I’m an unapologetic Weezer fan. I love everything they’ve done from Blue to Maladroit to Raditude to their new self-titled album, but Pinkerton is their inarguable masterpiece.
Pinkerton is equal parts creepy, sad, and cute; no matter what he spits, it’s most of all raw, and that’s what I’ve found that I love in my favorite lyricists. Inspired by the Madame Butterfly opera, Rivers Cuomo wrote his most deepest, darkest, most earnest, most despicable lyrics, and he’s never topped it in sincerity or rawness, and to be honest, they’ve never really tried, and that’s okay.
Just like Kevin Barnes adopting third-person personas following Cherry Peel, Rivers Cuomo has never opened his diary in his songs like he did here, and it’s easy to understand why – they album was slaughtered when it came out, and it was more or less disavowed by the band for a long time. Of course! If you scoop out your base emotions and everyone hates it, you’re going to distance yourself from that forever as well. It’s hard to imagine how they would have turned out had the album gotten the same kind of press then as it does now.
It’s a classic now for the same reasons that people didn’t like it in 1996 though. Everything about it is raw, from the lyrical content to the production (produced by Rivers Cuomo/Weezer themselves). It’s grimy from the first note, feedback everywhere, and it sounds musically like it does lyrically – it’s falling apart and tearing at the seams, while I’m not sure I’ve ever heard screams as sincere as Cuomo’s here, and just about every song ends with an insane gut-wrenching solo. But what’s funny is that Cuomo’s quirks are as evident here as they have been on every album – his “shakin’ booty” and “holy cow” lyrics – but there’s a sincerity that really gets to you and makes you uncomfortable even as you’re chuckling at the old-fashionedness of some of his phrases.
There’s a lot of broken hearts on this album, and honestly some of the lyrics are so special on here, because they detail specific feelings in relationships and longing, the kind of details that Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran won’t ever write about, the dirty parts and hate (both self-hate and hate for those who’ve wronged you), like No Other One – kind of a subversion of their first self-titled’s No One Else – which is oozing self-pity, or Pink Triangle, which recounts a story of falling in love with a lesbian woman. The absolute best example of this (and best song by the band as far as I’m concerned) though is Across the Sea, which doubles as the most uncomfortable song as well. It starts cute, showing how you can make a difference in someone’s life even from so far away, until it veers into strange territory as Cuomo is wondering what this teenage Japanese girl is wearing to school and how she touches herself, before wrapping it up with the intensely adorable line, “I’ve got your letter, you’ve got my song”.
What I love about the narration though is how the opening mission statement, Tired of Sex, fails in the end. He begins the album wanting love, and in the end, he fails completely on Butterfly: “I’m sorry for what I did / I did what my body wanted to / I didn’t mean to do you harm”. It’s devastating even after all the filthy thoughts he spilled throughout the album, and the live harp version is incredible.
I’m glad that Pinkerton has gotten its extremely merited status as a modern classic, and I hope that Weezer will finally get the good criticism they deserve. As amazing an album as this is, their career doesn’t end here, and I hope that their post-Pinkerton albums will get the 20th anniversary treatment that this one gets. It’s a doozy of a listen, but it’s one of the most important albums in modern rock music, more than just incredibly catchy melodies (already making it a classic, in my opinion). It’s an open diary, all the beautiful and ugly feelings that usually never see the light, and it’s a national treasure.