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Coveting Cuomo (continued)


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Weezer's official Web site

Many have seen Riversís quest for universal appeal as a betrayal of his own heart, the large presence of which most Pinkerton fanatics cite as that albumís strength and the key to its personality. But Cuomoís songs have to appeal to him too if the intent is to make their appeal universal, no? His interest in locating the general taste in the particular taste and vice versa means heís disregarding the idea that pop music is pop lifestyle, that peopleís tastes are predicated on their identification with particular musical subcultures.

So maybe Make Believe isnít the same massively personal statement as Pinkerton. And perhaps the songs here, with their efficient licks and their fear of failure, aim merely for the immediacy pop music at its best provides. To delve into the lyrics is to realize the lengths to which Cuomo has gone to excise every trace of band personality from the design of his one-size-fits-all power pop. The results play like musical greeting cards. And thatís not a slam. Designed to be co-opted by the public and the media, Make Believe is vague enough that almost anyone can shoehorn his or her personal story into it but specific enough that if The OC needs a musical backdrop for an apology, well, Weezer Greetings has just the thing. As products, these songs are damned efficient, down to Cuomoís overuse of the me-to-you voice and sentiments that are never veiled.

The lyrics do get heavy-handed in spots. "Tell me thereís some hope for me/I donít want to be lonely/For the rest of my days on the earth," he sings on the Queen-like "Perfect Situation." Whether heís meant them to or not, Cuomoís lyrics have always played up his geeky-teenager side. Heís relied on clever twists and powerful images like the girlfriend who doesnít wear make-up for anyone else in "No One Else" and the half-Japanese girl who shreds the violin in "El Scorcho." But in "This Is Such a Pity," we get, "We should give all our love to each other/Not this hate that destroys us/This is such a pity." Pinkertonís most maudlin moments were forgiven as extreme autobiographical revelations. Make Believe doesnít yet have the back story or the cult status to excuse its most maudlin moments. And two big singles that arenít pop greeting cards, "Beverly Hills" and "We Are All on Drugs," are so blunt in their irony, so blatant in their morality play, that even the laziest tears-in-my-beer singer-songwriter seems subtle by comparison.

With an album full of stock songs just waiting for listeners to fill in details from their own lives ó and with Cuomoís pleasure mandate dictating the bandís every move ó itís no wonder Weezer included very little Make Believe material when they played Avalon on May 8, two days before the discís release. Instead, Cuomo led the band through the entire "Blue Album" in a set peppered with only the most popular songs from the other discs. Make Believe hadnít had time to make personal connections with listeners, and Cuomo seemed to take that into account. And he may be hoping that the less personal nature of the new material ó its very non-specificity ó will foster deeper connections for a broader range of listeners than did the bandís previous output.

If Weezer fans are reacting badly to the new album ó and many are ó itís because the songs havenít been lived in yet. And they may never be given how quickly the digital age devours media of all kinds. Thatís the gamble Cuomoís taken: by relinquishing his artist tag for plebe-songmaker status, heís dared his loyal fan base to question his motives and even his integrity.

Reception is everything. Itís nice to know what an artistís intentions were, but theyíre secondary to how you hear the music. Iím pretty sure Cuomoís not a manipulator, at least not an ill-spirited one. His aim with Make Believe is, I think, to make as many people happy as possible by borrowing from the best of good songwriting dating back to the days of Buddy Holly. He wants to give us what he thinks we want. Iíd even go so far as to say heís a selfless perfectionist. Unfortunately, the martyr-like melodrama of Pinkerton has made it all too easy to put a negative spin on Make Believeís attempts to reach out to a broader audience.

And as much as I hate to admit it, Make Believeís efficiency frustrates me. What drew me to Weezer in the first place was Cuomoís gritty self-indulgence ó the sheer bravado of starting a band and not being perfect about it. Weezerís relative amateurism (however feigned) made them more inspiring, and more capable of convincing even the most awkward teens that they could (and should) start bands. Now, those of us who coveted Cuomo need to learn how to share him with others.

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Issue Date: May 20 - 26, 2005
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