Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo has spent a lot of time lately talking about his intense new interest in meditation. Good for him, but if he ever really finds inner peace, he may as well pull the plug on his band. Weezer lives or dies on Cuomo's ability to turn his particular hang-ups, neuroses, and obsessions into catchy, fast-paced, emotionally intense songs that everyone with problems can turn into their personal soundtrack for a few minutes. (Or a whole summer.)
On the new Make Believe, Weezer's first album since 2002's Maladroit, Cuomo sounds like he's still troubled, but working hard to resolve some of those troubles. He's got a song about his best friend. He's sorry. So sorry that he wrote a song called "Pardon Me" in which he confesses he's not a perfect soul. He admonishes listeners to let the damage in their heart go. And, kids, about drugs: You're better off without them. It's a sweet, open, daringly earnest album in which the sad old Cuomo does battle with the wise old soul Cuomo wants to become.
By conventional wisdom, it should never work as a rock album, and most of the time, that conventional wisdom is dead on. The Weezer formula—start soft, build, hit it hard when the guitars come in on the chorus, make sure to throw in some classic "whooaaahh" harmonies—sounds stretched a little thin on tracks like "Peace" and "The Other Way," although the sympathetic Rick Rubin production showcases it nicely. That might be less disappointing Cuomo and the band didn't improve on the formula whenever they stretch it. "This Is Such A Pity" brings in nervous new-wave keyboards to add an extra edge, and though the first single, "Beverly Hills," may sound a bit too much like "Undone (The Sweater Song)," at least it's an energetic makeover more than a straight-up rehash.
So does Weezer have a future as a feel-good band? It's hard to imagine one, and the liner notes quoting Prospero's farewell speech from The Tempest—a modest touch—don't bode well for any kind of future. Who knows? Maybe Cuomo's third eye will allow him to find a way out of his rut.