and he’s fun to have around, but… four stars for this record? Seriously? That just adds fuel to the theory that all the big magazines are in the pocket of the record companies. I plan to use Make Believe as my benchmark for criticism – if you listen to this tripe, give it a good mark and use words like “straightforward” and “earnest” and “plaintive” to describe it, then I don’t even want to deal with you. Just be honest and call it crap.
In a way, this album is Cuomo’s “I’m a uniter, not a divider” speech. With this tedious, disastrous, unbelievably mediocre record, he’s given us something we can all rally against. Democrats and Republicans, pro-choicers and pro-lifers, Pinkerton lovers and Green Album fans, we can all join hands and hate the hell out of Make Believe. It is all the bad parts of all of their previous albums – no matter who you are, no matter what of theirs you’ve liked before, you’ll find something to despise here. It’s a big, thick, goopy mess, and what really bothers me about it is that if some unknown band came to Geffen Records and handed this in as their demo, they’d be laughed out of the building.
I implore you, don’t buy this record. If Cuomo’s attitude towards Pinkerton has taught us anything, it’s that if this album is enough of a commercial failure, he’ll go away and hide for another five years, at least. Perhaps another hiatus will recharge Cuomo’s batteries, perhaps not, I don’t care. All that matters is purging this shite from the airwaves for another half-decade. And in Cuomo’s absence, we can all make believe that Make Believe never happened, and each remember Weezer the way we want to remember them, be it Pinkerton or the Green Album or, hell, even not at all.
See you in line Tuesday morning.