Review Summary: A sweaty, angry, and risky venture into alternative rock that in a short thirty-two minutes effectively kills the sunshine of The Blue Album and solidifies an alternative masterpiece.
“Woo-ee-oo, I look just like Buddy Holly.
Oh-oh, and you’re Mary Tyler Moore.
I don’t care what they say about us anyway.
I don’t care ‘bout that.”
Such carefree and cheery lyrics accompanied by a one-of-a-kind music video made Weezer’s hit single from their beloved self-titled debut one of the most nostalgic and defining moments of alternative rock’s explosion in the 90’s. Of course, that is not to say “Buddy Holly” swallowed The Blue Album
’s other components – the album’s bulk, consisting of ten well structured and tastefully crafted songs, is a must-own record for anybody exploring the evolution of alternative music or 90’s music in general. Lyrically and musically, The Blue Album
was a nearly perfect reflection of young life in the decade: suburban-dwelling kids going to school, going to parties, driven into sadness through failed relationships that were doomed from the start, it’s all here. But Rivers Cuomo, Weezer’s nerdy leading man, went to college, and so did his music. Though often lighthearted, The Blue Album
’s lyrics had brief undercurrents of startlingly disturbed darkness. Perhaps it was inevitable that a disillusioned Cuomo would abandon the suburban template of The Blue Album
for a more abrasive, sinister, grown-up sound. The result: Pinkerton
“When I look in the mirror, I can’t believe what I see.
Tell me who’s that funky dude staring back at me?
Broken, beaten down, can’t even get around
Without an old-man cane, I fall and hit the ground.
Shivering in the cold, bitter and alone.”
Musically, there isn’t much different between “Buddy Holly” and “The Good Life.” Both are upbeat, ridiculously catchy rock songs drenched in power-chords and melody, and while the guitar work on “The Good Life” may reflect more developed proficiency, the music is clearly similar to what listeners would find on The Blue Album
. Lyrically, “The Good Life” is more poetic, pessimistic, and bleak than a vast majority of anything found on Weezer’s previous record. In contrast to the sunny Summer time atmosphere that composes the lifeblood of Blue, here Cuomo screams, sighs, even resignedly whimpers his vocals. Though on the surface “The Good Life” seems happy, maybe even joyful as a result of its poppy hooks and riffs, an alienated Rivers cries to “get back to the good life,” declaring in a self-catharsis that he doesn’t “wanna be an old man anymore.” Where’s your Suburbia now?
“Tonight, I’m down on my knees.
Tonight, I’m begging you please.
Tonight, tonight it bleeds.
Oh, why can’t I be making love come true?”
Not everything on Pinkerton
is as radio-friendly as “The Good Life,” however; in fact, a majority of the album is energetically charged with distortion and feedback, a true departure from the power-pop sound that made Weezer popular in the first place. A dissonant ring of guitar feedback introduces album opener “Tired of Sex,” in which Rivers muses upon his dissatisfaction with women and the rock star lifestyle. Wailing over a harsh, abrasive atmosphere, Cuomo effectively dissolves any happiness bleeding over from The Blue Album
, even noting: “I don’t know who I am.” The track ends with a truly electrifying guitar solo and a brief coda complete with a bloodcurdling scream from Cuomo. Weezer doesn’t waste a second, either, as the second track, “Getchoo,” is ushered in by a powerful but quick wave of distortion that leads into a full-on explosion of sound, all in the first second-and-a-half. And so Pinkerton
begins in a sweaty mess of noise: the perfect opening to an alternative-rock juggernaut.
“I wish I could get my head out of the sand
‘Cause I think we’d make a good team
And you would keep my fingernails clean,
But that’s just a stupid dream that I won’t realize
‘Cause I can’t even look in your eyes
Without shaking, and I ain’t faking.
I’ll bring home the turkey if you bring home the bacon.”
After a few songs dominated by loud screeching and arena-shaking rockers such as the power-chord infested “No Other One,” a track focusing on rotten relationships (a theme visited and revisited constantly on Pinkerton
), the listener’s ears are given a break with a more digest-able middle-section. The short “Why Bother?” is perhaps the album’s most poppy song musically, with riffs seemingly influenced by both surf-rock and jangle-pop, but the themes remain dark throughout. While Cuomo may have given the amps and effect pedals a rest, his lyrics are relentless. Pinkerton
’s three-song power play, the album’s obvious highlight, consists of the touching ballad “Across the Sea,” the nostalgia-ridden single “The Good Life,” and the nervous love anthem “El Scorcho.” The first of these tracks, “Across the Sea,” deals with a fan letter Cuomo received from a young girl in Japan; he wonders about her and whether she wonders about him, and he curiously questions, “Why are you so far away from me? I need help and you’re way across the sea.” Here the recurring theme of alienation is made clear in Cuomo’s vocal delivery that seems to be stained with a hint of grief or even exasperation. After an emotional climax, Cuomo repeats the chorus, and all of a sudden, Pinkerton
feels like something more than an album, but a portrait of Rivers Cuomo’s struggles that the listener cannot help but relate to. “Across the Sea” is without a doubt the turning point of the album, when the listener realizes the record is not just good, but truly exceptional.
One of Weezer’s main accomplishments in the creation of Pinkerton
is the order in which the songs appear. If the track list were ordered any other way, Weezer may not have succeeded in fulfilling Cuomo’s artistic vision of Pinkerton
, but the band chose well for “The Good Life” to follow “Across the Sea.” In fact, it may be one of the album’s most triumphant moments. “Across the Sea” is one of those songs that people hear and think it difficult to follow. Sometimes the artist senses this in ordering the tracks and places filler after such a track. Weezer didn’t. They followed “Across the Sea” with the best song on the album. “The Good Life” takes the fragile atmosphere left behind by the previous song and expands upon it, remaining catchy but gaining a sense of power not far from that of The Blue Album
. Sure, “The Good Life” is another success on the part of Mr. Cuomo, but then comes the problem of how to follow it. And how does Rivers deal with this problem? He serves up another quality track, “El Scorcho,” a weird little alt rock ditty that drops 90’s cultural references such as remarks about Green Day and the grunge movement. “El Scorcho” expresses a feeling of rejection while Cuomo groans about a woman he adores but cannot muster the strength to talk to and so realizes the futility of his situation. It’s a catchy track, not very aggressive, and it’s the perfect selection to end Pinkerton
’s three-song power play: a superb follow-up to “The Good Life” that’s not so good that it seems impossible to follow up. Seven tracks into Weezer’s sophomore release there have been few, if any, wasted seconds.
“Holy cow, I think I’ve got one here.
Now just what am I supposed to do?
I’ve got a number of irrational fears
That I’d like to share with you.
First, there’s rules about old goats like me
Hanging ‘round with chicks like you – but I do like you –
And another one, you say ‘like’ too much…”
As the record comes to a close, the band chooses to turn up the noise again, but not to the degree present at the album’s glass-shattering beginning. The feedback is more bearable this time, diluted much like an solution created in a chemist’s laboratory. Pinkerton
ends with a combination of the abrasive first three tracks and the more accessible middle four, so that the end result is a well-structured album with well-placed changes in mood and atmosphere. “Pink Triangle” and “Falling for You” segue into each other seamlessly and share similarities stylistically in their sonic soundscape. Both tracks are songs reflecting loneliness and love, and may feel bland or recycled to some listeners; indeed, these two songs may be the weakest on the album, but that’s not to say they aren’t enjoyable. While they don’t cover any groundbreaking territory in the alt rock scene, I see the two songs as a way to wind down from the hard-hitting fury of the previous seven tracks. Fittingly, Pinkerton
ends with a soft, short, bleak acoustic track, “Butterfly,” which wraps up the album nicely and loosely refers to Madame Butterfly
, the musical whose central character Cuomo named the album after. “Butterfly” is a culmination of all the rage, anger, loneliness, frustration, and alienation expressed on the record, and here it is condensed into one solitary feeling of despair. Rivers sings in nearly a whisper over the beautiful yet forlorn strumming of an acoustic guitar. Upon the last fading notes of “Butterfly,” the listener cannot help but recognize the maturity of the album as a whole. With its resonant ending, Pinkerton
establishes itself as one of the 90’s most important records, not only musically and lyrically, but also culturally.
is a difficult listen, and may take some people repeated listens to appreciate. Some may find the album terrible, as a large portion of Weezer’s fan base did upon its initial release. Indeed, Pinkerton
was released to weak sales and horrible critical acclaim, and only recently has been re-reviewed and welcomed by critics who now realize the album’s influence on modern music. An underground masterpiece, Pinkerton
is a 90’s classic, and it is very unfortunate that due to the album’s poor reception, the band redesigned its image into a bland radio-friendly group unwilling to take risks. Yet, despite their selling-out, Weezer has left us The Blue Album
, two relics of 90’s musical culture.
“I told you I would return
When the robin makes his nest,
But I ain’t never coming back.