Happy birthday, Pinkerton! And what luck – platinum certified just days before your twentieth? What an accomplishment! Isn’t that just dandy! Yeah! Dandy. Great. Awesome. Just great. So happy.
Let’s talk, just for a moment, about musical canon and the canonization of albums. “Canon” is a term I’m hesitant to bust out, just ’cause I just don’t totally buy into the concept of any one complete musical canon: critics disagree on absolutely everything, myself included, and to make the claim that there exists a list of albums that are Great And Important And Perfect And You Should Own Them is silly. I could make my own list and fill it with albums I consider important and challenging and emotional, only to find yours has albums I’d never have put on my own. Canon is subjective, is what I’m getting at. No list that I’m aware of contains every objectively great album ever recorded, and there will never be one because someone will always object to an album’s placement. That’s the nature of music and art and criticism. And an album being inducted into canon is even trickier to discuss. It’s near impossible to distinct when and how an album gets considered a classic – and why would you want to? What’s ultimately important is that the album is there, it’s having (or has had) an impact, and is a playground for discussion and debate. Speaking on the build and musicality and power of a great album (or one perceived to be great) can be rewarding, especially when it’s one whose status is widely debated. It’s more fun to talk about a “classic” album than a decent or good one. Usually.
Which brings me to Pinkerton, the retroactive classic of nineties alternative rock. Widely considered by fans and critics alike to be Weezer’s finest work, or at least their most emotionally powerful, Pinkerton’s status as a 90’s staple album raises some really interesting questions for me. Such as, “Why do such awful albums become classics?” and “What the fuck happened to alternative rock in the mid-nineties?” and “Why do bad bands become critical darlings?” and “People actually enjoy this?” Yeah, enough beating around the bush, kids: Pinkerton is worthless, pathetic, ugly, utterly stupid garbage. I hate it. And I’m not a hateful person; the number of things in existence I genuinely hate can be counted on one hand. I hate Pinkerton. I hate the smarmy, bro-douche attitude disguised as a “nerdy” put-on; the inability to find even a mild tune amidst a din of obnoxious guitar sludge; the use of noise as an excuse for bad song structure and intros; the abysmal, cruelly boring and shoddy way it’s produced; the braindead, pound-the-downbeat drumming; the attempt to pass off whining and moaning as singing; the grating, simpering vocal harmonies that croon pointlessly behind Cuomo’s every other word; the casual racism and misogyny; the vapid self-pity and self-hatred that tries to be humorous; the “ironic” jokes and jabs that come off as hypocritical and pathetic; the dinky, trite melodies; and yes, yes, dear lord the lyrics. The lyrics. If you really wanna get on my shit-list, you can’t just make your music sound like ass and scream on it. You gotta offend me. My taste, my moral sensibilities, whatever. Piss me off with your arrogance and politics and personality and shit. And Pinkerton and its lyrics are everything I hate about post-Nirvana alt-rock, teenage wangst, turnaround of critical opinions, obsessive fanbases, and shitty fucking music in general, concentrated by some miracle of ineptitude and emotional insecurity into its most pure form. This is the stuff my nightmares are made of.
On to the music: speaking broadly, Pinkerton is an album that, stunningly, manages to become worse and worse as it goes along, in both its sound and lyrical content. Every time you think you’ve hit the bottom of the barrel, Weezer punch a hole straight through. Now, Wikipedia here calls Pinkerton’s music “darker and more abrasive.” I suppose for them it was. But “more abrasive” for a band like Weezer isn’t exactly heavy stuff – the sort of half-assed distortion applied here is much further in the upper register than the lower, leading to some seriously obnoxious moments of ear-piercing feedback and sludgy, unpleasantly messy riffing. “Messy” really is a good way to describe the record’s sound, too; it’s halfway between boring, studio-polished pop and grisly, lo-fi rock, and squarely hitting the worst parts of each. (I just described the careers of Weezer, Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, My Chemical Romance, and Blink-182 all in one sentence: score!) The lower side of the mix is left for Scott Shriner to hack away at his bass and Patrick Wilson to clomp away at the kick drum. Boooring. And the riffs are recycled too: power pop chord progressions. Yawn. As for the claims of darkening the sound, I simply don’t hear it. It’s certainly louder than their debut, but they accomplish this not just by upping the distortion but by filling up the mix with just noise, all feedback and screeching synths and yelling. So forget “darker and more abrasive” – just think “somewhat louder” and you’re in the right mindstate.
And now, without further ado, song-by-song time, because I can’t be fucked to organize this in any way other than a numbered list:
1. The half-bearable “Tired of Sex,” despite utilizing a guitar so shrieky it sounds like a bagpipe (???) when it tears noisily in, has a cool fuzz bass (which I’m a sucker for), and some of Patrick Wilson’s somewhat less incompetent drumming on record. The scream at 1:09 is half-assed though – shouting 8 feet away from the mic at a wall doesn’t impress me. (Here’s a good scream for reference.) The transition from the chorus to the next verse is lazy, too: slowing down slightly and then having a drum fill isn’t a transition, it’s a cop-out. Also, Cuomo: when you say you’re tired of sex, I don’t fuckin’ buy it. Teenage neuroses still live within you. “Why can’t I be making love come true”? Blow me. Decent song, though. Decent.
2. “Getchoo’s” got a fun riffy chorus, though it’s nothing on a “Buddy Holly” or even an “Undone.” Lyrics are useless (common theme), drumming’s too heavy on the cymbals (common theme), the singing is whiny as all hell (common theme), and the transitions suck (common… ah, fuck it). But it’s sorta tuneful, and the choruses are okay headbanging material if you haven’t headbanged to anything else before. Another decent one. Then things get worse.
3. By “No Other One” I’m really sick of these lyrics. I didn’t mention many in the last two songs, but… “All of the drugs she does / Scare me real good” is so fucking plainly written, vocalized, and mixed that it comes off as less heartfelt and more pathetic – “Scare me real good”? Is that what drugs do? Real good, too? Fuck. And that’s like half the lyrics on the whole thing. Pathetic, juvenile, and annoying. Music’s no help: typical bland power-pop melody clumsily stuffed under a wall of gnashing guitar. I’m lost for words, really. It gets worse.
4. “Why Bother” does all the above one up by not only being whiny and complacent, but also self-pitying. Why bother even trying anymore? I dunno, Cuomo, you tell me. Mild tune. Sharp noises. Sloppy performances. Painful listen. Self-pity is irritating and useless.
5. This is where it really starts to dip, ladies and gents. Among a boring, standard 4-chord progression and tedious drumming, “Across the Sea” finds Cuomo sniffing and licking an envelope sent to him by an 18-year old girl in Japan. Charming. “I wonder how you touch yourself”? Fucking please, I’m right here. Does this make anyone else uncomfortable? Gross. Let’s move on.
6. “The Good Life” takes us even further from the mere mediocrity of before and into straight-up repulsive territory. Lame two-chord riff – check. Simpering falsetto – check. Garbage lyrics – check. “Excuse the bitching / I shouldn’t complain / I should have no feeling / Cause feeling is pain” Yeah, hey, brainiac: what’s this fuckin’ album then? Not bitching? The whole record’s a temper tantrum, and a boring one at that. And the whole deal with having no feelings – bullshit. Bull-shit. I don’t even wanna start on the rest of the lyrics, I’d be here all day.
7. Here’s “El Scorcho.” It’s an unbearable trudge of a song, loping and clompy and ungainly, thanks to Patrick Wilson. He here establishes himself as the single worst drummer in any popular rock band, ever. “Ringo,” I hear you say? Fuck off. It’s actually a lot like a bad Sex Pistols song: too long, should have been faster, obnoxious brat on the mic, boring chords, etc. Except this one has the added benefit of awful vocal harmonies, a groan-worthy, overly long chorus, and
LYRICS THAT MAKE THE SEX PISTOLS LOOK LIKE THE BEATLES. I’ve got no problem with the “Goddamn you half-Japanese girls” line, frankly – if that’s who you’re into, cool. But following it up with “The redhead said you shred the cello” is one of those moments where I just have to stop the song and scream into a pillow. Casual racism at its finest, people: of course the half-Japanese girl can shred the cello – of fucking course she can!!!!! And then after all that, rhyming it with “jello”? No words. No fucking words. “Cos I can’t even look in your eyes without shaking, and I ain’t faking / I’ll bring home the turkey if you bring home the bacon” – quintessentially lame. The apex of lame. The top of the lame-coaster. Lamer lines have not been spoken. “I’m the epitome of public enemy”? Fuck you. It gets worse.
8. “Pink Triangle” drags the quality down here even further, especially in the lyrical department. I mean… “I’m dumb, she’s a lesbian” – you know you look like a douchebag, right Cuomo? Life’s never that one-dimensional. Lighten up. “If everyone’s a little queer / Can’t she be a little straight?” offends me even more than the “shred the cello” line, personally. And also, you DO know what a pink triangle is, yeah? Look it up. (Music’s not even worth talking about. I’ve said it all before.)
9. “Falling For You” is generically bad, and generically bad in a way that’s so blasphemous that it’s practically worse than anything else before it. Everything up to this point had been bad in an interesting, notable way. Not “Falling For You.” It’s just a shitty song. Can you spell “filler”?
10. “Butterfly” is the definitive WGWAG song. If there was ever a more WGWAG-y song, I haven’t heard it. Tuneless, too quiet, whiny, poorly sung, delusions of sensitivity, etc. Cuomo cheats on his girlfriend, calls her a bitch, and then thinks about how maybe he might be an asshole. A ray of light? According to their other albums, that’s a resounding no.
Fun fact: Rivers Cuomo dismissed the album on its release, claiming it was a mistake and that he despised it. (He later amended this and said he was very proud of it and himself for making it. Prick.) Easy to see why: soul-bearing of this kind is grotesque and artless in the most vapid way, and probably shouldn’t even be considered soul-bearing to begin with. I’ve thought to myself before, perhaps I’m misreading this. Do I just not have the capacity to get it? Am I too old for this? After all, I listened to the album for the first time just a month before my 18th birthday – perhaps I should lay off and admit I don’t understand it and never will. But I don’t think you should have to a certain age or race or whatever to be able to get art. If an argument for an album goes “You just didn’t hear it at the right time of your life,” maybe that’s not such a good argument at all. Good art should transcend those boundaries. Hell, look at hip hop. You think I grew up in Compton or Queens? No, but I can still appreciate The Chronic or Illmatic (obvious examples), and that’s because they’re timeless pieces of art that hold up to scrutiny by anyone, not just 13-year old boys. If Cuomo can’t make me care about his pubescent worries, that’s not my fault. That’s the music’s.
Returning to musical canonization, Pinkerton is a huge reason why I don’t buy it: man-children with the inability to distinguish good music from music they liked as a kid don’t dictate what albums I need to have in my library. Cuomo was twenty-five – a full-grown adult male – with the sensibilities and mannerisms of a thirteen year old when he wrote this album, and it makes me feel sick that people I respect genuinely think this flabby, worthless trash heap deserves to be in the ranks of great albums with the likes of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, The Lonesome Crowded West, and In Utero. And I wouldn’t despise this album nearly as much if it wasn’t so highly praised – if this was some cult classic album with a large following but little recognition, I’d merely roll my eyes and continue on with my life. But Pinkerton is on numerous best lists, year end lists, decade end lists, lists of best rock albums of all time, etc. You can’t ignore it; it’s there and its influence upon Emo and independent rock is massive. Ironic (it was the nineties, so what else could it be?) that it had an influence on genres it wasn’t actually a part of at the time, but is now considered both because many artists actually within the boundaries of indie and Emo claim its influence on them. And Pinkerton ain’t indie rock, that’s for sure. They were major label bitches from day one – not so independent. And lest you think I’m merely digging on Weezer’s credibility as a point to its own, just know that I’ve always thought of them as a Baby’s First Pavement: authenticity be damned, they tried to rip off the best band of the 90’s. Seemed to go well for them, though. Injustice reigns on.
I’ll close this review out with a quote by a man named Dr. David Thorpe, one of the finest music journalists of the past 15 years, and a comedian of great wit. In one of the most terrific and insightful pans of a record (and the band as a whole) I’ve ever read, he remarks:
“Rolling Stone’s original two-and-a-half-star review of Pinkerton had it pegged: some catchy tunes, boundless clichéd “why doesn’t she like me” lyrics, and not a lot of substance. The fact that this review was later amended to five stars speaks more of Rolling Stone’s total lack of critical integrity than for any meaningful reevaluation of Weezer’s work; at the merest hint that the winds of public opinion blew in a more Pinkerton-friendly direction, Rolling Stone caved in to popular consensus (as they so often do). Pinkerton is, just as it always has been, a shabby, juvenile, two-dimensional record. The naked emotional honesty of a grown man with the stunted emotions of a sadsack teenager is about as compelling as that picture Calvin drew of a polar bear blinking in a snowstorm.“
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Relating to and selling trash to children is easy, because they don’t care about “art” or whatever – they’ll love a song because they relate to it and no other reason. Thus, Pinkerton shambles along, bringing with it a million adolescent white boys too emotionally stunted to find anyone or anything else to do. Worst “canon” album of all time. Platinum. Hmph. Happy birthday, Pinkerton. Grow up.