Weezer – Pinkerton (1996)

Much maligned on its initial release, Pinkerton has risen to become the tottering, messy, gloriously riotous peak of Weezer’s career. Strong statement that, but bear with me: you see, this is where Rivers Cuomo delved into the deeply personal, the band shunned outside help, and the rawest music they’ve ever released, to my knowledge, blinked its intellectual eyes in the Massachusets sun and wandered into my heart.

Just like OK Computer, I missed this by about 11 years – bought last year, as the only Weezer album I owned, the second self-titled/Green album had always been described as the reaction to Pinkerton, the opposite, almost. Reading up on it, I found out that Pinkerton was written and recorded after Cuomo had had surgery on his legs, and had popped back to Harvard to finish his education. As you do.

Opening with ominous guitars that buzz like synths, pulsing rhythms, and a song called Tired Of Sex, this is not “Buddy Holly”, teenyboppers. Decrying his lack of love, and hating on the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, shouting, and generally causing one hell of a racket, including, yes, an actual head-scratcher of a guitar solo (Rivers, I knew you had it in you), Cuomo bares all. Is it emo? It’s certainly emotional, and a hell of a lot more honest than the fancy word play and posturing of the current emo scene… but that’s a rant for another time.

It’s not always clear, but this is a loose concept album. Originally built as a space/sci-fi thing, then getting turned into its current vague form as an adaptation of Madame Butterfly (Puccini, if you were wondering), there are certain tracks that follow the plot – Across The Sea, and Butterfly, most explicitly. Calling it Pinkerton, after the spy agency, and more importantly, the (anti?) hero of the opera, plonks the album firmly within the concept, which extends to the artwork, Japanese flavoured as it is.

The yearning and longing do tally with the tone of the opera, but of course, are closely related to the turmoil in Cuomo’s life. No Other One is a bittersweet look at a crazy relationship, but as with Getchoo, the heavier, buzzier, and nastier guitars spit and strut all over the place, with backing vocals I can only call endearingly sloppy. The songs don’t so much have the sweet riffs of the pop-punk of the two self titled efforts that bookend Pinkerton, but pummel, and lay down punkish progressions to give a backdrop to Cuomo’s musings… hell, maybe it is emo!

Why Bother? I don’t know, and neither does Rivers, building up the pathos and depression till we get to the frankly weird Across The Sea. Obsessing over a Japanese schoolgirl and her letter, in what I have been led to understand is a fairly autobiographical incident, Across The Sea is unsettlingly good as a yearning love song, with Oriental instruments, and kicks off the incredibly powerful, successful and brilliant middle section of the record. With lyrics like “at 10 I shaved my head and tried to be a monk… it’s all your fault mama” this digs deep, really deep, into his psyche.

The Good Life and El Scorcho complete a trio of songs that simply astound me lyrically. The former, a sardonic take on the showbiz lifestyle, that still contains the true longing of a life back with his band, his friends and away from the self imposed exile he put himself in at Harvard, drips with honesty, groove and wit. Oh, and it’s also a brilliant tune, with a great arrangement. El Scorcho, on the other hand, is more of a bouncing along, yearning love song – kicking off with the great line “Goddam! you half Japanese girls do it to me every time, and the red head said you shred the cello, well I’m jello baby” it examines Cuomo’s relationship with the previously mentioned half-Japanese girl. Being “a lot like you”, he reads her diary, swoons when she doesn’t know who Green Day are and generally has a ball.

All I have to say about Pink Triangle is that it’s the only song I know with the word lesbian in the chorus, that doesn’t sound out of place, juvenile or is taking the piss. Not a great tune, by the standards of the album, but then, one out 10 isn’t a bad rate of return. Falling For You, whilst once again, a comedown from the grand peaks of the middle section, is a successful album track. Not exactly the biggest compliment, but it fits, it works, and its chorus is a killer.

Butterfly, though, closes the album on a completely different aesthetic note to the previous 9 tracks. An acoustic strum, coming after the electric storm of the album, builds a slow story of loss, pain and regrets about the relationship, where he’s been “chasing Butterfly”, lamenting his actions and neatly tying up the concept, and its relationship to his own troubles, tribulations and experiences at Harvard.

More punk than pop, more rock than roll, more buzz and thrash than riff and melody, this album saw Weezer rubbished in Rolling Stone, slump to awful sales, and scare Cuomo into returning to Harvard (again) and bottling up the anger, the emotion and churning out the seeming return to form that the Green album was seen as. Slow sales don’t mean bad sales, and the album picked up, the fans grew to love it, and it’s place in the Weezer canon was assured.

8/10

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