The image that springs to mind upon hearing ''Beverly Hills" is of a record company executive holding a gun to Rivers Cuomo's head and commanding him to cough up a Weezer single. The diplomatic description is signature sound, but that doesn't quite capture the familiar crunch of ''Beverly Hills" -- a behemoth built of '70s arena riffs, hook-heavy chorus, and deadpan rants from a self-deprecating misfit. If only we hadn't heard it before.
The single is a disappointing retread, but it's also the exception to the rule on Weezer's fifth album, ''Make Believe," in stores today. In many ways the album harkens back to the nakedly introspective songwriting of 1996's ''Pinkerton" -- except instead of sacrificing his melodious, maladroit soul to a mess of exploding guitars and assaultive beats, perennial Harvard undergrad Cuomo and producer Rick Rubin have tidied up the place. This is pure sugar metal: stripped of rough edges and opaque meanings, stuffed with gleaming power chords and earnest sentiments, fetching and uncomplicated.
''I am terrified of all things," goes the opening line of ''Hold Me" which pretty much sums up the theme of Cuomo's life and music. The changes are classic, gloriously pretty, while the words are strikingly straightforward, and not always in a good way. ''Pardon Me," an apology to everyone Cuomo ever hurt, smacks of the 12 steps -- a fine thing for the artist's psycho-social development, but lines such as ''Now I feel the shame/ there's no one else to blame" are unlikely to rally the fan base. Ditto for ''My Best Friend," on which twitchy, guitar-choked verses almost compensate for the sappy Hallmark verbiage, but not quite.
It's only been four years since ''Hash Pipe" became a college-rock anthem, but sleek, ominous ''We Are All on Drugs" -- which sounds very much like a post-rehab companion piece -- reveals just how dramatically Cuomo's emotional and sonic outlook has shifted. Shiny new-wave layers pulse on ''This Is Such a Pity," a call to ''give all our love to each other." On ''Freak Me Out" Cuomo seeks refuge from fear in a light, bright landscape dotted with pinging harmonics and gentle strings.
We're glad Cuomo's pursuing serenity -- for details, see the midtempo chugger ''Peace" -- but such quests tend to cloud judgment in less noble arenas. Case in point: A third of the tracks on Weezer's new album are power ballads. That's not automatically a strike against it. ''Haunt You Every Day" is Brian Wilson-beautiful. But a big part of Weezer's appeal has always been the raw spot where Cuomo's flawless feel for pop rubbed up against his cosmic awkwardness. ''Make Believe" is endlessly catchy and wonderfully crafted, but virtually devoid of the disturbed wit that's been at the heart of Weezer's geek-power charm.