Make Believe

(Geffen; 2005)

By Clayton Purdom | 30 October 2005

CMG Editor-in-chief Scott Reid called me early on Sunday. “Clay, listen, Amir had some stuff come up, he’s gonna have to pass on that Weezer review. We need you.”

My trembling, hungover hand gripped the cell phone pressed against my head; I coughed into it, and my breath reeked of cheap cigarette smoke. I was still fully clothed. “Scott, I’ve got a lot of shit to do this week,” I said. “You can’t find someone else?”

“Look, Clay,” Scott said. “I’ve already got an angle for the review for you and everything. You can write it in like a half hour.”

I thought about it. “Alright, fine. What’s the angle?”

The hopefulness at the edges of Scott’s voice burst into elation. “He’ll be there in an hour,” he said, and hung up.

I knew Scott was on a “collaborative reviews” kick. Just like his vicious gambling phase, I expected it to pass quickly; and just like I had to sell my car to get him out of a loan shark’s basement, I expected this phase to have dire ramifications, too. Either he was sending Chet over with a trunk full of thesauri or Aaron was en route with a head full of rambling, questionable anecdotes about past acquaintances. Whatever the case, I wasn’t in the mood for it.

A CMG van pulled up in front of my house, and a fresh-faced kid stepped out. He had a spike and freckles, a sideways visor, and a Quiksilver shirt on; he was wearing mesh cargo shorts and Airwalks.

“Oh fuck,” I said, dropping my coffee.

The 15-year-old version of me approached his future house with his hand raised. “What’s up dude!” he said.

We sat down in my room. Scott had given my 15-year-old doppelganger a copy of Make Believe, so we put it on. The kid started headbanging to the two-chord arena-rock stomp of “Beverly Hills”; he was fistpumping along with the chorus within 90 seconds. “This song is awesome,” he said. “Peep that Frampton solo. This shit is ironic as fuck.”

“It seems pretty disingenuous to me,” I said. “Even in an ironic sense. Plus, it’s not catchy. You can’t just play two chords and yell words and call that a hook. Which is incalculably damaging, because Cuomo’s lyrics were never his strong suit. It was his preternatural songwriting abilities that elevated his otherwise hackneyed sentiments to something transcendent.”

I was talking at the wall. “I fucking love the way Rivers uses handclaps,” he said.

“Perfect Situation” sounded like a “Green Album” reject: mournful, predictable chords chugged along mildly as Cuomo offered vague laments. “This is Such A Pity” sounded like Hall & Oates. “What do you think of the production?” I said.

“I like it, it sounds really retro. Cuomo really is taking a lot of risks here.”

“Yeah,” I said, nodding my head. “I fucking hate it. It sounds like Rick Rubin is trying to attain the polish of Ric Ocasek’s production on the eponymous albums, but this crisp, epic shit doesn’t suit the band at all. If this album was supposed to be a return to Pinkerton’s emotional heft, it should’ve borrowed that album’s loose, incidental production.”

The album moved on. I had to slap the fucking kid when he tried to turn up “We Are All On Drugs”: not only was the song unlistenably monotonous, but its lyrics were so laughably pubescent that only a zit-faced rebel could find its sentiment affecting.

“I really like the lyrics on this song,” he said during “My Best Friend.” “Like, I think I might be in love with this one girl, but I’m pretty sure she just thinks of me as her best friend.”

I listened. “I think he just really likes his friend a lot,” I said. “Like, as a friend.”

The younger me looked crestfallen. “Oh,” he said.

When “Haunt You Every Day” faded out with an unbearable minute of turgid guitar wankery, I looked at my younger self and saw him hopelessly in the moment, a tear rolling down his freckled cheek. “Well, let’s play a game,” I offered. “Let’s each try to write a quote about this album for Metacritic to use, okay?”

“Alright,” he sniffled. When he came back in ten minutes later, I read mine first. “‘Make Believe finds Cuomo donkey-punching the formaldehyde-soaked corpse of his former glory.’”

The kid stared at me for a second, and then read carefully from his paper. “‘On “Pardon Me,” Cuomo begs for forgiveness from some unknown source. But as long as his songs remain this tight, there’s no need to ask. We’ll always love him. Four stars.’”

I punched myself in the face.