ALBUM REVIEW: Pinkerton (Weezer)

22 Jul

Pinkerton is the follow-up album to alt-rock band Weezer’s debut. It’s now become such a staple in music history that, to fans of the band, the name is usually spoken in hushed tones and treated as something almost sacred. Although Rivers Cuomo, the eccentric frontman of the band, now claims to be embarrassed of it, most fans believe that this was the best album that Weezer ever made.

Pinkerton was written while Cuomo was at university, but it’s not filled with the usual college-rock anthems. Nothing about Cuomo’s experience encouraged him to write cheery, optimistic songs about his future or all the good times life had in store for him. Instead, he spent the time wishing that the students in Weezer shirts would recognise him, and rereading a letter from a Japanese fan, who he later became obsessed with. Pinkerton reflects the outsider’s view of Japan and the fragility it can be seen to have, with Japanese culture strongly entwined within the album (Pinkerton, for example, is the name of the protagonist in Madame Butterfly). Cuomo himself says, “The album kind of tells the story of my struggle with my inner Pinkerton.”

While the Blue Album – Weezer’s debut –had a polished, professional sound, this is just another way that Pinkerton differs. Weezer refused a producer, wanting to make the record reflect their live sound, and creating a raw and brutal album, which was much less radio-friendly. More honest than the Blue Album, Pinkerton is specifically about Cuomo and the first person point of view only serves to emphasise the autobiographical feel. Pinkerton was such a departure from the original sound that many Weezer fans almost thought that it was by a different band.

Pinkerton is blisteringly angry and caustic in a way that Weezer fans hadn’t heard before, screaming out Cuomo’s bitterness and upset – not aimed at ‘the world’, but turned inward on himself. It’s a solid album, with every song as good as or better than the last, and the singles – “El Scorcho”, “The Good Life”, “Pink Triangle” – aren’t weaker or even particularly catchier, but instead highlight everything right with this album.

“Tired of Sex” opens the record with a pounding assault on the ears, sounding like the Blue Album would sound if it was put through a blender and taped back together. A far cry from the easy hooks of “Buddy Holly”, “Tired of Sex” is much more aggressive and serves as an introduction to an album which only spirals further into dark and caustic tones.

“Butterfly” best reflects the disillusionment Cuomo was feeling at the time. The only acoustic song on the album, “Butterfly” has an eerie feel that seems to echo thoughts of ‘be careful what you wish for’. On the surface, “Butterfly” is an innocent story of a child who accidentally killed a butterfly while trying to capture it, but the dark undertones are at odds with the simple melody.

“Across the Sea”, however, is the real triumph. Showcasing Weezer’s unique brand of power pop – which is, after all, what they do best – it starts off deceptively soft, building up slowly but surely before crashing into a powerful crescendo.

The thing about music is that it’s very difficult to sound dated. Unlike films, where production is evident and special effects age quickly, music doesn’t have the same sell-by date. Although the era is sometimes apparent – 80s synth, 70s punk – it never sounds old. It can, however, sometimes be irrelevant or no longer accessible – but Pinkerton can’t fall blame to any of those criticisms. Perhaps more relevant today than it was in ’96, Pinkerton tells the same tale of isolation and apathy that listeners everywhere will find easy to identify with.

When Pinkerton was released, in a time when ska was currently the ‘next big thing’, it was both a commercial and a critical failure. Ahead of its time, it was simply too different. Critics hated it, and Weezer fans could barely believe that it was the same band. It was like Weezer were starting over, disregarding everything they’d gained from the Blue Album and fighting for credibility all over again.

Now, Pinkerton is seen as one of the cornerstones of emo. While these days, emo is more generally associated with My Chemical Romance and Panic at the Disco, Weezer had no eyeliner in sight. Instead, they took the style of music played by bands like the Promise Ring and Mineral and made it more accessible, with a darker, more primal assault, inspiring bands such as Bloc Party and Brand New. Soon becoming a cult hit, Pinkerton became the most important emo album of the 90s.

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