Sacred Cows is an occasional series in which NME writers question the critical consensus around revered albums. Here, Emily Mackay asks if Weezer’s ‘Pinkerton’ is just a touch over-rated
For indie boys of a certain vintage Weezer certainly seem to add up to a lot more than the sum of their parts. Otherwise perfectly rational and mature music nerds are reduced to dewy-eyed fanboy sentimentality by the mention of their name.
Bloody Pitchfork gave the reissue of this album 10 out of 10. TEN OUT OF TEN. That’s up there with ‘Rubber Soul’, ‘Ladies And Gentlemen…’, ‘Kid A’. That’s the same amount of points as ‘Exile On Cocking Main Street’.
Of course, it’s all horses for courses, but subjectivity be damned! Nothing makes sense about the elevation of a band so mediocre in every respect to legendary level.
Fans praise Weezer for giving mainstream rock in the 90s a heart, a brain, an edge. To listen to some people talk you’d think ‘The Blue Album’ was the first time pop melody had hit punk guitar. Like The Pixies, or indeed Nirvana, had never happened.
But Weezer’s debut on Geffen in 1994 was part of the death of that period when really raw, interesting American guitar music crossed over to the mainstream. That same year also saw the release of the anodyne cartoon whine of Green Day’s ’Dookie’. If 1991 was The Year Punk Broke, 1994 was The Year Punk Berked.
The debut itself is cute. ‘Buddy Holly’, ‘My Name Is Jonas’, ‘Undone – The Sweater Song’ … perky enough, if entirely inconsequential. ‘Pinkerton’ though, is trumpeted as the album where they ‘went dark’, their ‘Disintegration’ or something, fuelled by Rivers Cuomo’s angsty times studying at Harvard and painful recuperation from leg-lengthening surgery.
Reading most reviews, you’d expect something that sounded like Swans. Noise! Distortion! Darkness! “This is beginning to hurt/This is beginning to be serious”, Cuomo promises on ‘Getchoo’, so it’s a bit of a disappointment when all ‘Pinkerton’ delivers is some pedestrian chugging powerpunkpop with a vain man child whining on about his understandably rubbish relationships under a paper-thin veneer of nerdy irony.
A bit of emo whinging can of course, be quite cathartic if done properly, but there’s not a shred of genuine feeling in Cuomo’s voice, never a line that hits home about the reality of human interaction (unless you count “It’s all your fault, Mama, it’s all your fault”).
Also, it’s fucking creepy. El Scorcho’s opening gambit of “Goddamn, you half-Japanese girls/Do it to me every time”. ‘Falling For You’’s cringeworthy “I’m a burning candle, You’re a gentle moth/Teaching ’em to lick a little bit kinder”. ‘Across The Sea’’s tale of pathetic lusting after teenage Japanese fans (“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 across the sea”).
Irony of course! A brave artistic exploration of the weird nature of fan/idol relationships. The whole album’s named after a character from Madame Butterfly and features a Japanese print on the cover. It’s not autobiographical. He’s not actually that weird. It’s not like Cuomo actually ended up marrying a Japanese Weezer fan or anything. OH WAIT.
Darkness, the willingness to go into life’s scary places and tell the tales is, rightly or wrongly, often considered an essential to great art of any kind, and no doubt that’s what’s fuelled the tales of ‘Pinkerton’’s brave bleakness. In reality, it’s about as harrowing, and as enjoyable, as pulling damp, knotted hair out of the shower plug. Bring it on, nerd boys.