Weezer – Pinkerton (1996): “Fall in love all over again”

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

I have this funny image in my head of Rivers Cuomo, the bespectacled frontman and songwriter of Weezer, performing the music of his first album in neatly trimmed suit with a smile. Then, just as the fans start yawning “novelty” and move on with life, he goes into Incredible Hulk mode, and starts smashing his guitar and all of the band equipment.

Pinkerton, the sequel to their self-titled debut smash, is basically Rivers revealing all of the humiliation he feels in his life. It’s a sad, emotional album, but also a perversely hilarious one. It’s like when a friend tells you his most embarrassing story. Part of you wants to laugh at him, and part of you wants to comfort him. And both parts of you have a point.

Those dual extremes of Pinkerton gel incredibly well with a power pop sound to become Weezer’s masterpiece. The guitars range from fuzzy to jangly, but are constantly loud and melodic. There’s also an off-the-cuff feel to the music that’s the opposite from the polished, rehearsed feeling to Weezer’s debut.

Really, though, the album’s success hinges on its ten songs. Each one is mix-tape good on its own, but as a package, they’re mesmerizing. The flow between comedy and tragedy — often both simultaneously — is incredible.  Consider one ten-second clip of El Scorcho when Cuomo compares affection first to professional wrestling then to Cio-Cio San’s doomed love in the opera Madam Butterfly. Brilliant.

With these songs, Weezer pioneers the ’emo’ genre, but does the style better than any future band could hope to. There’s a pathos and self-loathing here, as would become the sub-genre’s norm, but Cuomo is at heart too funny and charming for the angst to become a burden. Whether he admits it or not, it’s clear he’s having some fun here: “I’m dumb, she’s a Lesbian, I thought I had found the one” — sorry, Fall Out Boy, but emo peaked with that one line.

Any notion from the debut that Weezer was simply a novelty act, not a ‘real’ band is dispelled quickly: There’s so much cooperation on a deep level here. This is a band with a mission and a vision and real chemistry. You can’t fake the sweeping notions and gestures that fill Pinkerton: The Good Life’s pulverized pride, Across the Sea’s lonely lament, Butterfly’s ashamed absolution.

But the most enduring charm of Pinkerton is that its emotions and motivations are ambiguous enough that it’s impossible to take the same thing away from it each time I listen to it. How much of this is genuine pain, how much of it simply acerbic wit? It’s a fine line. When Cuomo rhymes “Jello” with “cello” in El Scorcho, there’s clearly some playfulness. When he climaxes the song with “Maybe you’re scared to say ‘I’m falling for you,'” I doubt there is any. For rest of the song, it varies with each listen. The flux in tone — from sad to silly to self-parody — constantly shifts.

You can debate whether the sound of Pinkerton is as enjoyable or interesting as any of Weezer’s other albums, but what makes Pinkerton their best album is that it’s their most personal and honest. Despite its angst, it connects with me in ways most other albums can’t. Most days, I can’t think of twenty albums I value more than Pinkerton, and some days, I can’t think of five.

Dan S.

Dan is the editor of Earn This. He co-founded the site in 2009.

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