14 years after its release, Pinkerton has become a weird singularity. In 1996, it was hated. In 2006, it was on “Best of the 90s” lists. In 2001, Rivers Cuomo called it, “A hugely painful mistake”. This winter, he’s playing it live in its entirety.
To be fair, Pinkerton had to be terrifying upon its first 1996 listen. It’s is this 35-minute wave of fuck up filled with guitars distorted beyond recognition, raw drums, awkward lyrics, and rip your heart out confessions. None of these elements on their own were particularly new (see: In Utero, which is a damn good comparison), but coming from the guys that did “Buddy Holly”, it had to be jarring.
But underneath all that, it is awesome. Even among great bands, there’s very rarely an album that’s nothing but everyone at their best, but that’s what Pinkerton is. As a band, Weezer snaps with precision between calm and explosive with a fire that their imitators lack. Matt Sharp was never the greatest bassist, but his backing vocals and contributions are the added flourishes missing from later Weezer records. Brian Bell didn’t believe in a bad riff or turning it up too loud. And Pat Wilson’s beaten-bare, unforgiving drums are a highlight. But it’s Cuomo’s show. It’s his confessional lyrics, cathartic delivery, crazy riffs, and overall manic neurotic stage presence that make Pinkerton such a memorable album.
The lyrics are painfully personal, but not in that Taylor Swift “I’m opening my diary” kind of way. The protagonist here isn’t afraid of letting lose on himself (check the uncomfortable honesty of “Across the Sea”, “I wonder what clothes you wear to school/I wonder how you decorate your room/I wonder how you touch yourself/And curse myself for being the cause”). “El Scorcho” (which could soundtrack any Boy-Likes-Girl movie of the past fifteen years) sees him taking a few jabs at himself, while “No Other One” is about that special kind of hatred that comes from a codependent relationship, and even though it’s amazingly catchy it isn’t hard to imagine Cuomo staring at himself in the mirror and shouting “Get your life together” on “The Good Life. Part of what makes Pinkerton‘s lyrics so uncomfortable is that we don’t even like saying these things to ourselves.
But this is still an amazing album. The fuzzed out, live-from-your-living-room mix is pure 90s alternative rock, and the band is absolutely on fire on these songs. “Tired of Sex” builds from a few parts into an explosive, messy declaration with a killer solo. “Why Bother” is self-defeateing cynicism set to fuzz-buried pop. Penultimate “Falling For You” is a shockingly technical number catchy as it is fun. And even after dozens of listens, “Across the Sea” still has that tearjerker chorus that’ll get to anyone that’s ever missed anyone. “Butterfly” ends the album on a shockingly calm note; the lone acoustic number shifts awkwardly next to nine other grunge pop spaz attacks.
The deluxe edition yields a rewarding if slightly empty return for the extra it costs. There’s 25 additional songs here, but 15 of them are either live, acoustic, or remixed takes on songs that are already on Pinkerton. The rest take the form of the album’s stellar B-sides; longtime favorites “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly”, “Devotion”, and “I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams”, as well as seven more, are all present and accounted for. While they’re nothing particuarly rare (or even really new; diehards acquired these online awhile ago), they make up for it by being really freaking good. This isn’t really after-thought material; it’s the complete Pinkerton package, one last gift to the people who said goodbye after they heard “Hash Pipe”. Or “Beverly Hills”. Or “Everybody Get Dangerous”. You get the idea. Five stars.
tl;dr: It’s a classic with extra live tracks and some kickass B-sides. C’mon.