Pinkerton (Deluxe) / Death to False Metal Pitchfork Media record reviews
- Not to be confused with Pitchfork's initial 1996 review of Pinkerton.
|Studio album by Weezer
|September 24, 1996
|Death to False Metal
|Compilation album by Weezer
|November 2, 2010
|Individual song reviews
Death to False Metal
|Pinkerton / Death To False Metal
Reviewer: Ian Cohen (Pitchfork Media)
Publishing date: November 3, 2010
Death To False Metal:
At one point, there seemed as strong a chance of Weezer's making an album as good as Pinkerton as there was of their reissuing it. To say nothing of playing it live in its entirety. It's hard to think of a more fiercely beloved record a band has gone to great lengths to write out of its history. To recap: Weezer's self-titled Blue Album went multiplatinum on the strength of shiny power-pop and goofy videos anachronistic in the era of post-grunge. For the follow-up, Rivers Cuomo holed up at Harvard and made a disturbingly graphic, harshly recorded concept album that includes his sniffing the fanmail of an 18-year old Japanese girl while imagining her masturbating. Needless to say, it was not played for laughs. Pinkerton was poorly received by critics upon release and considered a flop after peaking at #19. Cuomo probably didn't care about the critics, but he took the public indifference very personally, soon retreating from view. But the cult that adored and passionately identified with Pinkerton became hard to ignore by the turn of the century, with the commercial breakthrough of confessional emo seen as its ultimate vindication. The record that killed Weezer's career ended up saving it.
It's a nice story, and one that's integral and damn near necessary to protect Pinkerton's legend: a popular misconception is that a Rolling Stone readers' poll named it the worst album of 1996 (it was actually third behind Bush and DJ Spooky), and as Rob Mitchum suggested in his review of Make Believe, it's something that people of a certain age might protect from re-evaluation for what it might say about their youth. In actuality, Pinkerton may initially have been the victim of a generation gap. It was hardly the first album to get this uncomfortably confessional, but it had some unusually bad timing. Self-laceration was in vogue during 1996, but as far as critical favorites went, it was often from a female perspective (Liz Phair, PJ Harvey, Courtney Love) that balanced boldness and raw vulnerability. In comparison, Pinkerton was hardly misunderstood, but instead seen for what it was: written from a juvenile, male, and incredibly needy perspective. It's a really tough album to go to bat for if you're an adult, particularly since enjoying it is so closely associated with relating to it.
And who would want to do that? On the very first song, Cuomo is Portnoy's Complaint on wax, disappointed with his inability to find true love in the midst of meaningless sex. And on the last one, he forsakes a chance at true love for... you guessed it, meaningless sex, giving an explanation that drips with insincerity: "I did what my body told me to/ I didn't mean to do you harm." In between, he lashes out at a woman for having the nerve to be a lesbian ("Pink Triangle") and for not devoting all of her attention to him ("No Other One"). He takes two failed relationships as concrete proof of romantic futility in "Why Bother?", and of course, the big reveal in "Across the Sea": "It's all your fault, mama."
And yet because of all of this emotional baggage, the cathartic power of Pinkerton is second to none. While it's often compared to the Blue Album, Pinkerton bears more similarity to In Utero, a record that also mixed relatively raw alt-rock production, undeniable pop smarts, and a lead singer absolutely freaked the fuck out by fame. But while many sickeningly thought Kurt Cobain's suicide somehow validated his art, Cuomo's self-destruction was more quotidian and relatable, struggling with an unbearable need to be loved but a complete inability to realize the need for it to be reciprocated. It's why Pinkerton isn't misogynistic so much as confused: "No Other One" classically mistakes hating yourself for loving someone else, and "El Scorcho" reminds that fictional RomCom behavior is actually borderline sociopathic in real life. In fact, the songs most likened to cuddly Blue Album Weezer are the darkest-- "The Good Life" is Cuomo at the end of his rope, hysterical at the ridiculousness of his self-loathing, while a single line in "El Scorcho" sums up the core of Pinkerton's pain: "I can't talk about it/ I gotta sing about it and make a record."
The influence of Pinkerton led to hundreds of mostly regrettable bands, but what ultimately distinguishes Weezer is how they sonically mirror the unhinged and private mental terror of its narrator. Weezer actually sound dangerous here in places, in part due to the recording of Dave Fridmann, who maintains a first-take intimacy even when every instrument competes to be the loudest thing in the mix. Weezer's rhythm section rarely gets much credit, but Matt Sharp and Pat Wilson maintain a savage low-end they'd never repeat-- the coda of "Tired of Sex" embodies overwhelming and impotent frustration, while the chorus of "Getchoo" isn't a hook, it's a fist repeatedly hitting a wall.
The supposedly juvenile feelings of Pinkerton still pack visceral power years after listeners would've supposedly outgrown them. It's a record that reaches well beyond a diaristic look at Cuomo's perversions, and instead asks something more universal: Do we really grow out of our teenage feelings, or do we need something like Pinkerton to expose them as merely being repressed to the point where they mutate? It's heavy stuff, and in the manner of Violent Femmes, you can argue about the sexual politics, the late-career parody, or the total uncoolness of it in retrospect, but even if Pinkerton is ultimately an album that gets one single shot at you, the mark it leaves is indelible.
Befitting a band for the diehards, Weezer's always had certain B-sides that are every bit as loved as the singles. Though this deluxe version contains 25 extra tracks, 16 are alternate versions of material that appeared on Pinkerton: If you need muddy-sounding live versions of "Why Bother?" and "Pink Triangle", or if "Across the Sea Piano Noodles" triggers an uncontrollable completist impulse, consider it an early Christmas. Me, I'm here for their acoustic performances of "El Scorcho" and "The Good Life" at Y100, the erstwhile alt-rock station I listened to in high school. Otherwise, most of the unreleased B-sides are demo-level in both sound and quality.
The more intriguing prospect is Death to False Metal, proudly touted as "Weezer's third release of the fourth quarter." Not really sticking to any concrete organizational principle, Weezer cull unreleased material dating back to the late 90s from a wide range of sources, including their own fans and Toni Braxton. But as a clearinghouse for an increasingly prolific band, False Metal isn't particularly generous. In fact, judging from its wacky title/cover combo, 10-song tracklist, and overall quality, it dubiously achieves Cuomo's stated goal of creating the logical follow-up to Hurley.
The power pop Weezer work with maintains its devotees in large part because of its adherence to a kind of strict formula, and having mastered it early in his career, Cuomo can churn it out effortlessly, for better or (mostly) worse. Verses are treated with merely custodial concern before the big hooks, there's the guitar solos that are flashy enough to be noticed but easy enough to learn, and the production glosses everything up to radio-ready ubiquity and anonymity. But once again, there's a laziness that's more annoying than any of Cuomo's "cool dad" humor. There's the song about turning up the radio, and it's called "Turning Up the Radio"-- the irony of its being the result of a YouTube contest is actually kinda fascinating. Cuomo's shown an almost frightening ability to tap into a certain generic teenage frustration, and "Losing My Mind" is the song to which you can grouse about your allowance.
Upon reviewing Hurley, I said that Weezer's songs feel more like single-packed sitcoms now, but nothing on that album can match "The Odd Couple", which boasts the sort of hack-joke opening line ("I got a PC, you got a Mac") that Fountains of Wayne wouldn't touch. "Blowin' My Stack" and "I'm a Robot" are the working-for-the-weekend anthems, and that both have blatantly similar lyrics ("I need cash to pay my bills" / "I have to earn money to pay my bills") suggests a general lack of curatorial oversight to False Metal.
At the very least, there's a sense of closure in the simultaneous release of Pinkerton and Death to False Metal: For the past decade, new Weezer albums have been unfavorably judged relative to Pinkerton, and hey, we finally get to do it in real time. But there's always been an underlying unease that, at least in more indie-leaning circles, we're becoming every bit as susceptible to the generation gap that led to the dismissal of Pinkerton in the first place. Even if Weezer were able to come up with something as potent as Pinkerton, would we recognize it?
I suppose that doesn't give the listener enough credit, but we can do away with the idea that Pinkerton is somehow "realer" than other Weezer records. Even if they're more Spike Jones than Spike Jonze these days, it exists on the same continuum as Raditude, Hurley, and yes, even Make Believe-- Cuomo's work has always been driven by a need for approval, and once the Green Album was seemingly spawned by popular demand, he's used his band as an embodiment of that. That their "Memories Tour" is financially backed by AXE appears terribly ironic, but in reality, Weezer are also a brand that realizes striking a chord with boys obsessed with sex gives you a license to print money. By the same token, it gives me comfort that Pinkerton will remain timeless-- its fanbase is the ultimate renewable resource.
— Ian Cohen, November 3, 2010