Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of Pinkerton, the landmark second album from LA band Weezer
The record was met with a critical panning from Rolling Stone, whose readers voted it the third worst of 1996.
And yet, it has retained a consistent cult status ever since, and is now considered by many to be one of the finest indie-rock albums to ever hit stereos.
The fact that it has just gone platinum, two decades on, speaks to its slow-burning, seminal longevity,
Pinkerton may just be the most perfectly crafted record to come out of America in the 90s. Here’s why.
‘Geek chic’ (before it was cool)
Whether it’s the thick rimmed glasses that have adorned the New York native’s face for the entirety of his 30-year career, or his odd penchant for cowboy hats in the 00s, Weezer’s front man Rivers Cuomo has always had an air of nerdiness about him.
On Pinkerton, this geek chic takes the form of lovelorn songs on everything from Japanese culture to Cuomo’s own admittance of shyness and awkwardness.
The track ‘El Scorcho’ directly relates to this, telling the tale of a girl the singer was too scared to approach while at university.
“[It’s] more about me, because at that point I hadn’t even talked to the girl, I didn’t really know much about her,” he told author John D. Luerssen in the book River’s Edge: The Weezer Story.
An intelligent record
At a time when most rock music made a virtue of its simplicity, Cuomo and co managed to pour every last drop of their clever minds into Pinkerton.
Wordplay abounds throughout, the cheeky imagery of ‘Pink Triangle’ becomes a metaphor rooted in history with a simple Google search, and you get the sense that Cuomo’s time at Harvard University really played its part in the making of the album, with the frontman penning tracks between bouts of homework.
A hidden darkness
Weezer’s first album bounced along playfully on a bed of Beach Boys-esque harmonies and songs about Buddy Holly.
But while Pinkerton isn’t exactly pitch black with self-loathing, there is a darkness to it lurking just underneath the surface, and that’s down to a pretty major shake-up in Cuomo’s life.
The singer underwent extensive surgery to extend his left leg 44mm, and was forced to wear a steel brace and endure painful physiotherapy sessions for months afterwards.
He told The New York Times that the ordeal was like “having… about seven arrows lodged into your leg bone”, it was during this time that he would write the majority of Pinkerton, fitting in composition time “when my frozen dinner was in the microwave.”
In the liner notes to the album he mused that his songwriting had become “darker, more visceral and exposed, less playful,” and it shows.
Short and sweet
At just ten tracks and a 35-minute run time, Pinkerton is one of those records you can easily sit through in a single sitting.
It doesn’t linger for too long, and always leaves the listener wanting more: the hallmark of a great album.
A slacker’s dream
The album’s themes of dysfunctional relationships, sexual frustration, and struggles with identity, speak directly to the disenfranchised, post-grunge generation of mid-90s America.
But Pinkerton is a slacker-rock album through and through, and even its composition reek of a “that’ll do” attitude. Deliberately.
“The ten songs are sequenced in the order in which I wrote them (with two minor exceptions),” Cuomo told a fansite, “so as a whole, the album kind of tells the story of my struggle with my inner Pinkerton.”
While they may have gone on to have greater successes in the future, everything from The Green Album to this year’s White Album seems to have sacrificed a little integrity to achieve those bigger sales.
Pinkerton feels like the last album that truly represents the band, at least artistically. With hindsight it’s hard to fathom the fact that singles like ‘The Good Life’ were rush released by record label Geffen in an effort to save the record from nosediving performance.
Today it stands as one of the most note-perfect albums of the 90s.