Old School Reviews: Weezer – Pinkerton

10 08 2007

by mr. travis

As a lead in to the upcoming August 14th street release of the new Rentals E.P., The Last Little Life, Cacophony looks back at some of the major works featuring Rentals frontman Matt Sharp. Part III takes us back to 1996 with the sophomore album by the influential alternative rock band (and some say emo originator) Weezer.

weezer-pinkerton

Artist: Weezer
Album: Pinkerton
Label: Geffen
Release Date: Sept. 24, 1996

“It’s a hideous record… It was such a hugely painful mistake that happened in front of hundreds of thousands of people and continues to happen on a grander and grander scale and just won’t go away. It’s like getting really drunk at a party and spilling your guts in front of everyone and feeling incredibly great and cathartic about it, and then waking up the next morning and realizing what a complete fool you made of yourself.” – Rivers Cuomo, Entertainment Weekly, 2001

The follow up to any successful debut is always a difficult process, separating the wheat from the chaff in terms of how successful a band will be. Often fraught with tension as the band tries to find its own identity while battling label pressure, the process can very often destroy a band. Which is what happened with Weezer and their 1996 album Pinkerton, a truly excellent record, the best of their output and one of the greatest records of all time that nonetheless was ignored upon its release, dismissed by critics, and ranked the worst release of 1996 by that bastion of music criticism Rolling Stone magazine. The result temporarily broke up the band, left singer/songwriter/guitarist/band mastermind Rivers Cuomo devastated (he would swear off the record for almost a decade), and cause a permanent rift with bassist Matt Sharp, who would leave the band in 1998 to less than bright circumstances. Yet, despite all of the negativity, the album grew in stature and importance, becoming one of the most important and influential albums of the 90’s (and also causing Rolling Stone to change their stance on it. It’s now in their hall of fame and in their 500 greatest records of all time).

It really isn’t much of a surprise that the album was dismissed upon its initial release. Pinkerton is far darker than its predecessor, eschewing many of the power pop conventions to focus on a loud, dirty record that has much more in common with the indie rock of Pavement than the Cheap Trick sound they played on the Blue Album. Cuomo’s lyrics are deeply personal, but never embarrassing. He manages to interject pop culture references throughout keeping the proceedings light and interesting, something that his followers in the emo genre too often fail to do. Never does it become whiny, again something that too many do while going on the confessional. But, this does come across as Cuomo’s show, something that was already an issue with the previous album, but comes into the forefront even more, especially considering Sharp’s subsequent exit from the band to focus solely on the Rentals.

Based on the play Madame Butterfly, Pinkerton began as the rock opera Songs From the Black Hole a silly idea that was shot down during the demo sessions. Taking some of the songs from the demo sessions while writing a couple of new ones, Cuomo put together the album, focusing somewhat on the character of Lt. Pinkerton from the play while intertwining his own experiences with women and relationships in the wake of the success of the Blue Album (as well as his time at Harvard). From the start, the album is far different than its predecessor. Where the Blue Album began clean, Pinkerton starts off with squealing guitars and dirty drums, while Cuomo screams about being “Tired of Sex,” before going through a list of names that he’s “made it with.” It’s a far cry from the innocence of “Buddy Holly,” but its all the better for it. If Weezer had made just another repeat of their debut, it’s highly doubtful they would still be around today, let alone be as influential.

The highlight of the record comes in the middle through the trilogy of “Across the Sea,” “The Good Life,” and “El Scorcho.” Detailing such themes as lust, imperfection, depression, and ultimately love, Cuomo gives a story of such startling honesty that upon inspection of his other work, you have to wonder if it’s the same songwriter. He even tops it off with “Pink Triangle” the hilarious, yet poignant tale of that one love who ends up being a lesbian. The sort of wordplay that is found on these songs (and the rest of the record) is what separates this from its followers, not just in the emo genre but with the rest of Weezer’s output as well.

It’s unfortunate then that Weezer would never reach these heights again. The band reunited in 2000 (minus Sharp) only after the fervor over Pinkerton reached a boiling point. The return by Cuomo and company was not for the art or to further the craft so excellently executed on Pinkerton, it was for the money, to exploit the fan base that had solidified since their demise. None of their albums after the reunion touches their earlier work, a fact that can be attested to Cuomo’s complete control of Weezer and utter refusal to write a decent lyric (yet, the kids eat it up. . . because, hey, it’s Weezer). Sharp’s absence can also be attributed to this decline, at times he was the only one who seemed to challenge Cuomo, and when challenged, people tend to do their best work.

Luckily, no matter how hard Cuomo or Weezer try to dismiss Pinkerton, it only grows with age, not only as a reminder of what could have been with the band, but that great albums aren’t necessarily the ones that sell a million copies their first week (or ever, for that matter). Pinkerton stands as Weezer’s best work as well as one of the best records of the 90’s, second only to Radiohead’s masterpiece Ok Computer.

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2 responses

13 02 2008
Thrills Killa

Pinkerton is great! 🙂

15 07 2008
Foo Man Choo

Well put my friend. This work will stand as as testament to the incredible genius of Rivers Cuomo and the raw talent of arguably the best and most diverse band of the last twenty years.

Genius is almost always not palatable to the critics or casual fan. Time will reveal this album to be one of the greatest musical achievements of the 20th century…

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