Ever have that thing when you’re really into just one of a band’s albums, but can’t say the same for any of their others? I can’t tell you whether there’s an ultra-specific, extremely long German compound word for this phenomenon, but I can tell you that that’s my experience with Weezer: the album being their debut, The Blue Album. I’ve never been a music hoarder, so to speak. I’d rather listen to one record over and over and fall in love with it rather than constantly try to find more and more new stuff to listen to. It was time, however, to properly check out what else Weezer had to offer.
The obvious destination was their now “most critically acclaimed,” the full length follow-up to their debut – Pinkerton. The narrative reads as so: Pinkerton was not well received when first released, but somehow performed a complete u-turn. The album went from being voted the 3rd worst of the year by Rolling Stone readers in 1993 to the 16th greatest of all time in 2002. For music stat nerds – come on, they might exist – or simply those who like their music aggregated, Pinkerton now holds a score of a perfect 100 on Metacritic. By this point, however, Weezer had already taken a five year break from albums, and basically attempted to write Pinkerton out of its own history.
(For Music stat nerds) Pinkerton Holds a score of a perfect 100 on Metacritic
So, how and why on earth did that happen? The album was a more experimental effort than their debut, which might be the answer. The guitars are more abrasive. The drums hammer down harder. Pinkerton seems to have the rawest sound of any Weezer record, that’s for sure, with the band deciding against hiring a producer and recording vocals in tandem, three-around-one-microphone style rather than overdubbing in order to achieve a live feeling. On some tracks, this does seem to take away from rather than add to the overall effect.
Considering that raw alt-rock production was certainly pretty in at the time, however, it must have been something more than just that. Lyrically, Pinkerton is an absolute emotional wreck of an album. Frontman Rivers Cuomo thought he went so dark he felt the need to apologize- “I will feel genuinely bad if anyone feels hurt by my lyrics but I really wanted these songs to be an exploration of my “dark side.” There’s some pretty nasty stuff on there.” Both albums stem from the same geeky, anxious character that is Cuomo, but there is an important difference – The Blue Album showcases these feelings in a lighthearted way, whereas Pinkerton does not.
The subject material on the latter is certainly more extreme: on opener “Tired of Sex,” for instance, Cuomo bemoans his meaningless encounters with groupies, and its closer “Pink Triangle” is about a man who falls in love with a woman he later discovers is in fact a lesbian. Pinkerton also demonstrates that Cuomo is, or at least was, a bit of a weeaboo – it includes frequent allusions to Japanese culture. The name Pinkerton itself is from the character of a play who is obsessed with Japanese women, and “Across the Sea” is a track about Cuomo falling in love with a Japanese fan who wrote him a letter, and being “very depressed that he would never meet her.”
It’s definitely more of an acquired taste
It’s pretty clear to me now why some considered Pinkerton’s angst a little weird-tear-stained-teenage-diary-esque. Perhaps Pinkerton is the record Kurt Cobain may have made instead of In Utero if his problems had been college and girls (as well as some other pretty creepy stuff) instead of, you know, heroin. Cuomo, throughout, does not exactly express the universally relatable sentiment which propelled The Blue Album to instant classic status, and as a result, it can be a lot harder to fully get behind: leading to cult rather than unanimous support.
The fact that Weezer abandoned very quickly the approach they took on Pinkerton almost delegitimises the album for me, making it seem like it was a bit of a rebellion against nothing. Yes, Pinkerton certainly has a few catchy, fun, radio-friendly numbers (see: “The Good Life” and “El Scorcho”) but nowhere the number showcased on other, more accessible Weezer records. Lacking to some extent, thus, the pop sensibilities of their debut, I can see why Pinkerton is only considered a classic in retrospect. It’s definitely more of an acquired taste.