During the mid-90s, Robert Pollard — frontman of the then-infallible Guided By Voices — turned out incredible pop songs at an unprecedented rate. He was as an elementary schoolteacher when considerable indie rock fame found him on the brink of his 40s, and, as he released scores and scores of songs per year, he had some interesting things to say about his creative method. Speaking of his impossibly prodigious (and, at least then, surprisingly consistent) output, he boasted, “I can write five songs while on the toilet — and three of them will be good.”
Part of his secret was to title songs before they were written. “If I write a whole page of great titles, I have to give them personalities and write songs for them – I just can’t stop,” he said in an interview circa 1995’s classic Alien Lanes. After all, he reasoned, how could songs with titles like “Gold Star for Robot Boy” and “14 Cheerleader Coldfront” be bad?
He wound up being right — and with a title like “We Are All On Drugs,” how could Weezer go wrong? At least that was the consensus among fans when tracklists of acoustic Make Believe demo sessions began trickling into weezer.com updates. Brian Bell’s commentary on the song, which was released in tandem with the album, seems to be of a similar – if a bit less coherent – rationale:
I remember the first time Rivers played it for me, and just felt this, like, ‘Can we do this?’ You know, I mean, this is a hit song, without a doubt. Just singing that chorus the first time, when we played these songs acoustically in the office, it was just a riot because it was just so much—it was like I felt like we were doing something illegal by [singing] that [titular line]. And there were thoughts like, how are parents going to like this? Or you know, are we going to be banned from kids, you know, listening, whatever, their album collections?
Reality proved a little less sensational. In the same conversation, someone mentions how the original version was much quieter and “all mellow” — perhaps there were different lyrics, or a different tone and feel – but Pitchfork‘s album review incisively summed up the final song as having “an anti-drug message stiffer than Nancy Reagan’s Diff’rent Strokes cameo.” Bell’s giddy fears for the release of the song — at least given the version of “Drugs” we have — seem a bit hysterical indeed.
To his credit, though, the guitar intro he contributed to the song is one of the song’s few redeeming factors. It’s a big rock sound — Pat Wilson apparently pushed the song in that direction — and Bell’s intro serves its purpose nicely. When Scott Shriner’s bass pans hard into the mix (as hard as one can pan into a mix this compressed, anyway), it’s a nice, elevating little moment. And then the verse drops.
It’s embarrassing enough that Cuomo namechecks Mercedes-Benz (in the first line), but it’s that much worse that he does it with all the conviction of a jealous high-schooler — and, very transparently, because he wanted an easy rhyme for, “When you’re out with your friends.” Hm. “In your new Mercedes-Benz,” perhaps? It practically writes itself!
Couple that with the melody and meter in which these words are sung and it’s nigh unbearable. As has been pointed out many times before, the verse blatantly nicks its grating tune from the old “Diarrhea Song” that proliferates through the minds of third-graders every school year: “When you’re drivin’ in a Chevy / And you feel something heavy,” et cetera. Which sadly suggests that even the Mercedes-Benz bit took inspiration from this age-old ode to shat pants — a quick Googling reveals that at least six verses of “The Official Diarrhea Song” include reference to driving, several of which explicitly name a car brand (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 — footnotes would be nice right about now). Just replace the “diarrhea, diarrhea” refrain with a double-tracked “ooooon druuuugs,” and there you have it — besting both “I Do” and “Dreamin'” (both far better songs, besides) as the most humiliating, cringeworthy rip-off in Weezer history.
Lyrically, the chorus is no better: “We are all on drugs, yeah / Never gettin’ enough / We are all on drugs, yeah / Give me some of that stuff.” Shriner’s backing echo — “Never get enough!” — is generic and obvious, as is the conclusive “Whoo!” with which the end of the chorus gleefully slams the listener’s head against the cold, hard curb that is the returning verse.
The bridge is something of a respite — the “ahhhh” backup vocals, the progression and lead melody’s driving force, and the welcome of return of the “Hash Pipe” signature “uhn!” — leading us into a scorching Cobainesque solo, a gratifying fill from Wilson, and a nice n’ noisy build back into the chorus. The lyrics here also involve an interesting story: on the album’s first pressing, Cuomo sings, “I want to confiscate your drugs / I don’t think I can get enough;” shortly after its release, spokesperson Karl Koch posted an update on .com saying that this bit was a mistake, and that future pressings would contain the “correct” bridge: “I want to reach a higher plane / Where nothing will ever be the same” (which, taken on its own, bears the obvious influence of Cuomo’s then-nascent Vispassana meditations).
That latter bridge is the one that was released on the “Drugs” radio single that, despite Bell’s confidence, failed to perform. Some have speculated that this embarrassing faceplant could be due to Geffen Records forcing Cuomo to re-cut the vocal and make an even more sanitized version of the song, the dispiriting nadir known as “We Are All In Love.” Click to witness an aural and visual abomination that stands as very nearly the worst song and worst video Weezer has ever released, with more than just a few shades of Spinal Tap. I realize I just praised the bridge/solo segment of this song, and there are certainly Weezer songs lacking even that much merit, but the places where this song embarrasses are otherwise so various and profound that it’s hard to give it a pass on bridge alone. (The same issue befalls an outtake from this same era, “I Don’t Want Your Lovin’.”)
Cuomo, mind-numbingly prolific himself, is in many ways not all that different from Pollard. It’s just that, while Pollard’s likely to write five songs in a sitting — three good, two bad — and release all of them, Cuomo’s likely to do the same and squirrel away all but maybe one of them. Whether it’s a good one or a bad one is a crapshoot — and “Drugs” is as good an indication as any that he and his bandmates have a hard time separating the wheat from the chaff.