Tuesday, August 21, 2012

After "Beverly Hills" - If You've Heard One Weezer Album, Have You Heard Them All?

The Good: Some decent lyrics, I like the band's sound
The Bad: Very musically limited and derivative of itself, Less quirky than other works, Short!
The Basics: While filled with generally decent lyrics, Weezer's sound is more mainstream - less experimental - and does not challenge or impress the listener as much as prior works.

Back in college, I worked with a guy who had very different musical tastes than I do. He despised almost every mainstream group, artist, sound. We worked together late at night in a cramped space and every now and then he would insist on taking over the sound system to broaden my horizons. Months before the Fugees remake of "Killing Me Softly" hit the air, he was playing it for me. When it became a popular success, I turned to him and said, "Does this mean you don't like the Fugees anymore?" His response was to shake his head and say, "No. Sometimes the People get it right." By the time "Killing Me Softly" was in its third week at number one, he was turning off the radio when it came on, though.

I mention this because when I was in high school, I heard Weezer's "Sweater Song" and I was so impressed. It was so different I was shocked I ever heard it on the radio. I was surprised that ten years later, they were still around charting higher in fact with a song called "Beverly Hills." "Beverly Hills" was distinctly Weezer, Geek-outsider rock, looking at the establishment and acknowledging that even dreaming of it is not worth it. And it sounded different. It's not Weezer's fault, but by the time they hit the top ten with "Beverly Hills," I was already turning it off. So, while I had originally objected to my comrade in college turning off "Killing Me Softly," I was eagerly quitting "Beverly Hills" when it came on. It just does not hold up after its fiftieth listen.

So when I finally listened to Make Believe, the album that opens with "Beverly Hills," it was with a little bit of trepidation. It's funny, but hearing "Beverly Hills" on Make Believe made it new again. And it's easy to see why Weezer released it as the single to sell "Make Believe;" it is the least-Weezer sounding song on the album. That is to say "Beverly Hills" has the chance to convince the populace that Weezer has grown as a group.

Alas, not the case.

That's not a completely bad thing. Rivers Cuomo, who writes Weezer's lyrics and is the lead singer, is an artist who is gifted with a quirky, atypical view of music that combines new, fresh lines with a retro-rock and roll sound. Cuomo is clever, making jokes and social commentary - like the reversal to the terrible side effects of narcotics on "We Are All On Drugs" - or pairing sorrowful concepts with upbeat music - like the themes of breaking up with an upbeat tune on "This Is Such A Pity." Weezer continues its tradition of quirky, Buddy-Holly reincarnated as a comedy act, rock and roll music.

And I like that.

But the last album I listened to by Weezer (also my first full Weezer album), Weezer (the green one, reviewed here!) sounded almost identical to Make Believe. If anything, Weezer has become more mainstream and refined in its sound since Weezer, taking fewer musical risks. Instead, the music accompanying the lyrics of Rivers Cuomo is very standard guitar/bass/drums work. There's nothing experimental here, it's very standard.

And like the way one might tell an Everclear sound almost instantly, Weezer has a distinctive sound, but it's repetitive. It's like the band is stuck in its own niche. It has its distinctive sound and it is stuck there. It's not pushing what Weezer sounds like, instead, it is accepting it as All Weezer CAN Sound Like.

That's disappointing for a group that has gone from singing about such quirky problems as the unraveling of a sweater as a metaphor for the disintegration of a relationship to something so directly soulful as they now sing on "The Damage In Your Heart;" "Let it go, / The damage in your heart / I can't tell you how / The words have made me feel . . ." Direct and mature, the lines capture the starkest expression of losing love. But the sound is still Basic Weezer Background #4, though admittedly a bit more refined - or restricted.

I found I enjoyed Weezer's album Weezer, despite how short it was. Make Believe is equally short and if the two albums were one album, the group could have filled a single disc. Perhaps that's what they ought to strive for with their next album. One big, packed album. Actually, my main argument against Make Believe would have been alleviated if that had been the case; one giant album would have defined the group, as opposed to two short albums that illustrate almost no growth. It's certainly problematic. That is to say that the five years separating Weezer and Make Believe (with possibly more albums in between, I'm not a Weezer expert!) show no change in the sound of the group, beyond a slight toning down of anything experimental, which if it were on a single album would illustrate some sense of growth as opposed to stagnation.

Anyway, this is a tough sell for me. I think Make Believe might be fine for those who have not heard any other Weezer albums. I might have been more satisfied with it had I not heard Weezer first and acclimated to their sound. As it is, I'm not recommending this - though it is EXTREMELY close - but I will say it's probably great for fans of Weezer who want more of the same, who have spun Weezer so much they know every note and want something new, of the same.

I enjoyed "The Damage In Your Heart" a lot, despite that is sounds most like it could have come off Weezer, the weakest track is probably "My Best Friend." My not recommending Make Believe is less a commentary on this album than an expression of my disappointment that the group I was impressed with on Weezer had not continued to impress me.

For other quirky pop-rock albums, be sure to visit my reviews of:
A Ghost Is Born - Wilco
Fire - Electric Six
The Uninvited - The Uninvited


Check out how this album stacks up against others by visiting my Music Review Index Page where the reviews are organized best to worst!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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