DGC Records, 1996
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/05/2010
It's one thing to have a discussion over the album that everyone loves and treasures. Talk to someone about Dark Side Of The Moon and the level of mutual respect is widely apparent. It's a classic, and has been ushered into the pantheon of great albums. Essays, books, films, and countless other projects have been dedicated to it. It's really no surprise that everyone loves it.
But get into a discussion with hardcore fan about other records, well, then you might have a fight on your hands. There is always that one record that failed to make an impact upon release, but over time slowly gathers critical acclaim and fan acceptance. Suddenly, that’s the album that all measures of fandom are judged upon. “What's that, you've never listened to Animals?” (continuing the Floyd theme I've got going so far). Inwardly, the inquirer has already begun to slot just where this ill-equipped challenger places by their definition of what it means to be a fan of _____.
With some groups, this process is much more complicated because there is not one album that fits the description. With Pink Floyd, one could argue for the early flailings of an Atom Heart Mother, or the latter day nihilism of The Final Cut. For others, a general consensus can be reached. When one looks at the discography of Weezer, one disc has come to symbolize this mythical tipping point. That album is named Pinkerton.
It would have been hard to resist the charms of Weezer circa 1994. Their singles were incredibly catchy and witty, with a firm foundation of power/pop and grunge to fit into the alternative scene that exploded during the early years of the decade. The brilliance of their video campaigns from the record only served to power the band to amazing heights. But as is so often with such rapid success; the question of “what comes next?” is difficult to answer.
Enigmatic frontman Rivers Cuomo certainly did not seem to have an answer for the question, and spent the next couple of years pondering the future life this rock career might bring. Undergoing surgery meant a steady diet of painkillers influenced the songwriting process, a process that resulted in an album diverging off in a very different path than their self-titled debut. It sounds incredibly clichéd, but Pinkerton is a classic example of a new artist dealing with success.
Pinkerton has been called one of the first “emo” albums. To put it mildly, that is not a title any record should aspire to, but closer inspection of Pinkerton shows that such statements are hyperbolic in nature. Cuomo is remarkably open with his songwriting, but not in a pathetic, self-pitying fashion. Eloquence was never Weezer's style, so it would be wrong to be expecting Dylan-esque levels of lyrics. Dark? Yes. Depressing? Most certainly. Decidedly a far cry from the more recent endeavors of “Beverly Hills” without question.
The most difficult obstacle to overcome when plowing through Pinkerton is dealing with the fact that the bright, sunny pop of the Blue Album is nowhere to be found. The minute “Buddy Holly” comes on over a speaker, it's clear that anyone within earshot will begin humming along. Were “Tired Of Sex” to play over that same speaker, the inevitable cries of “Turn that crap down!” would be soon to follow. Instant appeal is nowhere near this record; Pinkerton only started to worm its way into my subconscious after about two weeks of repeated listening. There are hooks there, but are buried below the grey and self-loathing. That makes this disc a difficult listen right off the bat, which most assuredly aided in its poor chart performance.
The vision Cuomo had for Pinkerton is not a happy one, nor a conventional one. How much one can enjoy this album depends entirely on how long the listener is willing to put up with the intensely personal lyrics and bleak production values. My memory originally had given me the impression that there was filler to be found on this album despite its running length of barely over a half hour. But on my final run through of the record, the analysis came back as follows: Pinkerton is the best album Weezer has recorded.
Was it that way on the first listen? Most certainly not. But after the inundation of the record that I put myself through over the past few weeks, certain realities came to light. First off, Cuomo took a risk in exposing himself in such a fashion, and it paid off. There is a starkness to the songwriting that many could connect with; celebrity is not something we all achieve but that feeling of isolation and drifting through life is.
Secondly, as much as I enjoy the pop confectionery that is “Buddy Holly” or “If You're Wondering If I Want You To (I Want You To,” I respect the art of a “El Scorcho,” or “Pink Triangle” moreso. Their chart fortunes may not have been promising, but once they reach a person they remain with them. Thirdly, the brevity of the record works in its favor to the nth degree. In the digital age many artists seek to run the running length of an album to 70 or so minutes. Cuomo spoke his piece, wrote his songs, and the thing was a half hour long. He said all he needed to in the perfect amount of time. It's been all downhill since then.