There is good reason to be excited about Dean’s Date. On May 10th, after all the computer cluster bickering ceases and the papers are handed in, you would be well-advised to take a walk to the Record Exchange and pick up Weezer’s fifth album, Make Believe, the band’s third release in four years. As if the deal weren’t sweet enough, Weezer is going to be playing Philly that very night and New York on May 11th and 12th.

In late March the new album’s first single, “Beverly Hills,” hit the airwaves and MTV (the video was shot at the Playboy Mansion – make of that what you will). The band has made it clear on its website that “Beverly Hills” is but one song among many, that it’s the “fun” song, and that the album itself is a varied and legitimate Weezer album, but they and fans alike need not busy themselves apologizing for this tune.

“Beverly Hills” isn’t as poetic as “Butterfly,” as raucous as “Tired of Sex,” or as deeply personal as “Say it Ain’t So,” but there is much to be hopeful about in this new track. In “Beverly Hills,” frontman Rivers Cuomo sounds alive again – the enthusiasm of this song comes out in its dangerously catchy chorus and a driving drum line that makes you want to clap your hands as Pat Wilson keeps the beat (and may remind you a lot of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock n’ Roll,” but who cares? You do love rock n’ roll, right?). The band is at its best and most animated from 2:43 onward, the part of the song (finally a real OUTRO!) that you will be playing air guitar to and singing along with all summer. Seriously folks, I’m not f’in around here – imagine the prospect of a post-Pinkerton Weezer album that you do not have to apologize for liking. This is the promise of Make Believe.

It’s not that I have hated the band’s last two efforts; I’m not one of those fans that hates anything new or different, but I feel like the last two efforts missed the mark, though the band seemed in 2002 to be getting closer and closer to producing a masterpiece on par (though not identical) to their eponymous 1994 debut. Now that the band has re-entered the public consciousness once again, I have heard a few things about this album. Rivers has apparently had something of a spiritual awakening, leading the band to produce an album that guitarist Brian Bell has described as “a mixture of Pinkerton and [The Blue Album] with some Maladroit guitar solos.” If that is true, then Weezer may finally be ready to hand us another masterpiece. This moment is not the result of any radical departure in style or substance however. The band has been building toward this album since they returned to the spotlight in 2001 with the out-of-nowhere, drug-laced hit “Hash Pipe.”

Three albums in four years may seem impressive, but Make Believe was no rush job. In fact, of those four years, three were spent on rehearsing and recording for this upcoming album. After many fits and starts, acoustic rehearsals and soul-searching, and the scrapping of entire demo sessions, we will finally find what the band has been up to the past few years.

In 2002, Rivers and company seemed to be headed for Zeppelin-like productivity after releasing their fourth album Maladroit only 364 days after their previous album, Weezer (commonly known as The Green Album), was released. And this was all in the midst of a massive, seemingly non-stop tour! This rapid-fire treatment has led some fans to wonder whether Maladroit shouldn’t have just been called Weezer III.

Despite the spacey and metallic quality of Maladroit’s vocals and guitar tone, it is still a very intimate album. With Rivers’ emphatic “yeahs” and “aws” complementing the guitar solos, seemingly spontaneous background vocals that sound more like interjections commenting on the lyrics, and each song ending with screeching guitars as if each band member simultaneously let go of their instruments (rather than the lame and oft-used “fade-out”), Weezer here sounds like a touring band that stopped in at a small studio in the middle of nowhere and started playing. For die-hard fans who had been disappointed in the structurally repetitive and flat-sounding Green Album, there was a reason to celebrate, and to be hopeful in the band’s future endeavors.

There was a festive atmosphere in Maladroit that was missing from the comparatively cold Green. It felt like the band was rocking together in the studio, and the listener was rocking with them, but what was still missing in Maladroit is the emotion and the sort of geeky awkwardness that characterized the band’s now-legendary first two albums, 1994’s Weezer (The Blue Album) and 1996’s Pinkerton. As drummer Wilson recently pointed out, “You can totally hear [the lack of emotion in Green and Maladroit]. It sounds like we’re just kind of stoned out, like a Seventies rock band who tours all the time.”

Many fans reacted to Green and Maladroit very negatively, partially because the songs fell short of the greatness of the band’s earlier work, but also because the final products did not resemble the ingredients they had gotten to sample months before the albums were released in stores. As any Weezer fan probably knows, the band has historically been extremely generous when it comes to online content. For instance, during the Maladroit demo sessions near the end of 2001, the band posted new studio demos daily, spurring impassioned discussion among fans on the message boards. The band had done something similar in the summer of 2000 with songs they were working on and playing live for Green. Fans were pissed about Green because the songs they heard at shows, later known as SS2K (Summer Songs 2000), not only did not make the cut but were replaced with songs that had a very different sound and had an average length of less than three minutes per song. Fans waited five years for a 28-minute album that, though certainly a pop gem in the great scheme of things, was static, safe, and uninspired.

Fans had less to be upset about with Maladroit. The band produced the album on its own, and financed part of the production as well. The recording process was transparent up to the very end; they even upset their record company greatly by making available on their website what basically amounted to finished copies of all the album tracks months before Maladroit’s release. What fans did note after getting to see the entire process was that Rivers and the rest of the band could let loose in the studio and be very experimental when there was little at stake, but when it came time to craft an album, the band (Rivers especially) shied away from anything that didn’t resemble the three-minute pop format (Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Solo – Chorus).

Maladroit clocked in at only 33 minutes, sporting an average song length that was actually shorter than Green. Solos and unusual parts from the demos were eventually cut in the interest of brevity. The band was having a ball in the studio and out on the road, and while that attitude certainly breathed life into Maladroit, the band’s dynamism did not translate into taking the actual music to new places. So while a stranger to the album demos can have quite a good time with Maladroit, the obsessed fan knows what he’s missing.

With transparency came a feeling of ownership that had perhaps been present before in Weezer fans but most certainly was realized most fully during this time. Fans felt they should have a say when it came to song choices and styles, and Rivers only encouraged this mentality by entertaining a host of fan suggestions from the message boards, even going as far as participating in a separate (and mostly confidential) musical discussion forum with concerned musical aficionados. These experiences have led Weezer to declare in a recent interview, “You have to hate us to be a true fan.” It is clear that the band learned their lesson in observing how they have produced Make Believe, releasing few demos after Summer 2002 and revealing few details about the songs.

The summer of 2002 was an exciting time to be a Weezer fan – the band put on some of their best shows ever on the Enlightenment Tour. I saw them three times in four days; the setlists were decided by a lottery the band ran before every show, and every night featured a different set of songs. For the first time since perhaps 1996, the band was playing a significant number of tracks from Pinkerton, the commercial failure (and raw emotion) of which had left Rivers up to that point unwilling to play many of those songs live. Off the stage, the band’s free-for-all studio sessions seemed to have finally jarred Rivers out of his post-Pinkerton hollowness. He was singing about watching the World Cup in Daegu and giving advice to an anonymous mother figure, and experimenting even further with singing styles and song structure. The last great burst of material to be shared with fans arrived in the middle of summer 2002.

True to their newfound form, Weezer recorded and uploaded 24 brand new songs to their website at the beginning of July, less than two months after Maladroit hit the shelves. It became evident that instead of worrying about the bottom line, the band preferred to tour indefinitely and record and release music as often as possible. These particular sessions saw Weezer incorporate a keyboardist and attempt to fashion their sort of White Album. There were rumblings of another album set for a Winter ’03 release – that would have been an INSANO three albums in twenty-one months, the same time it took for Page, Plant, Bonham, and Jones to release Led Zeppelin I, II, and III. But at some point during the rest of that year Weezer decided to slow down, and soon disappeared from the limelight once again.

Was it a fear of producing bad music that led Weezer to put the brakes on? Some fans wanted the band to slow down and take more time to craft a better album, but it is more likely that record company intervention (Maladroit sold only 470,000 records, a little more than a third of Green’s sales) played a hand in the band’s change in attitude. Whereas the Beatles’ breakneck album production allowed fans to observe the evolution of their sound and style, to witness experimentation as it took place, Weezer fans would never get the chance. And here we are three years later, expecting the world and more, when all we might really get is a sense of what the band has been playing like for the past six months or so.

As far as whatever that style may be, what fans should demand of Rivers (and of the band) is not a return to the old, but a stop to the practice of deliberately trying to avoid the old (e.g., avoiding singing with emotion and writing personal lyrics), a mindset which Green fully embodies. Something tells me Make Believe will be different – all indications seem to show that Rivers and the rest of the band have shown up for this album. Make Believe will be more than simply a collection of songs that you can hum in the shower. I can feel it. 2005 is the Year of the Weez.

Album releases and singles

1994 – Weezer (The Blue Album) – “Undone (The Sweater Song),” “Buddy Holly,” “Say it Ain’t So”

1996 – Pinkerton – “El Scorcho,” “The Good Life,” “Pink Triangle”

2001 – Weezer (The Green Album) – “Hash Pipe,” “Island in the Sun,” “Photograph”

2002 – Maladroit – “Dope Nose,” “Keep Fishin’,” “Slob”

2005 – Make Believe – “Beverly Hills,” “We Are All On Drugs”