For me, being a Weezer fan is kind of like reconnecting with an abusive old friend. I think about the good times we had early on (The Blue Album, Pinkerton), see a glimmer of hope (“Keep Fishin’,” “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations of a Shaker Hymn)”) and get excited only to get hurt. I wish a pox on the people who told me Make Believe was the new Pinkerton. So it goes; with each successive album, Weezer continues to alienate me while still selling tons of records. I instantly regretted buying Raditude; I didn't bother with Hurley.
But somebody keeps buying these fucking albums. It’s something of a writing cliché to complain about how Weezer stopped being good after Pinkerton, and it makes me wonder how relevant that argument is anymore. I've met plenty of people who have never heard that record. Sure, everybody knows “El Scorcho,” but how many 14-year-olds know the words to “Butterfly” these days? My douchebag roommate's freshman year of college swore up and down that the back half of The Green Album was tops. Fucking “Beverly Hills” was the band’s first number one single. Pinkerton, by comparison, didn't go gold until 2001.
All of this puts the recent two-disc deluxe edition re-release of Pinkerton at a strange intersection of interests. As a jaded fan, this might be my last Weezer purchase (as of opposed to Raditude...or The Red Album...or Make Believe...). I get a handful of obscurities (“Tragic Girl,” plus some alternative mixes of varying quality). Current fans get a convenient tour through my favorite Weezer songs: The original 10 tracks and some fantastic B-sides (“Devotion,” “I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams”), plus a whole lot of live acoustic filler.
Pinkerton is Weezer’s semi-controversial second album, a concept record of sorts about dirty, hateful, self-indulgent sex. It was a commercial flop when it debuted in 1996 and the band later disowned it for a while. But it found favor with a newer, more emo generation a few years later. It first destroyed and then saved the band’s career, yet remains an artistic black sheep. It’s the rawest Weezer record, in terms of both lyrics and sound quality. You could draw a straight line of logic explaining the band’s pop-rock evolution from The Blue Album to Hurley were it not for this album.
For a certain group of people, Pinkerton is one of the most important records of all time. This is our Sgt. Pepper or Nevermind in that it sums up a lot of feelings from our youth, and in that it is simultaneously over- and underrated. It’s my favorite Weezer record, but I also agree that it can come off as misogynistic at times. A common complaint about emo music is that it turns women into whores/saints, and Pinkerton is guilty of both. A lot of these songs are about having meaningless sex and then bitching about it. The record’s best track, “Across the Sea,” is about frontman Rivers Cuomo getting off on the idea of a teenage Japanese fan masturbating, and that was my high school crush’s favorite song. Sometimes I wonder if I would love Pinkerton if it came out today.
Still, though, there are plenty of reasons to recommend this record. Sometimes I feel bad for current Weezer bassist Scott Shriner. He seems like a nice, funny guy, especially on the band’s Video Capture Device DVD. But his legacy is Raditude. Original bassist Matt Sharp is the one who provided bass for Pinkerton, and it’s the best low end of any Weezer record. Pinkerton isn't very glossy compared to the rest of the band’s output, and it’s better for it. It has a slight Pixies bent, with Sharp and drummer Pat Wilson delivering a deep, pulsing sound. The guitars are ugly, alternating between dissonant chords and squealing, uncomfortable solos. The guitar solos on The Blue Album are almost as catchy as the choruses; here, they sound like how Cuomo’s fragile ego feels. Sharp’s synth obsession from the Rentals bleeds into plenty of the songs.
As written before by plenty of people, Pinkerton is about loss and longing and sexual frustration. That’s ideal teen territory, and while some of the songs are uncomfortably honest, like opener “Tired of Sex,” there’s still some fun to be had, like on infectious single “El Scorcho.”
I wonder how Pinkerton would have gone over in the ’90s, though, if the track listing had been switched around. The B-sides that supplement the first disc seem like more obvious singles, if only because they sound less hurt. “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly” is a fast and forceful number, and while it’s still pretty emo, it’s not overwhelmingly so. It features a memorable set of hooks, a “la la la” chorus and this insanely awesome cut-time break near the end of every chorus that gets better every time the band returns to it. It’s like a bridge between the pop perfection of The Blue Album and the sadness and anger of Pinkerton. Same goes for “I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams,” featuring former Rentals/That Dog member Rachel Haden on lead vox.
The essential material for this re-release could have filled a single disc. There’s a needless parade of live material from various radio promotions; most of them are boring and inferior to their studio counterparts. Being a native of the Philadelphia area, I hold a soft spot for the three songs presented from the band’s Y100 Sonic Session performance from 1997, but I wish the band had just issued the whole show on a separate release and instead included more material from the band’s aborted Songs from the Black Hole record. Granted, a decent amount of that material has surfaced on Cuomo’s Alone demo series, and according to the liner notes, some songs like “Superfriend” have been lost, but it’s maddening how many times the band includes “Pink Triangle,”, with single edits and live acoustic versions nearly killing what was once one of my favorite songs. Besides, this new version of “Longtime Sunshine” references “Blast Off!”, which makes me wonder if there’s a higher quality version sitting in the vaults.
As is, the live stuff ruins the otherwise great first disc, and renders most of the second disc dull. Still, the second disc picks up near the end, first with some alternate mixes of “Butterfly” and “Longtime Sunshine” that are actually good, and then some legitimate rarities. “Getting Up and Leaving” and “Tragic Girl” have never been released until now, and while they don’t top Pinkerton proper or its B-sides, they beat out almost everything Weezer has issued in the last decade.
I hate assigning numerical values to records. Most of the time, I feel like I’m pulling numbers out of my ass. Pinkerton’s first disc is far and away a perfect five-star affair. You get almost all of the best songs of the Pinkerton era, and it’s unfortunate that the remaining winners, like “You Won’t Get with Me Tonight” from Buddyhead’s Gimme Skelter compilation, get relegated to the more ho-hum second CD. It’s this glut of useless material that kills the record’s success. You really only need 23 out of the album’s 35 tracks, and even then I’m being generous by including the 38-second piano interlude from “Across the Sea.” By my estimate, that means 66 percent of the album is worth hearing, but this is still fucking Pinkerton. So let’s call this a four-star record; forget that Death to False Metal also came out this week and go complain about something else.