This weekend, nerdy power-pop phenoms Weezer will play both of their seminal '90s records at the Mother Church of Country Music — 1994's Weezer on Saturday, and 1996's Pinkerton on Sunday. Both shows are already sold out. But because hey, why the hell not, Scene music editor D. Patrick Rodgers and freelancer Lance Conzett have weighed the two albums against one another.
May 10, 1994. Just one month after the discovery of Kurt Cobain's body at his Lake Washington home. Mainstream interest in the increasingly contorted genre known as grunge began to wane and give way to the godforsaken school now known as "post-grunge" (behemoths of which would later include Collective Soul, Candlebox and Bush). Disillusionment was the promise of the grunge movement, and it didn't disappoint.
Out of the mire stepped a dweeby quartet of 20-something Angelenos by the name of Weezer with their self-titled full-length debut. The 10 bright and hopelessly socially inept (but romantic) power-pop songs on Weezer — a record that would of course come to be known as "The Blue Album" — were more than charming pop anthems. They broke the spell of gloom and desolation with unironic KISS and comic-book references and honest-to-God guitar solos. Armed with the pristine production of The Cars' Ric Ocasek and an absolutely unassuming, glamorless album cover, Weezer opened with a waltzing, fingerpicked acoustic guitar part — hardly what rock fans of the early '90s had come to expect.
The Blue Album is the crowning achievement of Weezer's catalog not simply because it features the most infectious pop singles of the band's two-decade existence ("Undone — The Sweater Song," "Buddy Holly" and "Say It Ain't So") but because of its cultural impact. Led by a diminutive, bespectacled kid who was raised by hippies on an ashram, Weezer's four members were the anti-rock-star posterboys. True, Cobain, Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder were a far cry from your Axl Roses and your Jon Bon Jovis, but they still carried with them something of a mythical, mystical air. An air that vanished the moment Rivers Cuomo sang about looking like Buddy Holly and wrestling with Jimmy, whoever the hell Jimmy is. The Blue Album is not a self-important record: "I play my stupid songs," Cuomo sings in "In the Garage." "I write these stupid words."
Weezer isn't a better album than Pinkerton simply because it sold many more copies — though the numbers do attest to The Blue Album's accessibility. It's a better album because it provided a much-needed alternative to what "alternative" had come to mean. Where Pinkerton is Cuomo coming to terms and struggling with his band's stardom, Weezer is Weezer unadulterated. —DPR
It's true: Weezer's self-titled debut is a truly infectious pop record that pivoted alternative rock music away from a bleak post-Cobain mourning period. It would be tough to argue that Weezer is even a mediocre record, a criticism that we can save for the average 2001 follow-up ("The Green Album") and tepid 2008 cash-in ("The Red Album"), which we shall never speak of again.
So, Weezer isn't lacking in earwormy pop songs, that's for sure. What it does lack is the kind of unflinching emotional honesty that Pinkerton is absolutely soaked in. Weezer may be the blockbuster, but Pinkerton is the beloved cult sensation that conquered insurmountable odds to win its place in pop music history. Not by blowing off the doors with guitarmonies, but with content that rang almost uncomfortably true with the teenagers who carried its torch.
Pinkerton, as Weezer detractors will gleefully remind you, was a spectacular failure upon release. Critics hated it, and fans burned it in effigy. It was named Rolling Stone's second worst album of the year in 1996 — only barely beaten out by a Bush record. In hindsight, it's tough to understand why everybody was so down on Pinkerton at the time. Maybe the juvenile masturbation references in "Why Bother"? Or the weird gargling intro and woozy rhythm of "El Scorcho"? Or was it just the fact that Pinkerton was defiantly not The Blue Album 2.0? Whatever it was, I suspect that it's the same quality that brought it back into the spotlight.
On Pinkerton, Rivers Cuomo is staring straight down the barrel of the lens and unfurling his emotions, right in your face. Prior to that point, popular rock music rarely spoke so directly to its listeners. The grunge movement clouded its feelings in abstractions, and the hair metal and New Wave silliness that preceded it wasn't exactly interested in feelings. But Pinkerton is unflinchingly real, and reality is goofy and embarrassing.
Maybe the real answer to that riddle is that people hated Pinkerton because they found its sincerity uncomfortable. But that's what makes it an important record — not only does it speak truth to how actual dopey teenagers and 20-somethings feel about falling in and out of love, but it doesn't blink when doing so. How many teenage mixtapes do you think ended with "Butterfly"? All of them, right? Pinkerton continues to exist not just on the merit of its songs, but what those songs said to its listeners. And that's pretty damn cool. —LC
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