A 13-Year-Old Music Critic Reflects on the 20th Anniversary of Weezer's 'Pinkerton'

Pinkerton
Weezer's dark confessional second album, 'Pinkerton,' was released 20 years ago. DGC

Weezer's Pinkerton—a raw, dyspeptic therapy session of an album—was disowned by Rivers Cuomo nearly as soon as it was released.

"It’s a sick album, sick in a diseased sort of way," the Weezer frontman once said of the band's sophomore album, which came out 20 years ago today. In a 2001 Entertainment Weekly interview, he likened it to getting wasted and spilling your guts at a party, describing it as "a hugely painful mistake that happened in front of hundreds of thousands of people." (He has since softened his stance; Weezer went so far as to perform the album in its entirety on a 2010 tour.)

Cuomo's disgust with Pinkerton was understandable, if undeserved. The record is painful. The music sounds bruised and abrasive—squealing feedback, loud drums—and very much removed from the sunny hits of the band's 1994 debut ("Say It Ain't So," "Buddy Holly"). It was written during the months Cuomo spent studying at Harvard, where he felt isolated and miserable while also recovering from excruciating leg surgery.

Listening to it is like thumbing through a stack of bracingly personal diary entries. It is uncomfortable—Cuomo vents about sexual frustration ("Tired of Sex") and fear of abandonment ("Why Bother") and a somewhat creepy pen-pal infatuation with a Japanese teenager ("Across the Sea"). The songs stew with self-loathing. He doesn't bother with metaphor or veiled meaning—"I'm bitter and alone," he snarls on "The Good Life"—and even the album's most notable music video reflects a pared-down aesthetic. The "El Scorcho" clip (above) shows the band playing in an empty, strangely lit assembly hall. The band had the opportunity to work with Spike Jonze and repeat the success of the "Buddy Holly" video, but said no.

Of course Pinkerton's found a cult of appreciation. In the right time and place, it's a brilliant, affecting outburst. Pinkerton has become a cherished favorite among adolescents—especially straight, male ones—for an obvious reason: The album espouses an unmistakably adolescent view of loneliness and love. It's basically a concept album about horniness and self-loathing, the twin virtues of the young American male. Fans tend to come full circle with Pinkerton much the way Cuomo did: You sink deep into the album in teenage years, then you grow a little older and learn about gender politics (gender politics! Oh, the gender politics of Pinkerton!) and grow apart from such despairingly earnest expressions of angst, then you get nostalgic and/or divorced and look back affectionately on the record with some healthy distance.

All of which is to say, teenagers understand Pinkerton best. But I wondered whether teenagers today still worship at the altar of Pinkerton, whether it's just a fleeting generational phenomenon. So I chatted with Ethan, a 13-year-old music critic who has his own YouTube channel, "The LP Club." (Check out his recent reviews of solid albums by Carly Rae Jepsen and Wilco!) 

Ethan was not yet born when Pinkerton was released. Nor was he born when George W. Bush became president or when the September 11 attacks occurred. I asked if he's heard Pinkerton. "Of course I've heard it," replied Ethan, who says he relates to the album plenty and also prefers that we don't publish his last name. Here's his take.

How old were you when you first heard Weezer's Pinkerton?

I had just turned 12 and I purchased The Blue Album and Pinkerton in the same night. I liked Weezer, but I wanted to get into them more.

How old are you now?

I'm currently 13.

What's your assessment of Pinkerton? Best Weezer album? Worst Weezer album?

I think it's tied for the best Weezer album. Tied with Blue, and ahead of Everything Will Be Alright in the End, The Green Album, Maladroit and The White Album. It's a fantastic record with a lot of emotion that as a teenager I understand. It's one of the best albums of the '90s and I absolutely adore it.

What's your favorite track on Pinkerton?

My favorite track on Pinkerton is either "The Good Life" or "Getchoo."

Do you relate to the album and the lyrics? Any lyrics in particular that stand out to you?

I understand and relate to quite a bit of this record. One of my favorite lyrics is in the second verse of "El Scorcho": "I asked you to go to the Green Day concert / You said you never heard of them." I also love the simple concept of "Pink Triangle." If I'm being honest I've related to the chorus of this track before.

Can you elaborate on how you relate to the record? What about it speaks to you?

I feel like a lot of this record has a very large feeling of identity crisis, and I feel as a teenager you're figuring out who you are. You also start to learn about what love is and how relationships [work] and this record deals with emotional and relationship dissatisfaction. While drama as a teenager is at its height, you start to understand some of the lyrics and relate to its frustration, say if you were just rejected.

Yeah! It definitely seems like songs like "Why Bother" (chorus: "Why bother / It's gonna hurt me / It's gonna kill when you desert me") and "Falling For You" capture that feeling of rejection and uncertainty.

Definitely.

Do you think your relationship to Pinkerton will change as you get older?

I feel as I grow older I'll start to understand some of the lyrics in a new context where things like rejection or identity crisis really start to matter. It's important to relisten to music after a while, and because Pinkerton is a fantastic album, I could see it getting better and better.

What do your friends think of Weezer? What music do most of your classmates listen to?

I go to a performing arts school, so a lot of our tastes are a little less mainstream. I know a few of my friends that like Weezer quite a bit. One of my friends' favorite albums ever is Pinkerton. Most of my classmates listen to either pop music, alternative rock or hip hop.

Do you listen to a lot of '90s rock music?

I do like '90s rock quite a bit. My favorite albums of the 1990s are: OK Computer by Radiohead, In The Aeroplane Over the Sea by Netural Milk Hotel, Different Class by Pulp, Pinkerton and The Blue Album by Weezer, Odelay by Beck and Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space by Spiritualized.

How do you do most of your music listening?

I listen to new music (for review) via iTunes or Spotify, and on the bus to school on my iPod. I have a record player and about 30 records, but only my absolute favorites. I have over 300 CDs, and I collect them constantly. It's what I use to listen to music that wasn't just released.

Why do you think Pinkerton has become such a cult favorite over the years?

Pinkerton has become a cult classic for multiple obvious reasons. It was panned at release time because Weezer tried something a little too unexpected, and then the public stopped caring. Because Weezer is still around and still making great music (The White Album, EWBATE), people go to learn more about them and find this extremely emotional, sad and underappreciated record.

Rivers Cuomo was not available to comment for this piece because he was busy doing a meditation course.