Strangely enough (as it is my favourite album of all time) I don’t remember where I was or what I was doing the first time I heard Weezer’s first album Weezer (The Blue Album). It feels like it has always been there. What I love about Blue is that it is an album for every mood. There is enough heartfelt longing in the lyrics for the rough times but the melodies and harmonies are perfect for the sunshine.
As a result of this Blue has soundtracked pretty much every stage of my life. From socially awkward teenager to socially awkward young man to the headstrong, confident, socially awkward butterfly you see before you today. Pinkerton however, Weezer’s difficult second effort, is a different story.
I definitely remember the first time I heard Pinkerton. I brought it home from (much missed) Track Records in Doncaster, full of excitement in expectation for a continuation of Blue. As opening oddity ‘Tired of Sex’ lumbered out of the speakers I was immediately taken aback. Raw, strained, much darker than anything on blue, ‘Tired of Sex’ feels like it could collapse in on itself at any moment. I then sat and listened to the rest of Pinkerton with a growing sense of disappointment. It all sounded the same and there was nothing even approaching the timeless genius of ‘Buddy Holly’ or ‘Say It Ain’t So’. As the last few notes of ‘Butterfly’ faded out I sat and frowned for a while. Then I made a sandwich because I like sandwiches. Then I frowned a bit more because I had finished my sandwich and I still didn’t like Pinkerton.
For some reason though I felt drawn to go back to Pinkerton. So I listened again. Second time round a few things stood out. The ridiculously catchy chorus of ‘The Good Life’, the stubborn immaturity in the lyrics to ‘Why Bother?’, all of ‘El Scorcho’, but I was still underwhelmed. Something made me continue to revisit Pinkerton though and gradually over time it became a permanent feature on my diskman for about two years. I say something, there are actually numerous things that keep people returning to or discovering Pinkerton.
Firstly, the production is totally unlike any other Weezer record. The band opted to produce the album themselves to try and better capture their live sound. This results in production values that are much more In Utero than Nevermind culminating in a stark, shambolic cacophony that perfectly suits the lyrical content and Rivers Cuomo’s state of mind at the time these songs were penned. Secondly,the lyrics really are as confessional and honest as you are likely to hear. At the time that Cuomo wrote Pinkerton he had gone back to school at Harvard and was living like a ‘hermit’.
Rivers had also had a corrective procedure done on his leg which resulted in him being in and out of hospital and having to walk with a cane around campus. Cuomo stated he would hobble past fellow students wearing Weezer t shirts that didn’t recognize him.
Cuomo was horribly embarrassed by Pinkerton after it was a critical and commercial failure on release even going as far to comment in 2002: “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.”
This quote is difficult to understand as one thing that comes across on Pinkerton is how much Weezer sound like a band here and not just Rivers and friends.
Pinkerton was the last album with original bassist Matt Sharp whose bass thunders throughout. Sharp, Cuomo and guitarist Brian Bell recorded their vocals in tandem rather than dubbing separately later and this brings an undercurrent of fun and togetherness that Weezer wouldn’t recapture until Weezer (The Red Album) many years later.
It is difficult to think of an album that has been reappraised so drastically and divided opinion as much as Weezer’s second. On release, Rolling Stone described the album as ‘aimless’ and later named it one of the worst albums of 1996. Ten years later they re-scored Pinkerton as a five star album and inducted it into their hall of fame. NME has described Pinkerton as both ‘a vain man child whining on about his understandably rubbish relationships’ and later ‘one of the most startling but rewarding listens of a generation.’
For a lot of Weezer fans they might as well have split up after Pinkerton (indeed one group tried to raise ten million dollars to persuade them to do just that). Nothing post Pinkerton has connected with fans the same way. Third album Weezer (The Green Album) was a return to the safe sunshine pop of their début and when Cuomo did attempt to recapture the brutal honesty inherent in Pinkerton, it resulted in the roundly hated Make Believe.
I love every Weezer album (Aside from Raditude – I like to pretend that one doesn’t exist) but when drummer Pat Wilson said recently that forthcoming new album Everything Will Be Alright In The End was going to be a mix between the first album and Pinkerton I couldn’t help but sigh. Pinkerton is in every single way an oddity and an abnormality. Any attempt to recapture the mood from that album is bound to always end in failure. One thing is for sure though, even if Weezer are harming their legacy with each passing album as some would suggest, Pinkerton will survive as long as there is anxiety, pain, shyness and angst in the world.