Essential Listening: Weezer – Pinkerton

Essential Listening - Weezer - Pinkerton - pic

By Stephen Butchard

“Why can’t I be making love come true?” Rivers Cuomo mutters from within brittle drum blasts, breathing for a second before blurting out a frustrated scream – the title alone, ‘Tired of Sex’, makes it obvious what his frustration is aimed towards. The mix is thick with sound, but not the uplifting thickness found within the shiny power-pop of Weezer’s eponymous debut; the sound here is ragged and bruised, reflecting all of the uncomfortable flaws and blemishes of Cuomo’s lyrics. The song escalates in intensity with a shrill guitar solo, the mix clattering and compressed, before disintegrating into a purgative mess of heavy bass stomps and cymbal thrashes and its breakdown. Pinkerton’s opener sets its tone perfectly, capturing all of the juvenile frustration and vulnerability to be explored on this dark collection of tracks.

In 1996, this depressive tone left many Weezer fans scratching their heads. The ubiquitous appeal of the Blue Album stemmed not just from its simple, sharp songwriting, but also from the goofy aesthetic the band framed it in; anthems like ‘Undone (The Sweater Song)’ and ‘Buddy Holly’ were mild in their self-deprecation, instead focusing on joyous, thick layers of sound and awkward, bumbling lyrics. This, along with a handful of excellent music videos made the band a favourite for highschool outcasts everywhere.

Rivers Cuomo, disillusioned by this sudden exposure, chose to write something that would reflect his darkest thoughts on love, in a way that was both uncompromisingly personal and raw with feeling. The result was a critical and commercial flop, and up until recently, Weezer have been intent on deleting Pinkerton from their history, retreating back to their original image, right down to the simple colour based album art. With time though, these rough, discordant songs gained a cult following, and today, Pinkerton stands tall as one of the best alternative rock albums of the nineties.

Part of Pinkerton’s cathartic resonance relies on actually relating to Cuomo’s embarrassingly confessional lyricism, which can prove uncomfortable given the graphic levels of honesty on display. On ‘Pink Triangle’, Cuomo berates a lesbian for refusing to fall in love with him, while ‘Across the Sea’ sees him obsessing over an eighteen-year-old’s fanmail, licking the envelope as he pictures her masturbating. These accounts of sexual depravation and juvenility are harrowing in their presentation, adding weight and empathy to actions that could be seen as trivial or even loathsome if not handled correctly. It was a bold move to make, and one that destroyed Cuomo’s confidence when Pinkerton’s release was met with scorn.

These confessional lyrics wouldn’t be nearly as impactful if it wasn’t for the passionate performances and sticky songwriting laced throughout, that subvert Weezer’s usual anthemic choruses into something visceral and depressive. ‘No Other One’ and ‘Why Bother’ are ragged with self-loathing, while ‘Getchoo’s pummelling chorus is more of a repeated fist to the wall than a tangible melody.

There are flashes of the Surfer Rosa here, as well as the obvious parallels to Nirvana’s raw sound going into In Utero, but there’s no denying that Pinkerton’s replayability is down to Rivers Cuomo’s impeccable skill as a hook writer. Nineteen years on, Pinkerton awkwardly stands out as the darkest thing Weezer ever produced, but it’s certainly the most exciting.

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