Wednesday, March 17, 2010

SONGS #86-95: PINKERTON (whole album)

Weezer, 1996

One of the side benefits of compiling a 20K song list is that you also end compiling a list of your favorite albums by default.  If you keep 5+ songs from an album, chances are you like it.  If you keep all the songs, then it's one you really love.

If you haven't done this exercise with your own collection, I highly recommend it, because you discover how much you love certain albums more than you think you do.  If you had told me that Weezer would put a whole album in my iPod, I would have been surprised, even though Pinkerton has been one of my favorite albums of the last five years or so.  But if I'm honest about how much I like these ten songs, and how well I think they hold together, then the whole album belongs right here.

I cannot pretend to have purchased Pinkerton in 1996, instantly loved it, and waited for the rest of the world to catch up.  I did buy Weezer's first album before "Undone" or "Buddy Holly" exploded.  I bought it because of "My Name Is Jonas."  I was browsing CDs at CIty Discs in Greenbrae (now a David M. Brian, like most good record stores) and the track title made me laugh out loud, so I listened to it (City Discs was the first CD store in town that let you listen before you buy) and liked the first thirty seconds enough to pick it up.  To be honest, I was unimpressed at first.  The songs seemed too slow to me, and as a result the album felt a little long.  Once they blew up, I shelved it and didn't listen to it for about ten years.  Now that the songs aren't being pushed down my throat, and I'm a little older and don't need all my rock to be 100 miles an hour, it's a solid listen, but if they'd never made another album, I probably would have forgotten it altogether.

When Pinkerton came out, I wasn't enough of a fan to buy it without checking it out first.  This time, the first song title made me laugh, and not in a good way.  "Tired Of Sex?"  Well, good for you, famous musician.  And the reviews were scathing, some of the worst a major band has ever received.  I think it's a tie between Weezer and Train as to which benign band got savaged more by critics in the 90s.  The reviews of Pinkerton went beyond music criticism.  If you go to Rolling Stone's website now, you can see their five star revisionist history review from 2004, but in '96, everyone HATED this record.  So I never bothered to buy it or even listen to it.  Stories of Rivers having a breakdown, joining a cult, even going to Harvard (yeah, right) started to circulate.  I wrote them off for good.

Flash forward to 1998, and I'm at Camden Market in London trolling for European bootlegs to take home.  One booth is playing something that instantly grabs my attention.  It's got a great, jagged guitar riff and the band sounds like it has a sense of humor.  When I roll by later, it's obviously the same record, and this time it's a loud, terrific pop song.  I ask the guy who it is, and it's Weezer.  By that time, I was out of money, so I just said "Huh.  Weezer." and promised myself that I'd remember to check out the album back home.  I didn't.

In 2000, Weezer re-emerged, and I thought "Hash Pipe" was the greatest single I'd heard in a long time.  I went to buy the "Green" album, and there was a copy of Pinkerton in the used rack for a dollar, so i grabbed it.  Even then, it took a week or so before I actually put it on, and when I did, I had what I imagine is most people's reaction: just what was wrong with this album in the first place?  It turns out that "Tired Of Sex" is as honest a diary entry of a song as anyone can write, with bold, loud drums production and an unforgettable keyboard drone.  

From there, the album just cooks.  "Getchoo" is the song that Husker Du never had the sense of humor to record, "Why Bother?" is one of my favorite unrequited love songs, and "El Scorcho" is the song that I'd loved back in England.  Great song after great song, with weird, wonderful production choices.  It feels a little claustrophobic, which is perfect for all of these bizaare, confessional songs.

If you need a place to start, try "Pink Triangle," which I think is a little slice of genius and sums up so much of Cuomo's (and my) generation's awkwardness with sexual identity.  I can remember back in college a major incident involving the desecration of a pink triangle.  In the melee that followed, it was clear that sexuality was still more of a concept than a feeling for a lot of people.  I moved to the Bay Area a few months later, and in my first years in the city, I dated a few bisexual women.  I fell pretty hard in one case, and when she told me that she was going to go "strictly women," I was crushed.  When I heard Rivers sing "Everyone's a little queer / why can't she be a little straight?," a decade later in this song, I burst out laughing, because it was EXACTLY what I had felt.  I was happy for her, and sad for me.

In addition to being a great story about unrequited, confused love in a bisexual age, "Pink Triangle" also explores that space between who we think we are and the symbols we choose to represent ourselves.  Personally, I feel like the pink triangle served people in a similar way to the "3" on the back of a pickup; it revealed a cultural reference point more than anything, and since Pinkerton is all abut Cuomo's sense of distance from everyone, it would make sense that a song about discovering that your new crush is gay and that your place in the world might not be what you think it is would focus on the symbol of sexuality rather than the person herself.  That's what dominates this album-- Cuomo spends the whole record trying to make connections with people and completely failing.  The record feels lost, and it was; it didn't sound right in 1996, it said what it had to say without Generation X irony or detachment, and it eviscerated the idea of rockstar "cool."  

Cuomo comes off as a neurotic narcissist who is an island unto himself.  Which he was, and is-- Pinkerton is the sound of the voices we have in our own heads at 1:30am when we're alone with our own crazy thoughts, obsessing over the things that have bothered us for decades.  Think of it as a male, rocking, singalong version of Joni Mitchell's Blue.

Finally, in a completely unrelated note for you college basketball fans, I picked Butler to the final four.  

LINK:    (Pink Triangle)


  1. Our high school band wanted to cover Pinkerton songs so badly, but they just exceeded our attention span when it came to actually learning the material, so we gravitated towards Green Album tunes instead. I'm pretty sure "Across the Sea" permanently damaged my hearing during my first year of college. Great pick!

  2. Butler Jeff? Butler? Anyways, I can't say I've ever liked Weezer much, though I do have Buddy Holly on my iTunes. However, when it comes to compiling my favorite albums I am a total geek. I've done my top 100 a couple times and also enjoy realizing that I love albums more than I thought I did (The New Pornographers' Twin Cinema is always one of those). I'm excited to see what other albums make the list.

  3. Twin Cinema is on my list as well. Having a Top 1000 is truly geek heaven. I've been picking a random album in the 600s all this week to listen to. Last night it was X's Wild Gift.

  4. Although most everyone I talk to says Pinkerton is in their top 3 Weezer albums (the Blue Album almost universally being #1), I've never been able to get into it. My favorites would be Blue Album, Maladroit, and Green Album, but maybe I'll give Pinkerton another listen through.

  5. I don't get it.

    But I'm glad the blog is back up and running.

  6. Insider note. Jeff did an earlier favorite 500 albums that I have a copy of. I've been slowly working my way through that list and listening to any ranked album that I don't know well. I add the whole record to my itunes library, give it a listen through and move any songs I like on a first listen into my current playlist. If the record really grows on me I'll go back and add more songs on. If the record shrinks on me I take the songs out of rotation. On 8-20-08 I added this record to itunes and selected the following songs: El Scorcho, Getchoo, Pink Triangle, and Why Bother. Other songs not good enough. My reaction was positive, but muted. It;s good to have four good songs on a record, but it definitely didn't make me into a Weezer fanatic.

    BTW, I have BYU into the final four. Early score - BYU 13, Florida 11. I'm a genius!

  7. "Positive, but muted" -- this is perhaps the most inaccurate description of Ben Barton's reactions to things I have EVER read.

    Butler looking good. Georgetown, who I had in the FINAL, not so good.

  8. I heard a brutally honest interview with Rivers Cuomo on "Fresh Air" back in November:

    It turns out it was just rehashed (no pun intended) from the January before (in support of his solo releases: Alone and Alone II), now with a lead in to promote the new Weezer album (Raditude). Terry Gross asks him about "Pink Triangle" and other bits of his personal life, and the stories are very revealing and humorous! It's worth a listen, if you haven't already heard it.