Have you ever been in one of those all-night fights with someone? A parent, a significant other, a friend, anyone: the kind that start off as a small spat, almost good-natured, even, before someone steps on someone else's toes too hard, and then it just turns into all-out war? Then, after what feels like years later, the verbal battle finally dissolves into a solid 45-minute apology session?
That all-night fight has been Weezer's 13-year career in and out of the spotlight, and that 45-minute apology is Make Believe.
Few, if any bands, have a cult following as feverishly devoted as Weezer's. Name one other band from the past few decades who have properly released so little material (their five full-lengths totalling 55 songs), yet are so prolific, having an unreleased/unrecorded catalog numbering in the high hundreds. Weezer have no contemporaries, which is a large part of why their fanbase has stuck by them, through thick and thin -- there was no one else to turn to. But through that loyalty, fans developed a sense of entitlement, thus causing the rift between band and fans, best displayed on 2002's Maladroit, a largely fan input-created album that, while still spawning hits ("Dope Nose" and "Keep Fishin'"), was nowhere near as successful as either of the band's eponymous discs. One could almost imagine Rivers Cuomo sitting in the back of his tour bus that summer looking over SoundScan numbers, smugly thinking to himself, "I finally let these little bitches guide my career, and look where we ended up. Time to raise ticket prices."
With this divide set firmly in place, and with the band knowing that they could, in all honesty, do whatever they want and would still have fans stand by them, they began work on what was to become Make Believe. At the band's current pace, the disc was expected out in February 2003. But then, something happened: Cuomo realized the error of his recent ways. Now, this has been well-documented lately in many a cover story (I hear the Alternative Press one is a definite page-turner), so I won't go into ridiculous amounts of details here; but suffice it to say, he had a pretty significant change of heart. And what resulted is a 45-minute aural apology note.
It's easy to sing about stupid things, as Weezer have always proved. Opening track (and first single) "Beverly Hills" fits the mold of "a really stupid, fun Weezer singalong song." Yeah, Rivers sort of raps; yeah, the lyrics are really laughable; yeah, it's a gimmicky music video; yeah, it's the most common rock chord progression known to man. But it's still good, and you'll sing along, just like with any other of the groaners in the band's catalog. This is also evident on surefire second single "We Are All On Drugs," which will probably become better known as "Hash Pipe, Part Two." A sample of the lyrics: "When you're out with your friends in your new Mercedes Benz and you're on drugs / and you show up late for school 'cause you think you're really cool when you're on drugs." These couplets could be written (and probably have been written) by any public-school 7th grader; yet, with Cuomo's delivery (and guitarist Brian Bell and bassist Scott Shriner's perfectly-placed backing vocals), it somehow works.
Outside of these two songs, though, the rest of the album reeks of regret and a desire to rekindel any sort of fractured relationship you may have had with Cuomo. "Perfect Situation" is a total Blue Album-worthy pop-rocker driven by bouncy piano, with Cuomo lamenting over love lost (what else is new, right?). "Pardon Me," with its powerful musical and lyrical crescendo ("I may not be a perfect soul / but I can learn self-control / so pardon me, pardon me, pardon me my friend") is one of a handful of truly goosebump-inducing moments on the album. "My Best Friend," originally slated for the opening theme of Shrek 2 before Cuomo pulled it at the last minute, is the fastest, perkiest track out of the dozen, and when the chorus of "You're my best friend / and I love you" hits, you honestly believe every syllable (the perfect backing vocals only emphasize the passion behind the words). The band also deliver a smashing closer in the angsty power-ballad "Haunt You Every Day." It's a strange way to end the album, but sometimes there's still some venom left in an apology.
Pretty much every song on the record has a specific moment, whether it be musical or lyrical, that can be singled out for its poignancy, if not its corniness (see: the soul-baring but clumsy confession of "Freak Me Out"). Of course, with apologies, not everything comes out the way you want it to sound, but it's all backed by raw honesty, if nothing else.
It's worth noting that the band really sound like themselves on this record, finally. The guitar tone is crunchy and distinctive; the solos are vintage Weezer (read: If you're a Blue Album/Pinkerton enthusiast, you'll be happy); the backing vocals sound fun and not forced; Rivers is finally writing and singing words he believes in, no matter how clichéd they might seem. You can hear the raw emotion in his voice as he is legitimately begging his fans, friends, family and band members (past and present) for forgiveness.
With all that said: no, Make Believe is not perfect. It's nowhere near perfect -- that is, if your idea of perfection is the band's first two efforts. And no matter how you rank the band's albums, if you give Pinkerton an A+ and the Green Album a D, it doesn't matter, because you still need to own all of them, if only to be a part of one of the most bizarre stories in rock history. From a critical standpoint, it's worthless to judge this record based on the band's previous efforts, as each one has been drastically different from each other. And while I may personally believe that Maladroit and the Green Album are the low points of the band's career, I still gave both of them a 7, as in my mind, 7 or above means, "You should buy this record." You should have bought those records, and you should buy this one, as well.
It's almost too perfect that Make Believe comes out 11 years to the day after the Blue Album. This disc is almost surely Weezer's last, because honestly, after one of these marathon apology sessions, once everything is out in the open, the relationship in question typically wraps itself up, simply because there is nowhere else to go. So, thus concludes one of the longest, most bizarre fights ever documented. It got ugly, and there were times when we all thought it couldn't get any better; but we all pulled through, with our battle scars (and import CD singles) to show for it. Thanks for everything, Weezer. We had some good times together. Apology accepted.