Weezer’s Pinkerton: the world’s most misunderstood album

Chloe McCarthy ’18, Feature/Opinion Editor

When most people think of music from the 90’s, they probably think of Nirvana and old-school rappers like Tupac and Biggie Smalls. Throw away your preconceived notions about rockstars and rappers getting all the girls, fame, and glory they could ever dream of. Because bubbling underneath the surface of these mega-genres lies a genre that often goes overlooked:  nerd rock.

The wave of post-grunge 90s alternative rock made popular by Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Third Eye Blind, and many more provided a much-needed breath of fresh air after the heaviness of the grunge era in the decade’s early years. These bands provided a sort of radio-friendly, half-happy, half-sad style of music that the grunge era lacked. But these bands still carried a sense of rockstar status, or at least a sense of “yeah, I’m in a famous rock band, so what?”

Enter, Weezer.

Weezer is comprised of lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist Rivers Cuomo, drummer Pat Wilson, bassist Matt Sharp, and guitarist Brian Bell, who replaced the band’s original guitarist Jason Cropper. The band released their debut self-titled album in May, 1994. The album, much to the band’s surprise, was a critical and commercial hit; the music video for Buddy Hollyin particular catapulted the band into the spotlight. “We saw our audiences change from intelligent, hip-looking people to complete jocks who just came because they saw the video,” guitarist Brian Bell admitted to The Toronto Star in 1996.

Cuomo, being a painfully-shy and awkward 22-year-old, decided to take a few steps back and enroll in college, and he attended Harvard University the next fall. Cuomo also underwent a surgery to correct the disproportionality in his left leg, which left him in immense physical and emotional suffering. It was during this comedown from instant-fame the band’s sophomore album Pinkerton started to brew.

Chances are, if you have heard of Weezer, you probably heard the song Beverly Hills (“Beverly Hills, that’s where I want to be!”) or maybe Island in the Sun. To put it lightly, Pinkerton did not face such commercial success. So, how poorly was Pinkerton received? Rolling Stone magazine called it the third-worst album of 1996. Critic Rob O’Connor said of the album, “As a songwriter, the band’s singer and guitarist, Rivers Cuomo, takes a juvenile tack on personal relationships. Throughout Pinkerton, he pines for all the girls he can’t have, the girls he can have but shouldn’t, the girls who are no good for him and the girls about whom he just isn’t sure.”

But the most brutal critic of all was Rivers Cuomo himself. “It’s a hideous record. It was such a hugely painful mistake that happened in front of hundreds of thousands of people and continues to happen on a grander and grander scale and just won’t go away. It’s like getting really drunk at a party and spilling your guts in front of everyone and feeling incredibly great and cathartic about it, and then waking up the next morning and realizing what a complete fool you made of yourself.”

So what could possibly be so awful about this album? The album tackles very unglamorous themes, such as isolation, emotional suffering, and many failed romantic endeavors. The songs do not try to sugarcoat these themes, or even make them poetic or artistic– the lyrics are almost too revealing of Cuomo’s innermost turmoil. The music certainly sounds like songwriting from a depressed, lonely, and shy soul. The instrumentation on the album has an unpolished feel, and the album contains hardly any radio-friendly, smooth jams. Some fans have even theorized that the album was produced with the intent to ruin the band’s career and remove them from the abrasive spotlight.

Weezer went on a lengthy hiatus following Pinkerton’s release, and the future of the band was looking quite dismal. But then, in 2001, Cuomo set out to create the anti-Pinkerton: Weezer (Green Album), an album he hoped would rely more on musical prowess and less on raw, emotional diction. Though the album received generally positive reviews, perhaps the most notable impact of Weezer: Green Album was its effect on audiences’ perception of Pinkerton. Even though the album was supposed to be a rebound after the so-called disastrous Pinkerton, audiences actually ended up feeling nostalgic for the intense emotional lyrics of the Weezer of the past. Audiences realized they were missing all the elements of Weezer’s music they claimed they hated.

Cuomo, however, did not warm up to the sudden surge of Pinkerton praise. During the promotion of Green Album, Cuomo said in an interview, “The most painful thing in my life these days is the cult around Pinkerton. It’s just a sick album. Sick in a diseased sort of way.”

Alas, a serious change in the public’s perception of Pinkerton was already underway. Rolling Stone, the same magazine that called it the third worst album of 1996, named it the 16th greatest album of all time in 2002. The album currently has a 100/100 on Metacritic.com. “Almost 15 years on it remains a stereo regular, and loved like the day it was delivered, awkwardly and self-consciously, into a world that didn’t know what to do with it,” BBC Music said.

The story of Weezer’s Pinkerton exposes the gray area in the public’s reception of music, and, in certain cases, our over-reliance on music critics’ opinions. Every once in awhile an album as unflinchingly personal and emotional as Pinkerton comes along that polarizes audiences. They say hindsight is 20/20; perhaps that is exactly true in this album’s case. Only after the confused reception of the album settles can we fully appreciate the music, free from the critics’ judgement and worst-album lists. There is a valuable lesson here: the enjoyability of music is founded on one’s ability to connect with it. If an album exudes those connections, by all means, enjoy the heck out of it. And who knows? Maybe in 20 years it will be hailed as one of the greatest albums of all time– if not, at least it will own a spot on your greatest albums of all time.

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

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