Let me start off by saying, there is a whole heap
of back story on Make Believe
, the fifth album from the rock quartet Weezer
. Read any recent article on the band and you'll probably get at least a slice of the pie on the events leading up to Make Believe
's May 10th, 2005 release.
To summarize (in no particular order)...
There was (and still is) a huge fan division on Weezer’s previous two releases (The Green Album and Maladroit) that grew and grew and constantly plagues the band, turning them into a bad name of sorts among the Pitchfork crowd. The band begins work on their 5th album before the 4th was even released. They scrap the sessions and give some of them away for free online. After the end of a flurry of touring many all-band acoustic sessions occur. Uber-producer Rick Rubin weaves in and out of the project and then in again for good. Two side-project discs are recorded and released, one from Pat Wilson's The Special Goodness’ (Land Air Sea) and Brian Bell's The Space Twins’ (The End of Imagining). Frontman Rivers Cuomo appears onstage with ex-bassist Matt Sharp for the first time in seven years, returns to study at Harvard, gets really into vipassana meditation, sells everything he owns, posts acoustic covers and essays on mySpace, does part-time work at a soup kitchen and begins a two year celibate period. Bassist Scott Shriner gets engaged, Wilson's longtime wife gives birth and Brian settles down with a girlfriend who he studies Shakespeare with and they appear onstage together in a production of Twelfth Night in southern California. During the on/off recording process, in-fighting within the band ensues, Rubin holds group therapy sessions to try to work things out, which apparently works to only a certain extent. Eventually, album is 100% completed. It consists of material from sessions spanning from December 2003 through February 2005. In the time between albums, the band demoed over two hundred songs that end up not making the album (see, Weezer's Abandoned Album V Demos). The band, which had been on a hiatus of sorts for the past three years, slowly announces their first shows in three years, films a video for their album's first single that features 150+ Weezer fans at the Playboy Mansion, begins a sold out U.S club tour and begins a "comeback" of sorts.
So! With that said. Let's talk about what really matters. The 12-songs and 45-minutes that make up Weezer’s fifth album Make Believe.
The album kicks off with a drum roll and then it’s right into the first single, ”Beverly Hills”. A lot has been said about “Beverly Hills.” First off, it is worth noting that it’s quite an odd album starter. Aside from the appropriate drum roll, the rest of the album bares very little resemblance to “Beverly Hills.” Besides that, the song contains three solid elements that have helped make it a hit song (peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it chart-wise the band’s most successful song) a solid gang-vocal chorus (a la “El Scorcho”) and taking two archaic musical elements, handclaps and a talkbox solo, and making them sound very fresh. It also makes great use of an odd time signature and a keyboard/spoken word bridge. Yet, the verses don’t hold much punch and the vocals and lyrics are nothing to write home about. Although an odd opening choice, it does successfully whet the appetite for what comes later on the album.
And right from the opening chords of the album’s second song “Perfect Situation,” you can tell the album is going in a totally different direction. The lengthy guitar intro hits you right off, and while I was a fan of the past two albums, this intro clearly packs more dynamic guitar than nearly anything on the previous two albums, save for some of Maladroit’s solos. The pianos on the first verse and the addition of the handclaps on the second verse add a lot of meat to what is already a great melody. The chorus of simply “Singin’ oh oh” doesn’t need anything more. Some would consider this lazy songwriting, yet I actually find it to be one of the most compelling things about this song, evoking so much with so little. Same goes for the “Ohh!” yell prior to the solo and the similar outro. Rivers has been known to pen great lyrics and has tried varying styles with great success over the years. His approach on this album is of an incredibly straightforward perspective. Which like his very irony-heavy work on Maladroit, has some hits and misses, although while those lyrics were incredibly enigmatic to their actual content, they are no masks on the content of these songs, which makes for some very effective lyrical nuggets. While the “hero/zero” analogy isn’t anything new, Rivers singing meaningful words in his upper register again (“As they search the night for someone to hold onto/I just pass through”) sounds great. Yet his true mastery is in crafting a rock melody like few others can. The final minute and a half of “Perfect Situation” doesn’t contain a single lyric, but with its effective guitar work, synth overlay and beautifully arranged backup vocals from Shriner and Bell, and it’s a great moment for a musician who can craft a great melody.
On previous Weezer releases they never made the same album twice. Take a seat one day and listen to the combined 43 songs on their first four albums and you’d probably agree. While Make Believe might be the first Weezer album to hark back to previous work, it still is very much a distinctive album on its own and ultimately unlike anything the band has ever done. One of the biggest examples of this ”This Is Such a Pity”. Right from the 80s new wave guitars and synth line, this sounds like nothing they’ve done before. “Pity” makes use of some of the album’s best lines, including the chorus of “This is such a pity/we should give our love to each other/not this hate that destroys us.” Once again, very straightforward lyrics, but as songs about the constant friction that takes place in a romantic relationship, this is a sure keeper. Yet the real gold in this song is the dueling guitars in the guitar solo. The outro, in which the words “Our love” are accompanied by the backup of “Destroys us” serves as a valid finale to a great tune.
”Hold Me” has a bit of history behind it. It was once thought to be scrapped and a home demo of the song consisting of Rivers’ and an acoustic guitar was released on Weezer.com in early 2003. Yet, the song ended up being the only released album V demo that made the final product. The song takes a bit of a risk with the quiet/load juxtaposition, yet as a result, it’s not only a great quiet ballad, but a great quiet ballad with a solid amount of rock out time. The quiet guitar melody is just as rich as it was on that original recording, and the extra guitar lather on the louder choruses sounds great. The solo didn’t rub me the right way at first, and it still sounds slightly out-of-place, yet works enough to carry the song into its outro. The lyrics make use of some non-innovative yet well-used similes and the repetition of “I am” and “I was” on the verses. Most notably, it contains some of Rivers’ finest vocal work on the album.
”Peace has another great hook-filled intro on an album filled with great hook-filled intros. Rivers’ inflection on the lines “I’ll pay the debt” on the first verse and “Is gonna pop” on the second hits into ugly off-key Carrabba territory. Yet it’s the only sour spot on the songs vocals, which pack a lot of conviction. Unfortunately, the lyrics lack similar conviction. The song’s subject is a worthy one, wanting things in a hectic life to settle down. Yet it lacks any real solid couplets that effectively hit the issue of “I need to find some peace” right on the head. “Counting all the flowers/waste the precious hours” doesn’t quite do much for me. And while “All the broken tethers/that we could bring together” and “I don’t have a purpose/scattered on the surface” are solid couplets, they feel like they should be in a song about something entirely different. Yet similar to “Perfect Situation,” this song too benefits from a great outro. A great solo follows the songs finest lyric then leads into some great harmonizing and then finally dropping the electric component of the acoustic/electric combo in the song to allow the great acoustic rhythm guitar work to shine and bring the song to a close.
There’s a good chance that ”We Are All On Drugs” could be the second single off the album. It could easily draw comparisons to previous singles “Hash Pipe” and “Dope Nose” due to the fact that it deals with drugs. Yet if you want to consider these three songs a “Drug Trilogy,” then “We Are All On Drugs” is the weakest installment. While this song will undoubtedly receive a lot more crap than it’s worth, I think it’s a pretty rocking song. The intro rules, the vocals sound like Rivers’ doing his finest Paul Stanley-worshiping, the “Give it to me!” prior to the chorus is absolute arena-rock mastery, the gang vocal chorus is great, the “uh!” leading into the monster solo is reminiscent of a similar “uh!” in “Hash Pipe,” and yes…I love the “Whoooo!” at the end of the chorus. There’s a lot to love about “We Are All on Drugs,” but I get the feeling it’s the equivalent of what Moby thinks of his hit-song “Bodyrock.” He himself once called it one of the dumbest songs ever written by anybody, yet being incredibly fun to play. Weezer can craft a big dumb rocker (complete with horribly dumb lyrics such as “And you put on your head phones/And you step into the zone when you’re/On drugs”) and make it sound smart, “We Are All On Drugs” is a great example of this. Yet do I believe it should be the second single of Make Believe? God no. It’s about as effective of a representation of the album as “Beverly Hills” is. It’s also worth mentioning that somehow, the incorrect version of the song was sent to mastering and made the album. Thus the bridge of “I want to confiscate your drugs/I don’t think I can get enough” should be “I want to reach a higher plane/where things will never be the same.” Later releases of the disc will have the correct version.
Few do the bitter-love anthem quite like Weezer can: “No One Else,” “Why Bother?,” “Knockdown Drag Out”, “Getchoo”, “Take Control.” The album’s seventh track “The Damage in Your Heart” adds to such tradition. It contains one of the albums finest lyrical nuggets (“One more tear/falling down your face/doesn’t mean that much/to the world”). Great vocals, especially on the chorus, which is accented by Shriner and Bell’s “aahs.” The dual guitar work on the verses is reminiscent of “Take Control.” Simple melody, solid vocals, good solo and a really nice violin outro. Not a huge standout on the album, but a fine song.
”Pardon Me” is the most personal song to Rivers on Make Believe. On this album Rivers is beginning to write again from a personal perspective again instead of inventing characters to hide behind (“Hash Pipe”’s transvestite prostitute being a great example). This song greatly benefits from the straightforward lyrical approach. Rivers’ hits his upper register on the final “I hurt you so” much more successfully than he does on “Peace.” Like the rest of the album, the keys on “Pardon Me” are really fantastic. The keyboard and snyth effects add a great deal to every single song they appear on, and they appear frequently. Yet another great chorus accented by Bell/Shriner backups and a nice build to a solid finish.
Oh man, am I glad ”My Best Friend” made this album. In an Alternative Press interview, drummer Patrick Wilson commented: "I think it's easy to make angry, restless music that expresses that part of the human condition. It's hard to make something that's genuinely uplifting." While most of Make Believe hardly has any angriness and restlessness to it, it doesn’t have much sunshine either. “My Best Friend” is just that, a truly smile inducing joy rock tune. Right from the rocking solo accented by the “Buddy Holly”-esque snyth line, right to Patrick Wilson’s crash-heavy percussion, down to the roaring solo and the sugar-sweet lyrics that never manage to be too over-the-top, this song simply makes me happy in a music world that seems to be short on songs to smile to.
While ”The Other Way” clearly harks back to the band’s earlier work in the fact that the underrated “Death and Destruction” contained the lyric “So I turn and look the other way,” that may be the only thing that really bugs me about this song. “The Other Way” benefits from yet another great hook-filled intro and fine use of acoustic guitar throughout the song. Rivers Cuomo can arrange harmonies with a skill unlike few others in modern rock music today. Lifted lyric aside, yet another tune in which the straightforward approach works well. This song takes the blue ribbon for best harmonies from Bell and Shriner on Make Believe. Bell and Cuomo share a great harmony on the last lyric of the chorus, and around 2 and a half minutes into the song, Shriner and Bell’s harmonies become the centerpiece of the song. The songs first handclap during the bridge is pure pop gold. Pound for pound, one of the album’s best.
Nothing took more time to grow on me on this album than ”Freak Me Out” did. First off, of all the slight flaws I’ve listed, most being nit-picky and didn't detract to my overall enjoyment of the songs, and while I don’t understand why Rivers’ decided to put that overproduced, boy band-esque harmony in the chorus, I still thoroughly enjoy the song. Like I said earlier, the man can craft a great harmony, which is why hearing him use a rather bland harmony is so disappointing. Regardless, “Freak Me Out” has already joined a couple other tracks on this album as a near-universal fan favorite. It yet again is unlike anything the band has ever done, containing a minimal amount of lead guitar work (save for one great outro) and hushed backup vocals. The song is incredibly open to interpretation (I believe it to be about a paranoia-filled experience with a homeless man) and in place of the usual masterful Cuomo guitar solo, he dusts off his harmonica and it’s by far the songs greatest moment.
”Haunt You Every Day” is one of the greatest Weezer songs ever and that’s no overstatement. I haven’t been this moved by a rock song in far too long. The piano accompaniment might be the most simple on the album, yet when coupled with some of Rivers’ finest guitar work throughout the song it’s stirring. Heartfelt lyrics (the first verse might be my favorite verse on the album), flawless lead vocals from Rivers and flawless backups from Bell/Shriner, a great build that concludes with the ringing of the song’s final note. “Haunt You Every Day” is a rock masterpiece.
Now, with my opinions said, I must state that Make Believe clearly isn’t going to please everyone. I think that too many people who cling to The Blue Album and Pinkerton and haven’t given themselves a fair chance to enjoy the band’s later output. Yet this album should be enough for people to finally drop whatever expectation they had for the band and just enjoy it for what it is, a fantastic rock and roll album.
Weezer has a way of a way of always delivering. When I think of why myself and millions and millions of rock fans love Weezer so much, and have continued to love Weezer over the years, I think of a quote from Stephen Thomas Erlewine’s review of The Green Album in allmusic: He states “It's just punk-pop, delivered without much dynamic range but with a whole lot of hooks -- but nobody else does it this so well, no matter how many bands try.” Sure, plenty of great rock albums have come out since the last Weezer album, yet very few have been great in the way that Make Believe is great. Make Believe is a Weezer album that plays to every little intricate facet of what I love about Weezer.