Weezer Make Believe

[Geffen; 2005]

Rating: 1.5/5

Styles: pop-rock, rock/pop, rock-pop, pop/rock
Others: The Rentals, That Dog, Nirvana, Space Twins, Ozma, Superdrag

To extinguish that question burning in everybody's heads, allow me to piss on your fire: Make Believe is not Pinkerton. It's not a "return to form" or a throwback to the mid-'90s, nor is it even an attempt at such, as some rags claim. Despite the slight chance that Rivers's new meditation practices would revive his songwriting impotence, Make Believe is the nail in the coffin, the album that has ensured their irrelevancy. Rivers's illusory faith in the market as an arbiter of "good" taste has ultimately led him astray. To believe that the more popular the song, the better the song is also to believe that Britney Spears is popular because of her talents. For an industry that relies on extensive marketing and centralized power for its imperial dominance in the music world, Weezer has always appeared as that glimmer of hope that music didn't have to deconstruct itself to show its value, nor did the music have to even push limits or eschew good wholesome pop sensibilities for ham-fisted politics. It could simply be genuine, and it was precisely this faith in Weezer that kept us coming back. But Make Believe seems disingenuous. Even Brian Bell recently told Rolling Stone that he sometimes feels like just one part of Rivers's big experiment.

Admittedly, the melodies on Make Believe are still fairly catchy. The bridge section in "Peace" is one of the catchiest tunes ever penned by Rivers, while "Haunt You Every Day" is perhaps the only song that I enjoy from beginning to end. But rather than trying to reflect an emotional state through certain pitches and rhythms, it seems like the music simply plays on coded gestures in order to create automated responses in the listener. Their reliance on these conventions ultimately distracts from the emotional content. Despite their catchiness, melody in and of itself is not enough for the discerning; delivery and quality is just as important. Make Believe, much like Green and Maladroit, sounds so polished you could dry-hump it for hours without feeling any friction. But we want friction! What made Pinkerton and Blue so amazing for me was their tangibility, their imperfections and how they were integrated into the whole. Listen to Rivers's vocal strains in "Tired of Sex" or the out-of-tune backup harmonies in "Getchoo" and you'll hear the difference. Make Believe tries way too hard to create the illusion of perfection.

Given that a bunch of songs were scrapped in place of a new, last-minute batch, the songs come off lazy and uninspired. While Rivers and Co. are so content with following the same insipid verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-combo-outro formula for almost all of Make Believe, they forget that tinkering with structure, in a big ("Across the Sea") or small ("Surf Wax America") way, makes for a much more engaging ride. Once you hear the first verse and chorus, you might as well skip the rest, as the solos are bland and pretty embarrassing. You can't tell if they're being ironic or if they're actually being serious (shockingly, Rivers says "Beverly Hills" is not sarcastic at all). And the lyrics, though occasionally personal and confessional, do nothing to help in this regard: "Man, you really freaked me out/ I'm so afraid of you/ And when I lose my cool/ I don't know what to do," for example. Full of clichés and lumpish rhymes, you get the sense that there's a lot of posturing going on.

But it's not like a return to Pinkerton days is what's desirable. After all, what could be more fake? It'd be silly not to acknowledge that roughly a decade has passed since the release of Pinkerton, more than enough time for any person to drastically change their musical approach. This is not about nostalgic demands of a generation getting older; I simply make these comparative arguments to show that there are differences between old Weezer and new Weezer, and it's not just about how catchy or entertaining the song are. Just listen to Pinkerton or Blue after Make Believe. Weezer's once unique aesthetic has been replaced by something formulaic and ultimately too safe, and no amount of fandom is going to have us blindly provide support. Much like Green and Maladroit, Make Believe is lacking character, and its rejection of any sort of disruption -- feedback, dissonance, etc -- only inflicts more harm.

In writing about music, I've always worked under the assumption that music is not a thing that is, but a thing that means. On this ground, I tend to resist writing only about the actual sounds, as I feel the context is far more important in providing some sort of basis for understanding the music itself, no matter how shaky those ground are. Consequently, the story of Weezer is inevitably a story of Rivers. He is Weezer. He calls the shots, he writes the songs. Since their debut album, Rivers no longer allows any members of the band to contribute songs; and according to the recent Rolling Stone interview, he even has a veto on band matters, which is reflected in his sudden decision to not contribute "My Best Friend" to the Shrek 2 soundtrack. Rivers even fined another Weezer member for playing out of key. According to Rick Rubin, Weezer is the "most dysfunctional group" he has ever worked with, even suggesting a communications coach sit in during their recording sessions. Only Pat Wilson and Scott Shriner (who replaced original bassist Matt Sharp) call themselves friends, while the rest are "acquaintances." This atmosphere isn't particularly conducive to creativity. And no, Rivers, this is not a case of an "audience lagging behind the development of an artist," as you once suggested. Talk about delusions of grandeur. Indeed, Weezer has problems, and it's reflected in both their strained relationships and, ultimately, their music.  

1. Beverly Hills
2. Perfect Situation
3. This Is Such A Pity
4. Hold Me
5. Peace
6. We Are All On Drugs
7. The Damage In Your Heart
8. Pardon Me
9. My Best Friend
10. The Other Way
11. Freak Me Out
12. Haunt You Every Day

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