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Thanks to Weezer's synthesis of naked self-pity and grungy power chords, many credit the group's 1990s output for today's Dashboard Confessionals. In reality, the quartet gave suburban kids sanitized versions of Pavement and Sebadoh, along with a narcissism on par with that of the hair-metal icons that vocalist Rivers Cuomo once idolized.

Perhaps that's why Make Believe, Weezer's first record in three years, has spots of Def Leppardesque brooding and fanfares in the style of Europe's "Final Countdown" -- even as it motors through familiar cloudy-rock fuzz balls and zippy new-wave pop. Nevertheless, Cuomo is still the self-flagellating Reverend Dimmesdale of the cardigan set, a demigod to fumbling nerds who fuck up their love lives. But his innate Van Halen-level ambition still conflicts with his outward Harvard-student geekdom -- or, as he puts it on "Beverly Hills," "I wanna be just like a king/Truth is, I don't stand a chance." The difference now is that instead of being bitter about not being cool, Cuomo is apologetic, hesitantly asking for affection on "Hold Me" and even titling a song "Pardon Me." This humility echoes Weezer's earliest successes and makes Believe charming rather than whiny.


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