Pinkerton [Deluxe Edition]
[Rating: 4.5 stars]
Few albums define the dreaded “sophomore slump” more completely than Weezer’s Pinkerton. But few sophomore slump releases go on to define a band as completely as Pinkerton does Weezer. It’s geek rock’s holy grail courtesy of the sub-genre’s flagship band, and an album that, though rife with sincerity, songwriter Rivers Cuomo has seemed to run farther and farther away from ever since.
The follow-up to their star-making eponymous debut, Pinkerton was a record that captured a band at their most urgent, a songwriter in the throes of an emotional crisis, and in the process won the hearts and minds of a generation who identified with his pain and heard the band’s revved-up rock as a rallying call. Unfortunately for Weezer, that fan-appreciation wouldn’t reveal itself until years after the record’s 1996 release.
On Pinkerton, frontman Rivers Cuomo traded cute for complex. Gone were its predecessor’s carefree sentiments, kitschy videos, and slick production. In their place was a dark, emotional, messy record that documented Cuomo’s struggle to reconcile sudden stardom with pathological sexual frustration, telling the story of a grappling man-child for whom the rockstar indulgences of the good life – like shakin’ booty and makin’ sweet love – only made the pains of lovelorn pining that much worse. Over the course of the album’s first four tracks, Cuomo gets tired of sex, “gotten” by love, and only further frustrated by masturbation. In response, he spends the following six tracks torturing himself with romanticized visions of girls he can never have – whether it’s the Japanese teen who wins his heart (and his song) with a fan letter, or the lesbian with the pink triangle on her sleeve. It’s this narrative that makes Pinkerton the ultimate coming-of-age album, but it’s the band’s warts-and-all presentation that make it rock.
Just as the record shows Cuomo wearing his heart on his sleeve, it shows his ensemble in their most raw and uninhibited. A self-produced effort, Pinkerton sounds like an un-doctored live album – showing all the band’s seams, from out of tune guitar-monies to dragging drum fills. While it ain’t Buddy Holly and it ain’t pretty, it’s bursting with all the vigor and excitement of a kid trashing his or her own room with a skateboard – so much so that the cathartic presentation overtakes its bevy of hooks and sharp pop melodies.
Consequently, both of Pinkerton’s singles – the self-reflexive “El Scorcho” and self-deprecating “The Good Life” – were wholly ignored by MTV and radio. Adding insult to injury, Rolling Stone famously dismissed the record as a “juvenile tack on personal relationships,” and Cuomo realized that girls were perhaps the least of his problems.
Pinkerton’s failure to establish Cuomo as an artiste and reward his soul-bearing saw him and his band retreat to the wilderness for a five-year hiatus. In that time, a growing crop of late-coming fans rewrote the record’s place in history, only to have the band – so burned by said failure – re-emerge as one of the most decidedly vapid institutions in modern rock. Now, Pinkerton is vindicated with a double-disc, deluxe treatment that features 25 bonus tracks – all culled from a period in which the band had no bad songs. While many of those are radio remixes and live or alternate versions of the album’s ten cuts, long-loved B-sides and bootleg favorites like “You Gave Your Love To Me Softly” and “Devotion” can all finally be found in one place.