Weezer are a band that divide opinion. Some see them as an overrated, juvenile power-pop group whose best days are long behind them. Others claim they are the seminal American alternative rock band of the last 25 years who consistently bring the goods with catchy melodies, quirky lyrics and funny videos.
I am more in the second camp. They do have some great stand alone singles and their videos (particularly ‘Buddy Holly’ & ‘Hash Pipe’) are brilliant. However fun and catchy their 2000s pop-oriented material is, one unfortunate fact remains undeniable. There was a time when Weezer were not just good. They were revolutionary.
In 1994 the Los Angeles natives burst onto the alternative scene with their groundbreaking Blue Album. That release featured both some of their popular, commercially successful and critically acclaimed songs. The afore mentioned ‘Buddy Holly’ and its accompanying Happy Days TV show-inspired video received near constant TV and radio play, while the albums opener ‘My Name Is Jones’ and the 5-minute epic ‘Undone – The Sweater Song’ both quickly became anthems for the ‘nerdier’ constituency of high school gen-xers, who didn’t see themselves represented in the dominant grunge scene at the time. In short, The Blue Album reshaped alternative rock genre by expanding its appeal and possibilities.
In this article however, I want to focus on its less talked about and sometimes simply forgotten follow up, the darker, heavier and, in my opinion, better sophomore effort Pinkerton (1996).
The amazing thing is Pinkerton was never meant to be. After the whirlwind rise to fame and endless touring to accompany The Blue Album, lead singer and songwriter Rivers Cuomo was totally burnt out and suffering from depression. He headed home for the holidays and, under pressure from fellow bandmates and the label, began work on a rock-opera called Songs from the Black Hole. However, the album wasn’t how he envisioned. A broken leg furthered his blues so he decided to enrol himself at Harvard University in 1995 and between his two terms he poured his feelings out onto the page and the end result was Pinkerton. The band wanted the album to be darker and heavier and, feeling like they couldn’t trust the label, they chose to produce it themselves. Heavily influenced by Japanese culture and the Puccini opera Madam Butterfly, the album was just what Cuomo wanted, but critics and fans were less enthused. Time makes fools of us all.
The album runs 34 minutes long and only features 10 songs. Here are my favorite three.
First up is the albums opening track ‘Tired of Sex’. Like the title suggests, the track sees Rivers lament the rock star lifestyle and the hedonistic excesses that come with fame. The bass rides the drums and as Rivers wails the chorus we know we are in for a totally different experience than the reserved Blue Album. The song should be taken with a grain of salt however, as Rivers now has two children.
Next is the frankly bizarre, Pixies inspired ‘El Scorcho’. The song took its name from a hot sauce packet Rivers saw in a Mexican restaurant and the lyrics are just as nonsensical as that inspiration might suggest. With wandering guitar riffs and improvised lyrics from all band members, it is little wonder this gem was a radio failure.
Lastly, we come to the best song on the album ‘The Good Life’. After he broke his leg, suffered from depression, mental exhaustion and a drag of a Harvard course, ‘The Good Life’ is understandably sarcastic with its upbeat tone and joyful lyrics. Another radio disaster, the track has since become a fan favourite as it shows Weezer’s ability to write catchy indie melodies with sardonic and self-deprecating lyrics. The song is one of the few on the album to become a live show mainstay.
Sadly, Pinkerton would be the bands last filler-less album for 18 years until the release of the fantastic Everything Will Be Alright in the End in 2014. Since then, four more albums of varying quality have come out of the Weezer factory, and while it’s nice to see the band still together and doing what they love after 27-years as a band, their first two releases remain the bands best. If you want songs about what it’s like to be a nerdy, awkward, socially isolated teenage dirt bag coming undone and having their knit-wear destroyed, then the Blue Album is the one for you. However, if you want something a little bleaker, heavier and more inwardly-focused then buy, stream or do whatever it takes to get your hands on the criminally underrated Pinkerton.
Last modified: 15th April 2020