Review Summary: A rant more than anything else. Rip it to shreds if you must.
I told a girl I loved her once. She had a boyfriend at the time. To make matters worse, I over-estimated the liberal values and tolerance of my peers by openly mentioning that I had feelings for girls & boys. In my bizarre reverie, not only did I tell this girl I had feelings for her, but that I also had feelings for her boyfriend. And went into some intimate detail of the threesome we would have. What else did I expect? Not surprisingly, she cut off all contact with me for quite some time, eventually relenting due to the circumstance of sharing a class with her a few years down the line. I got more than I deserved for that stunt, honestly, as if she just stopped talking to me that would have been fine.
Now you are probably wondering why I told you this. You had no reason to know that, and you probably feel uncomfortable after reading it. Well, because this incident made for some basic, cringeworthy song lyrics which I wrote in my spare time, mere pale imitations of my then musical influences. I hated myself, I wanted to die, it is all my fault, it is all your fault though, etc. However, because I had sense and the songwriting process did more harm than good, I burnt them. Anyone wanting to read my material would have to read something else, something better, something more mature. I met the love of my life and got married at the ripe age of twenty, a few weeks before turning twenty-one. Now I am twenty-two. I am still pretty young but I do not recognise myself from even two years ago, let alone the seven that have elapsed since the disaster with the girl and her meathead boyfriend (in hindsight, he wasn't even my type). Still, I wanted to see if the music I used to binge at this time still stacked up to my older, though not necessarily wiser, ears.
Some did. Dude Ranch did. Dookie did. Crash Diagnostic did. Some didn't. Pinkerton didn't, and that one hurt most of all. A deeply personal, therapeutic album which helped me cope with the crazy world around me, a vulnerable and pathetic man reaching out to a vulnerable and pathetic boy, giving me a pat on the shoulder and helping me cry myself to sleep. It comes with deep regret and a heavy heart to say that I regret ever liking - let alone loving - this album.
Pinkerton is the token 90s angst album. It ticks the boxes for sure: whiny vocals, "raw and honest" lyricism, brick walled drums, and loud, muddy guitars. So closely does it follow this formula that I would call Pinkerton one of the most quintessential 90s albums. Please do not interpret this as a compliment. It is indicative of its era, but rather, indicative of the trappings that the music tended to suffer from. Even my favourite bands of that decade fall into this bracket somewhat, i.e. Sunny Day Real Estate, Hum, Nirvana, Unwound. But they actually wrote consistently amazing music in spite of, or because of, these shortcomings. They had memorable and well written songs. Weezer's, on the other hand, only work well in a power pop kind of way, and once they started deviating from the adorkable dweeb stuff from their (rather good) debut album into more noise rock/experimental/emo waters, that's when the wheels fell off.
For some reason, Weezer took the Nirvana route, through and through, by having a commercially appealing album - even with a nice blue cover - followed by the "creator breakdown" album. So meticulous and so calculated is this move that it undermines the very point of why Cuomo made Pinkerton: to get his problems off of his chest, no matter who was there to listen to it. Well, hate to break it to you, but he only u-turned on Pinkerton when everyone u-turned on Weezer upon its release. He did it again once there was that wave of critical reappraisal. Oh yeah, he "changed his mind because he's human", but it ain't a coincidence why he changed his mind and when. Pinkerton was intended for a wider audience despite being outwardly anti-commercial, Pinkerton was intended to follow that Nirvana/Pearl Jam pattern to get more cred from critics and rake in that $$$, and Pinkerton is not as raw a piece of work as its reputation suggests.
Sorry, I'm supposed to be talking about the music. I almost forgot about that, considering the music is not the point of the album. Of course it isn't. It's all about Rivers' feelings. Now, props to the guy for having the balls to even write this, let alone release it on a major label. That's something most of us can't do. And, to an extent, I admire those who channel their honest feelings and their flaws into something artful. The only problem is, I don't like the end result.
The idolatry and post-mortem circle jerk that this album gets is astonishing as it is macabre. I could go down the irreverent route and say that Pinkerton's defenders tend to keep journals, stained either by tears or semen of regret, or maybe a bit of both. I could actually critique this album on the same level as any other. Either way I'll upset someone so why bother. It's gonna hurt me. I am no stranger to personal albums where the artist confronts themselves and, I suppose, exposes their weaknesses. Most of my favourite albums do this, so Pinkerton is not kryptonite in that regard. Instead, it comes down to the manner in which Weezer conduct this navel gazing and the end result. Pinkerton inspires a sense of uncomfortable voyeurism, where I feel Rivers' pain but I almost don't want to. There is also a tone of insincerity about that pervades the lyrics, of faux self deprecation to garner sympathy, to make the listener feel bad simply because he does, too.
Not that I am unaccustomed to or not used to this narcissistic approach of making music. The Cure's seminal album, Pornography, is a messed up ego trip. It's tough explaining the appeal to anyone, as it is tough I suppose to explain why Pinkerton relates to so many. But the takeaway from Pornography is that it is saved by self-awareness, and a strive to change. Pinkerton does not, despite how it tries so hard to be humorous and self-aware. It's like saying some awful crap and being like, "just kidding! I'm such a saddo lol anyway wanna bang" Now, I am bearing in mind that this could be a concept album. After all, the album is named after a character in the opera Madame Butterfly who supposedly loves Asian woman. Maybe then Rivers is playing a character on this album. Even still, it is not a very good character, and the story is clunky.
Putting this album on once more makes me realise that I do not even care for my old favourites. Tired of Sex is peak "weird flex but ok". Getchoo is just obnoxious. No Other One and Why Bother are just no there for me anymore. The try hard nature of these songs, and the predictably loud choruses, actually make me wish to hear nu metal instead. And what is up with the obnoxious "uh huhs" and the falsetto on these songs. It sounds like The Beach Boys on quaaludes. Such charm was evident on The Blue Album, but that album was mildly enjoyable. This...thing, though, it ain't.
Ok, so this isn't the worst thing ever. For a start, I do honestly think Tired of Sex has a cool riff and uses its dynamics well, in spite of the lyrics. Also, The Good Life is actually quite catchy and I approve of the slowed down section with Hawaiian style guitars. The lyrics of cheeky nostalgia are somewhat refreshing. On a musical level, Pink Triangle is the best track here by some distance, with quotable if still awkward lyrics. I'll get into that later. Also, at only 34 minutes long, it's not like this album drags on too much. If anything, it goes by pretty quickly. Like ripping a band aid off of your penis.
Believe me, I am not offended very often. I find the whole idea of being offended to be overused and prone to losing its meaning. Yet, I must say that Pinkerton offends me the most on one level: the lyrics. These lyrics range from being mediocre emo trash to downright horrible. I would cite lyrical references, but every track has some corny line, or plea for attention, or just plain ol' misogyny. Not the kind of misogyny which has been made trivial and is, like offense, thrown around too often when you can't argue the points of the opposing side. No, I am talking legitimate, "women are sex objects" AC/DC misogyny. And you could single out Tired of Sex as Rivers recognising himself doing this, and in fact the entire album presents its narrative as a man realising what an arsehole he is, but he doesn't change across the record. He does not atone nor strives for change. If anything, he gets worse and tries to justify his arsehole nature.
For those of you who uphold art and artist separation, it's a bit difficult to do that when the art is self-centred around the artist. Kind of like excusing what Kanye West says in his songs when they more or less match his bizarre and outspoken views. As for the misogyny point that gets people riled up, including myself to some degree, I also appreciate that Rivers' expression of his own insecurities at the time with women is as valid as any expression. My issue is that I simply do not think it holds up across an entire album. And you can call me a hypocrite considering the music I listen to and indeed a lot of the viewpoints expressed by those artists - Kanye West especially, or the Rolling Stones, or to an extent Lennon's Beatles songs in the early years - but I actually like/love these songs regardless of lyrical content. Even discounting the lyrics of Pinkerton, which is like discounting the lyrics of a Dylan album because the whole thing is about his lyrics, the music ain't much bud. Just generic alt rock.
On Across the Sea, the longest song on this album, he imagines what this pen pal schoolgirl in Japan "wears to school", "how [she] decorate[s] [her] room", and "how [she] touch[es] herself". Oh, of course, honest and swell Rivers "curses" himself but he is a slave to his own instinct, that of viewing not merely women but other people as his play thing. He then goes further down the nonsensical poetry road over sappy piano about how he wanted to "be a monk", because the "other women would like me if I did". Ok then. No song of this calibre would be complete with an obligratory Oedipal reference: "it's all your fault, mama!"
This only worsens on the plodding drum anthem El Scorcho, which boasts some of the worst songwriting on any commercially released album. Congratulations. I mean, it has it all - not keeping time unintentionally (don't @ me with that "Patrick Wilson knew what he was doing" crud), obnoxious vocals, dated 90s references, a diss at Green Day which would have been appropriate now but not in prime era mid 90s, and worst of all - ooh another buzzword I am on fire!!! - casual racism. Oh yeah, Rivers damns all "half Japanese girls" who are able to "shred the cello, baby." Yeesh. Intentional or not, what a stupid lyric. Add in a drunken chorus singalong, a pointless hardcore bridge, and the worst lyric of all time - "I'll bring home the turkey if you bring home the bacon" - and bam! You've got the cherry on the crap sundae. The most revealing bit of the track? How Rivers promises to "make a record of my songs". Well, he certainly did, but he didn't promise it'd be any good.
The above is part of the problem though. Just because Rivers could make a record of his songs, and indeed he did and has done for some time, it doesn't mean that he should.
Pink Triangle's strong start and even its funny opening chorus line - "I'm dumb, she's a lesbian" is actually a great lyric - is ruined by going too far. Yes, too far for me. For the uninitiated, a pink triangle was a badge of shame which homosexuals in Nazi concentration camps had to wear. Now, in a Dead Kennedys or a Brainbombs songs, this would be used to satirical effect to reflect the hypocrisies of the moral majority 80s. In more serious, earnest hands, it would be a straight song about the suffering of those people at that time. How does Rivers use this symbol? In a song where he moans that a woman won't ever be attracted to him because she isn't attracted to men. I am willing to accept the fact that he didn't know the reason behind the symbol and only knew it as an identity badge for lesbians. It doesn't really matter at the end of the day, but it's still pretty awkward once you know the origin of the symbol.
And of course, I don't think I can write a review of Pinkerton without mentioning the infamous line - "everyone's a little queer/but can't she be a little straight". It's well written and witty, sure, but goddman, Rivers. What an arsehole thing to say.
In fact, Rivers Cuomo presents himself as a massive wanker across the entire album who has his own emotional issues but just comes across as undeserving of help and support. A stubbornly solitary prick who wants to be alone and yet doesn't. If Butterfly, the sappy acoustic closer, is anything to go by, he will never change. That song is tailor made for cheaters, the apology-undone-by-a-but anthem for those who say no offense before offending and those who say with all due respect before showing disrespect. "I did what my body told me to?" Screw you, you're just an arsehole trying to play people and you got caught. The apology at the end of this ditty also sounds more out of obligation than regret. That, in essence, is Pinkerton: an insecure and insincere album made by an insecure person. This may be a band effort, but this is forever tarnished by and associated with its key songwriter.
Before you ask, no, this isn't Incelcore. Not everything with emotionally troubled male narratives is Incelcore. The more you keep calling it this and the more you apply Nice Guy TM to it, the less likely men who go through this are to actually talk about their feelings and move on. Pinkerton is the result of a man who had no one to turn to, so in a sense his shame is everyone else's. In fact, the album projects a lot of self-loathing and self-hatred which I can still relate to. What I cannot relate to is how Rivers projects his own hatred onto others, which is conducted in a way that is pretty low. It feels like this album presents itself as a confession only to get the response it wants to hear. It wants you to say, "wow, Rivers, thank you for sharing with us your Oedipal complexes, shallow views of women, and how pre-occupied you are with not getting any", with no exception. It's the kind of album where if you actually said, "yeah, actually, you're right; you are a jerk and you should deal with the consequences of your actions", it would flip out and just blame you instead. A living, breathing dumpster fire of a thing.
I can't believe I used to love this album. Actually, I can. It is just really embarrassing to think I was once like this. Alas, I have grown older, and whilst I still laugh at fart jokes and pull silly faces and do weird stuff, I no longer feel the need to be a desperate arsehat when it comes to love or sex. And neither should anyone after a period of time. It is vital but should not be eternal. And, hey, maybe Rivers has found someone. After all, he has poo-pooed this album - that lasted, though, until the random and bizarre critical appraisal this album got, especially by Rolling Stone (the font of all knowledge amirite) which gave this one the full five. Then Rivers was like "yeah I like Pinkerton now". I guess he finally got the intended reaction.
In this age of cancel culture and "problematic" retroactive analysis, I don't think that Pinkerton should be removed or purged or anything like that, but I do find its influence on subsequent pop punk and emo to be hindering, as its stereotypical portrayals of love, sex and gender were outdated even by 1996. There was a reason the album was left in the dust upon release and it should have stayed there.
More than anything else, I need to move on. This is, what, my sixth attempt at a review of some dumb album that I thought changed my life but obviously didn't change it enough, which I am glad about. At the time, I could relate to Rivers and could relate to his feelings. To some extent, as an awkward POS I still do. I felt that way about women, other people and myself, and it was unhealthy and it damn near destroyed me. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Besides, if you are a young man or woman or in-between who is affected by issues expressed in my review, either ones which affect me now or affected me then, please speak with me because I would love to help out whenever I can. If you find that Pinkerton has helped you, then that's great. It just doesn't help me anymore and, to be honest with you, I don't think it helped me in the first place.