Gawky rock 

Where I come from isn’t all that great/My automobile is a piece of crap/My fashion sense is a little wack/And my friends are just as screwed as me.

Weezer’s been writing guitar anthems to the geek race since 1992, so, from the power chords to the sentiment, “Beverly Hills” is nothing new. Still, as the lead single on Make Believe, the band’s fifth full-length, it’s pretty perfect.

Rivers Cuomo sings-speaks things like, “Look at all those movie stars/They’re all so beautiful and clean” over hand claps and a guitar riff that picks up where the Beasties’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” left off, and this one’s produced by Rick Rubin too.

As usual, Cuomo’s delivery fuses deadpan with cutting — he might be skinny and pallid, but he has a big brain and an amp. The video clip brings Cuomo, Weezer and hundreds of their fans to the Playboy Mansion, that glimmering silicone Valhalla where the B-listers play. “I wanna be just like a king/Take my picture by the pool/’Cause I’m the next big thing.” Busty Playmates pantomime rock on Gibson SGs, and the Weez gets to live the life for just for a day. Of course in real life, they’re probably rich men. But “Beverly Hills” refreshes for everyone the bittersweet wet dream of Fame Land, where even David Spade fucks a model.

Cuomo was snarky before that word became pejorative. The band’s eponymous 1994 debut, which later became known as the “Blue Album,” presented songs about nerd love (“Buddy Holly”) and acerbic slacker jams (“Undone — The Sweater Song”, “Say It Ain’t So”), but fused everything with blaring guitars. It seemed one-dimensional, four awkward guys playing big dumb rock music, staring out from a sea of boring blue. After all, their competition that year included “ambitious” and “frustrated” albums like Nine Inch Nails’ Downward Spiral and Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy.

Yet the “Blue Album” persevered. The band was blasted for daring to combine rich harmonies with chunk-headed riffs, for being “ironic” — the supposed standard of ’90s indie rock — while writing songs like “In the Garage,” which unabashedly extolled 1970s metal stars, KISS and fluffy Fu Manchu moustaches. Still, Weezer kept convincing the listener. The group encouraged hate while forcing the love. And besides, spinning “My Name is Jonas” was better than hearing Live’s “Lightning Crashes” for the eight millionth time.

Then Weezer made a change with 1996’s Pinkerton, and it almost killed them. The people — or at least the critics — didn’t want, you know, emotions and stuff mucking up their modern rock, and the record went south. Rivers Cuomo descended into madness (or at least Boston), and Beck assumed solitary stewardship of the slacker rock aesthetic.

But something funny happened at the end of the century. During the group’s self-imposed exile, fans had filled the void, launching Web sites with names like “The Rebel Weezer Alliance” and filling message boards with rumors about and memories of their favorite band. The Weez heard about the hubbub, wiped away the tears and returned to recording in typically self-aware fashion with another self-titled album. 2002’s Maladroit followed, and Weezer was back, writing crackling six-string jams with sardonic wit and the contentment of a veteran rock group.

Today, even though Make Believe’s release is accompanied by the usual boffo promotional blather of a major label, Weezer’s tunes are still voices for a niche. The perseverance driving the 1994 debut remains evident they still make dumb rock that thinks.

Throngs of Weezer devotees believe in that approach. Weezer.com hums with interaction — message boards, mailing lists and lengthy comment strings for each tour stop. The “Recording History” section is scholarly in its annotation. And at its center are four dudes with glasses, ill-fitting shirts and floppy hair, matching strutty power chords to self-deprecation. “I’m just a no-class beat-down fool,” Cuomo says over the bottom-end crunch of “Beverly Hills.” “And I will always be that way.”

But the masterstroke is rubbing such sad-sackery in the face of the avarice-addled music biz. For Weezer and its legions, awkward is still where it’s at. And they’re waiting for you to join up.

 

Doors open 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 5, at the State Theatre, 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-5450. Ringside to open.

Johnny Loftus writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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