Weezer – Pinkerton (1996): What could you possibly see in little old three-chord me?

This is Grant’s half of the Pinkerton point-counterpoint review. Read Dan’s half here.

Pinkerton is the sound of a band afraid to become great.  Representing a comeback after the hiatus Weezer took in response to their debut album’s surprise success, it doesn’t so much as reinvent the band as push their less desirable attributes to the forefront.  Weezer’s early work embraced its quaintness and made no effort to appear polished, but much of Pinkerton turns the aw-shucks charm into something far worse—childishness.  The album sounds unfinished, amateur, and slight, a noble effort from a high school garage band, but not one with such a devoted following.  That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its moments—it does—or that Rivers Cuomo forgot how to construct a tune—he didn’t—but that it has a horrible tone and message, and even the better songs convey annoying problems.

Said debut album, Weezer (rechristened The Blue Album because of its cover) was a critical album in emo’s transition from Rites of Spring-style punk to 1990s power pop and careening vocals.  But it’s Pinkerton that seems to anticipate the rash of wimpy, whiny bands that subsequently sprouted up under the term’s guise.  The melodies are by and large listenable, but there’s an effeminate undercurrent to everything, both in the slight and repetitive music and, more importantly, in the lyrics of Cuomo, who sings as though he’s been castrated.

The band keeps things moving on tracks like “Tired of Sex,” but Rivers cobbles together an embarrassing set of lyrics that threatens the dignity of almost every song.  Conveying an even greater sense of immaturity than the music, he whines about the impossibility that girls could ever like him, punctuating the theme with “What could you possibly see in little old three-chord me” in the otherwise charming “Falling for You.”  Likewise, when he whines “Why bother? It’s gonna hurt me / It’s gonna kill when you desert me” on “Why Bother,” one can’t possibly agree with him that it’s a crying shame that he’s all alone—it’s what he deserves, especially if two bad break-ups have sucked the life out of him.

Rock bands from here to eternity have sung about relationship problems, but of all the avenues from which to approach the issue, the I’m worthless-so-what’s-the-point one conveys the greatest immaturity.  Even “Tired of Sex” runs into this problem.  Songs such as The Cure’s “Siamese Twins” have described feelings of regret over sexual encounters, but they’re more credible when addressing a specific situation.  When Rivers simply says “I’m tired of having sex,” without any more context or elaboration, he sounds, well, prepubescent.  This sentiment, when combined with the rejections of relationships expressed elsewhere, leads to one simple thought: Grow a pair.

Because of this feeling, when he switches course and later extolls the glories of shakin’ booty or touching yourself, he sounds patently ridiculous.  By that point in the album, he’s lost credibility with the listener on the topic.

Sonically, Pinkerton songs rely heavily on similarly tossed off, amorphous shards of guitar that don’t sound heavy enough to be so caustic.  Weezer, on this album and their debut, don’t exactly exude sonic beauty, which makes their albums sound much better in small doses.  Several of the songs are hummable (“No Other One” especially), though the band tends to fall into predictable, vague grooves.  Cuomo nails the bridges of  “Falling” and “Across the Sea,” but if that makes you pay attention to his lyrics—both of which, interestingly, center around the word “Goddamn”—you’ve lost the war.  “The Good Life” has the album’s best melody, but, again, with his chorus he sounds like a little kid.

Pinkerton isn’t a difficult listen by any stretch—only “El Scorcho” is truly unlistenable—so long as you don’t expect much and ignore the lyrics.  Yet it’s so caustic after ten tracks that you’re searching for a way out.  Rivers wrote a few reasonably catchy melodies, and “Pink Triangle” is a perfect summation of Weezer at their pre-Make Believe best—off-center but endearing—but the specter of childhood looms over every moment.  Listening to Pinkerton, one hopes that Rivers and company will grow up, both in their playing and in their minds.

Grant J.

Grant J.

Grant co-founded Earn This in 2009 and is a regular contributor. His music taste makes him seem a lot weirder and sadder than he really is.

4 thoughts on “Weezer – Pinkerton (1996): What could you possibly see in little old three-chord me?

  1. I get the impression that condemn Rivers for having immature emotions while Dan praises him for expressing those same emotions so well. In this sense, while you’re targeting different aspects, I can’t tell whether the two of you actually disagree on a point… other than which aspect is more critical to the enjoyability of the album.

    I’d like to add that you each gave implicit half-sentence descriptions of what “emo” means that diverge dramatically. To me, that hints at what would be a far more interesting discussion – if it weren’t doomed to be circular and ultimately pointless, which would be more typical of attempts to define genre-terms.

    • I agree that I used the term ’emo’ with little precision, and that a discussion about its definition would be interesting but ultimately circular. I think your analysis on the difference between Grant’s and my take is pretty astute, and I’d add that the reason I don’t condemn the immaturity is because I think everyone goes through phases where they feel something like Rivers does here, or at least a less extreme version.

  2. It appears you took the best line of the entire album, and used it as a base for a negative review of a band you clearly just don’t like. Classifying “El Scorcho” as “truly unlistenable” is bizarre enough, but to say “their pre-Make Believe best” intimates, even more bizarrely, that you think of Make Believe as a better record. This review absolutely blows my mind.

  3. Yes, I do think Make Believe is better, as my review of it on this site shows. Outstanding album. So I obviously don’t have a blanket dislike of Weezer.

    And as the review stated, that line–like much of the album–reeks of a painful amount of self-denigration and self-belittling that would be disturbing in anyone over the age of 15 or so.

    Dont worry though, you’ve got Dan’s take on Pinkerton to satisfy you. I’m well aware I’m in the minority on it.

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