It had been three years since anyone heard something from Weezer. There was 2001′s The Green Album — which most die-hards had initially despised, but some had taken to reevaluating in the interim as something of an appreciable “simple pop album,” or “the perfect summer record” — quickly followed by 2002′s Maladroit — which most die-hards had initially despised, and was the band’s biggest commercial failure since Pinkerton, although it did spawn a small group of devotees called “the ‘Droit Army.” For the most part, though, Weezer fans had dealt with disappointment (or, perhaps generously, compromised enjoyment) for two consecutive years and albums — and then there was nothing. The Early Album 5 demos were aborted, and for three years, news of Weezer circulated only in hushed tones and various shades of conjecture and hearsay.
The first things fans wound up hearing after that three-year drought was “Beverly Hills.” As Brian Bell later revealed, that first sampling was nearly going to be “My Best Friend” (which mercifully did not happen), but “Beverly Hills” was chosen as the first radio single, and so it prefaced Make Believe‘s official release by about 6 weeks (and its unofficial leak by about half that time). Even earlier than its release on March 29, 2005, certain radio stations had begun spinning the track early, and even before that, a brief KROQ clip hyping the song leaked to the Internet. The clip was no more than maybe 8 seconds of music, a brief snippet of the chorus, and a strange effect that ended the clip, sounding like a mix between a guitar lick and the sound of an airplane wing tearing off the side of its hull midflight. It sounded huge.
I remember some messageboard banter about hoping that sound would be in the actual song itself (because my God, did it ever sound violently cool), but of course, it wound up just being a sound effect the radio station had used in its promo. There’s that little “scree!” guitar slide that ends every repetition of the riff, which is one of the two interesting things going on here, musically — but to this day, I wish that sound was in the song itself. Before I get too sidetracked, though…
“Beverly Hills” is distinguished by being one of the least-Weezer songs Weezer has ever released, one of the most insultingly simple pieces of music the band has ever been associated with, and their biggest, most gargantuan hit — in a little over 8 months, the thing sold nearly a million copies on the iTunes music store, and was the top-selling digital song of 2005 according to Nielsen SoundScan. But that simple, plodding, boom-boom-chop beat (which recalls “Blast Off!,” albeit a far shittier version of it), the nigh-unbelievable girl-vocal “gimme gimme!” backups on the chorus (recalling the Offspring’s stale “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)”), the Peter Framptonesque talkbox guitar solos (two of them!) — which is, by the way, the second interesting thing going on here, and, to many, the song’s saving grace — it’s just all so very anti-Weezer. Although the exact quotation escapes me (and Google) at the moment, Cuomo once said that their 1994 hit “Undone – The Sweater Song” was the most embarrassingly simple thing the band ever recorded, as it’s simply the basic chord progression of I, IV, V, IV throughout the verse and chorus. Well, aside from the fact that “Undone” is actually a ridiculously complex song, featuring two spoken word interludes, several examples of not-uncomplex melodic counterpoint, what Sound Opinions talkshow host Jim DeRogatis called “at least three distinct movements,” a Wall of Sound outro and strange piano postlude — “Beverly Hills” further simplifies the model to I-IV-V, and does very little outside the realm of generic pop (except, tenably, the talkbox solos — which I suppose does very little outside the realm of generic Peter Frampton). So, then, would Cuomo now agree that “Beverly Hills” is actually the most embarrassingly simple song they’ve ever released? (To speak nothing of most of The Green Album and Maladroit, which do not have a song the level of “Undone’s” complexity between them.)
It sounds like I’m getting really down on the band here, right now, and I don’t mean to be. I like “Beverly Hills.” It’s not exactly Weezer, per se, and that’s coming from someone who is all for musical development and diversity — I like my favorite bands’ discographies to be varied. But something about this song just seems so typical, so stupid, so very much the representation of everything the Weezer of the ’90s was entirely against. I’m going to embarrass myself for a moment here and admit that I used to love Dragon Ball as a little kid (though the thought of anime now mildly repulses me), and I can remember someone saying that the third, abortive series in the DB story arc, Dragon Ball GT, just didn’t seem like the original show to her. She said it could be fun sometimes, and it had provided a few moments that were sure to put a smile on any DB diehard’s face — but all in all, it just wasn’t part of the storyline to her, and was best thought of as something separate. I guess, in a lot of ways, that sums up my feelings about Make Believe — and those “is that a stock sample?” gimme-gimmes are probably at the core of that. But hey, I kinda like the brief bridge, and I do legitimately enjoy the two talkbox solos. That’s something, right?
The song features a return to verse-rapping uncharted by Weezer since “El Scorcho,” but the lyrics are mostly terrible (aside from the brilliance of, “Look at all those movie stars, they’re all so beautiful and clean / When the housemaids scrub the floors they get the spaces inbetween!”). Here the “Undone” comparison becomes all the more apt, because that was a single that was taken as a joke, while Cuomo would insist in interviews that it was actually quite heartfelt. The same thing happened in 2005 — it’s just a little harder to believe (or accept) in the case of “Beverly Hills.” But hey, according to the man himself:
I was at the opening of the new Hollywood Bowl and I flipped through the program and I saw a picture of Wilson Phillips. And for some reason I just thought how nice it would be to marry, like, an “established” celebrity and live in Beverly Hills and be part of that world. And it was a totally sincere desire. And then I wrote that song, Beverly Hills. For some reason, by the time it came out—and the video came out—it got twisted around into something that seemed sarcastic. But originally it wasn’t meant to be sarcastic at all.
There is a bit of an admission that the meaning had changed here, though, which makes the prospect of hearing Cuomo’s original “Beverly Hills” demo actually quite appealing. Cuomo also stated, in his Weezer.com Fan Interview of 2007, that “Hills” is one of his two proudest musical achievements, saying, “With this one song we were able to transcend our little niche and connect with all kinds of people, young and old, from all kinds of backgrounds.” It’s hard to imagine that a band that had already sold several million records in America alone still considers itself to have a “niche” audience, but in some ways you can understand Cuomo’s pride — he was looking for a megahit of this proportion ever since Pinkerton tanked, and with “Hills” he finally got it. If for absolutely nothing else, it is a mastery of songwriting because it is such a machine of a song, with such a specific purpose that is so perfectly and commercially realized that it can’t help but sell millions. These kinds of songs aren’t easy to write, by any means, and even if the end product is something that might make fans of “Across the Sea” sick, we ought to give Cuomo credit for what he attempted and achieved here.
The music video takes place at the Playboy Mansion and features a brief cameo from Hugh Hefner, along with droves and droves of Weezer fans dancing and singing. There’s an “(Early Mix)” of the song in circulation, in which the “gimme gimmes” are not done by a session vocalist/model, but rather the band themselves in falsetto (very preferable). The band turned in a version for their 2005 AOL Session, which features the falsetto in overdrive (on the verses, even!) and an extended talkbox solo — it’s pretty good, actually. The band also played it live on Letterman, a rendition that included the extended solo, a pissed ‘n’ possessed-looking Cuomo, and a pretty and mostly superfluous girl standing to the side of the stage, shaking a type of maracca and doing the chorus backups. There’s also a hilariously pitiful Jimmy Kimmel performance, wherein the band are elevated into the air by strings during the chorus, and Cuomo walks into the crowd for the final chorus/solo — except the band are accidentally elevated during a verse, and it’s all so awkward and confused that it can’t help but suck. I can’t seem to find it now, but they also did a version for Howard Stern, which I remember rocking pretty hard. Lastly, there’s a Radio Disney edit of the song in which “crap” has to be edited out, so the first verse goes, “Where I come from isn’t all that great / My automobile isn’t all that great.” As if the “Beverly Hills” rhyme scheme couldn’t have gotten worse!