But then Weezer’s cult blew up something huge and all of a sudden they became this sort of power-pop juggernaut, and people (especially journalists) began talking about Cuomo as though he invented the genre-as if all those Lemonheads and Matthew Sweet records never occurred a couple of years earlier. Sure, Pinkerton is a masterpiece, but Rivers Cuomo ain’t Alex Chilton.
I was disappointed with their self-titled 2001 comeback record (though I have to admit that I liked it at the time-my disappointment was on about a two-month delay then), mostly because it seemed so nebulous, both lyrically and sonically. The abrasiveness of Pinkerton was gone, but it didn’t even have the balls of their debut. Apparently they felt the same way, so they grew back some cojones for 2002’s Maladroit, where they got their metal on like it wasn’t no thang. Cuomo fell short of really, truly emulating Kiss (though “Take Control” came pretty close), but it had a nice little cock-rock sheen to it that was more than welcome, though I’m pretty sure I stand in the minority when it comes to that opinion.
So now we have Make Believe, and I’ll begin with the brief version: It sucks. It blows. And I hate it.
Okay, now for the long version. I really want to give Cuomo the benefit of the doubt because I love those first two albums so much, but these songs are just no damn good. First of all, if you’re going…to…play…this…freaking…slow, you had better be heavy (this is known as the Sabbath Conundrum, which scientists have always solved using the Iommi Paradigm), and though this album was heavily influenced by Rick Rubin, it’s only about as metal as the worst Poison album (that would be 1993’s Native Tongue, if you were really that curious). In fact, it sounds completely New Wavey, and not the clever and agile type of New Wave (like the Cars). It’s more like the lightweight and formless New Wave (like…Haircut 100?).
This would not necessarily be a problem if the songwriting was tighter. I know Cuomo probably thought he’d be pretty clever quoting “The Joker” in about thirteen different contexts during “Beverly Hills,” but it comes across as kind of wonky and more than a little alienating. I mean, even when Steve Miller was popular, no one really liked him (save for that one pack of stoners who went to my high school; they also made frequent appearances at Jimmy Buffett shows. That should really be the government’s anti-drug campaign: If they really want kids to stop smoking pot, just wait until they’re sober and make them listen to String Cheese Incident records without the benefit of chemical assistance. That’ll learn ’em). Cuomo’s other bites seem to have neither rhyme nor reason (is it me, or is he lifting a phrase from a Lit song in “Peace”?), but at least the parroting is a not-unpleasant distraction from Cuomo’s own stuff, which is barely north of insipid. No matter how clever a guy he is, no matter how many degrees he has, there is no way that an intelligent human being sits down and writes “Freak Me Out” without having taken a few sharp blows to the back of the skull with a piece of PVC tubing. But who knows? Maybe he’s got a PVC-tubing-across-the-back-of-the-skull fetish (all that abstinence can mess a guy up, you know?). Then there’s “My Best Friend,” which works over that definitive emo cliché of being enamored with the girl who thinks of you as a brother (more specifically a brother she would never sleep with), but rather than mask it with some misogynistic wordplay about a car or something, Cuomo just comes right out and says “You’re my best friend and I love you.” Thanks for solving that mystery, Rivers!
I guess this wouldn’t be as big a deal if we didn’t constantly hear things about Cuomo writing dozens of songs for every record-I find myself constantly saying, “These are the best songs you had?” I cannot even imagine what the B-sides must sound like. Are they all madrigals arranged for barbershop quartets? Italian art songs about sitting in closets? Funk tracks that borrow from Styx? Actually, that last one sounds kind of hot, but I digress. Make Believe is not without its tiny slices of joy (I sorta dig “We Are All On Drugs,” and if they had sharpened the edges a bit, “The Damage In Your Heart” could’ve been devastating), but on the whole, I consider it to be a disappointment, and in a season where I’ve been disappointed a lot by bands I loved in high school (more on that next week), that’s a pretty rough dis. Why can’t Rivers just become obsessed with his Asian fans again and get down with some real pathos? He can sit in as many closets as he wants to if he just gets back to writing stuff like “Across the Sea.” Ah well, I guess I’ll just have to listen to that Better Than Ezra album some more. I give Make Believe a C-.
Hey! Do you have a favorite band who has been forgotten and deserves some props? Are you in a local or regional band who needs some props? I got your props! E-mail Alterna-Detritus at [email protected]