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Triple Take: Weezer’s “Make Believe”

In 2005 Weezer were at a pivotal point in their career. Their debut album was perhaps the best pure rock record of the 90’s and Pinkerton, their sophomore effort, had completed the transformation from initial disappointment to cult classic. The band went on an extended hiatus after Pinkerton, reemerging in 2001 with another self titled record. While “the green album” holds up better than many at the time expected, it was a clear disappointment compared to the bands first two records, despite being a big commercial success. Weezer quickly turned out another album, 2002’s Maladroit. While it was loose and somewhat slapdash, it was also sweet, endearing, and more personal than Rivers had dared to be since Pinkerton. Maladroit showcased Rivers Cuomo at his most comfortable, writing short, intriguing songs that hinted at the idea that he may have finally gotten to a point where he was ready to write another great record.

After a 3 year break, and talks of more than one scrapped recording session, Weezer finally released Make Believe in 2005. Once the initial excitement of something, anything, from Weezer subsided, what fans were left with was probably the most disappointing rock albums of the 00’s. Where Maladroit had promised a renewed level of personal commitment from Rivers, Make Believed came off as an almost violent correction in the other direction. Maladroit is bland and embarrassing in a way that is almost fascinating 9 years later, so lets take a closer look at three of the deeper cuts, starting with the deceptively titled “We Are All On Drugs.”

Based on it’s title, “We Are All On Drugs” sounds like the name of an awesome Andrew WK song. Unfortunately, it’s the name of a tone deaf Weezer song about the dangers of drugs, or at least I think it is. The lyrics on Make Believe are almost unsettlingly generic, with a huge reliance on AA BB rhyme patterns (think “love from above”). On “We Are All On Drugs” Rivers sings about how “you show up for school and you think you’re really cool cause you’re on drugs” in the exact cadence of the old playground baseball-diarrhea song, and whether he is supporting or denouncing drugs is a complete mystery. Everything about this song is so terrible and cheesy it becomes mesmerizing.

The problem with a piece of art being mesmerizingly terrible is that it’s after a few minutes you adjust and it just becomes terrible, and with “The Damage In Your Heart” the blandness really takes hold. Not stupid enough to be interesting, but still way too stupid to be good, “The Damage In Your Heart” is ostensively a love song, but again is just too generic to even register. Rivers Cuomo built his reputation on lyrics that were vulnerable and real, but on Make Believe he implores “let it go, the damage in your heart, I can’t tell you how the words would make me feel” a statement so vague it becomes completely meaningless.

Finally we get to “Pardon Me.” “Pardon Me” is certainly the least offensive of the three songs, but that hardly makes it the best. The chorus of the song is also Rivers Cuomo’s mantra from his meditation studies, but as is often the case, what sounds good in his head sounds clunky and obtuse when sung aloud. Much like just about every song on this album, “Pardon Me” sounds more like an overproduced imitation of a Weezer song than the genuine article. There are more cringe inducing lyrics and a guitar “solo” that basically just follows the melody of the song, making it the perfect exemplar of what makes this album so bad.

When I first conceived of this article I thought about writing about the whole album, but after less than half a listen I just couldn’t go on. Make Believe isn’t an underrated gem, or even an endearing failure, it’s just bad. Rick Rubens production is oppressively loud and uncomfortably sleek, which only helps reenforce just how detached and inhuman Rivers’ songwriting had become. There are people I trust who tell me Weezer has more or less returned to their agreeable early-00’s form on their last three albums, making agreeable is mostly forgettable power pop, but I wouldn’t know. As far as I’m concerned you don’t get to come back from an album as disappointing as Make Believe, and these three songs are more than enough to remind me of that fact.

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