It’s Blind Taste Test time again. You probably know the score by now – one of our writers challenges another to listen to an album that they’ve never heard before and review it after only one listen. A few weeks ago, Fran challenged James to listen to his favourite album of all time, and today James sends something back Fran’s way in the form of Weezer’s 1996 album Pinkerton. Here’s how James introduced it:
You may be familiar with the happy sound of early Weezer, with their cheerful melodies, sing-along-able harmonies and lyrics about surfing, holidays, and islands in the sun. Pinkerton is the antidote. There’s a darker tone to its content. It’s awkward, angular, anxious, angsty, and adult.
Long lamenting apologies for unknown misdemeanours in metaphor, sexual confusion, and frustration about the unachievable and unattainable are order of the day.
It’s a real strength that unlike many big US rock bands from the 90s they achieve this without simply screaming and shredding their guitars. Sure, there are moments, but you can still sing along. The bare exposure of inner thoughts on the album has always felt discomforting to me – I think that was kind of the point. Some of the lyrics may seem regrettable in 2020 but it’s more like hangover regret about that stupid thing you said the night before than anything malicious.
It’s been described as “geek rock’s holy grail” but it took time and many listens from many people to achieve this status. So, I’m rolling the dice putting this in your critical ears on a first listen only basis.
I hope you enjoy it. But maybe listen before drinking rather than during. Certainly not after.
Okay. It seems only fair to start my review with a very frank admission – I think the likelihood of me liking an album by Weezer is extremely low, if not non-existent. I don’t know a lot about the band, but I do know that they sit atop a genre of music that has never had any real appeal to me. When I think of them, I think of Blink 182 when their testicles finally drop. I think of films like American Pie and the inevitable dance that these movies end with, some white dudes with spiked up hair all singing on stage as loads of people dance along to music that nobody can dance to.
So yeah, Weezer. Let’s try this thing.
As I understand, frontman, guitarist, lyricist and everything-else-ist Rivers Cuomo pretty much is Weezer, so however I end up feeling about this album I’ll lay it firmly at his feet. His and James’s.
And here he is in the opener, ‘Tired of Sex’ saying the words ‘I’m tired of, I’m tired of, I’m tired of having sex’. I say ‘saying’ because the vocals are so low in the mix that I don’t know how else to describe it. Oh, but then he starts screaming – he shouts then he squeals. And now he’s noodling on the geetar. Maybe Weezer are the originators of this kind of music and I’m not giving them enough credit, but this sounds like every other song I’ve heard in the ‘loser band gets to play the high school prom’ genre.
Not a good start.
And now we’re on to ‘Getchoo’. Oh, he’s whining again. But he tells us ‘it’s hurts and it’s serious’. Well if it hurts and its serious then why on earth have you called it ‘Getchoo’? I’m halfway through the second song of the album and I’m still waiting for him to sing a line that isn’t generic. And now he’s noodling again; isn’t he good? This sounds like the first one but a little bit louder.
Sorry James, this isn’t going how you’d hoped.
But it’s time for track three, ‘No Other One’ – a fresh start, a new chance for Weezer to win me over. ‘My girl’s a liar, but I stand by her’ – the lyrics of a twelve-year-old. How old were they when they wrote this album?
And is it just me or does everything sound really muddled so far? What is happening with the production? If the intention was to have an almost permanent buzz over the top of everything, and for the vocals to be so low in the mix, then they have finally achieved something on Pinkerton.
The fourth song is called ‘Why Bother?’ and I relate to the title. That said, the start of ‘Why Bother?’ is the first thing on the record that sounds any different, it’s the first change of pace – the first thing to make me sit up and listen. Maybe I’m going to like this one. But no, here comes the juvenile chorus to knock that tiny chink of hope back where it belongs – ‘Why Bother, it’s gonna hurt me, it’s gonna kill when you desert me’.
Fuck off Malcolm in the Middle – aren’t you about 50 by now?
But hang on… Is that a piano that ushers in ‘Across the Sea’? Is this a song that doesn’t start with screeching guitars? Am I finally finding, five songs in, the song that will smash my preconceptions? I might be, you know – this doesn’t sound too bad at all.
Although hang on, how old was Cuomo in 1996 again? (Just checked, he was definitely 27. Perv alert). Why is he singing to an 18-year-girl about how he’d like to touch her? What is happening here? Musically, it’s the least offensive offering so far – lyrically, I’m pretty sure he just said he wonders about how a girl in her school uniform touches herself. Those lyrics that James said might be questionable – he wasn’t lying. It’s another no from me.
‘The Good Life’ comes next. Okay. I quite like the riff on this one, the bassline isn’t bad. I can imagine not hating this song if it had some decent lyrics and better vocals. Musically, though, the album has picked up a little over the last two songs. Maybe by track ten there’ll be a fully decent song. But this drags on and on and on and on at the end – the repeated line ‘I wanna go back, I wanna go back, and I don’t even know how I got off the track.’ I wanna go back to before I listened to Weezer. I was having a nice relaxing Saturday.
‘El Scorcho’. I was worried when I saw the title of this one, and I was right to be. Pervy McPervyson has got his dick out again, apparently with all ‘half-Japanese girls’ in his sights this time. I’d seen a slight improvement over the last two songs, but we have now fully driven off a cliff – everything I hate about this genre, summed up in four minutes and three seconds of music. Did he really just say ‘I’ll bring home the turkey if you bring home the bacon?’ What does that even mean?
‘Pink Triangle’ Oh god. ‘I’m dumb, she’s a lesbian, I thought I’d found the one.’ I have nothing else to say – even Malcolm in the Middle would baulk at the immaturity of this one.
‘Falling for You’. I’m still recovering from the one-two hit of ‘El Scorcho’ and ‘Pink Triangle’. This one isn’t as bad. That’s the best I can offer.
But what’s this – something gentle? Something that doesn’t sound entirely juvenile? In closer, ‘Butterfly’, there are even some reasonably decent lyrics, with Cuomo repeating that ‘he’s sorry for what he did’. I don’t know if he means the rest of this album, or something else entirely. But this is different – his voice doesn’t sound as obnoxious when he is not trying to compete with the noodling guitars and the rest of the noise. I’d had little hope when I’d said that a fully decent song might emerge by the end of the album, but here I am enjoying a song by Weezer. What. The. Actual. Fuck?
Cuomo finishes the album repeating the words ‘I’m sorry’ and I almost forgive him. But then I remember ‘El Scorcho’.
And with that, I return to my admission that I have never been able to find an album that breaks my resistance to this genre. Pinkerton is a prime example of why. Why do all these 26-year-olds write and sing like they’re 12? Who is really impressed with an out of place noodle? Why is it okay for these people to keep playing at high school proms, well after the age when that was appropriate?
Like Rivers Cuomo at the end of the only decent song on Pinkerton, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I listened to this album. I’m sorry that I am unable to see past the things that make this genre problematic to me. And I’m sorry, James. I tried. Kind of.
Words by Fran Slater