In the years since its initial release, Pinkerton has come to be viewed as a raw, heart-on-sleeve metldown, the kind of album that could drive its embarrassed mastermind into the shadows for half a decade. But in 2010, when oversharing is the norm, Pinkerton can seem almost quaint for its willingness to hold back. All told, it’s roughly 10 percent as confessional as the average overheated Tumblr post or Gareth Campesino! lyric sheet. Maybe that’s why, to this day, “El Scorcho” is still the sort of song that lonely teenage boys vigorously lip-synch to when they think that nobody’s looking. Its lyrics can be vague enough (“I’m a lot like you…”) to fit all sorts of specific yearning.
On Pinkerton, Cuomo is almost schizophrenic in his desire. He claims that he’s tired of sex (“Tired of Sex”), but also that he just wants to get back to “shaking booty, making sweet love all the night” (“The Good Life”), and that he wishes the various women of his dreams would either (a) not live in Japan (“Across the Sea”), (b) recognize he exists (“El Scorcho”), or (c) be straight (“Pink Triangle”). Cuomo might have been unsure of what he wanted, but he — and, subsequently, the horrified record-buying public — knew exactly what he was: lonely, confused, and so sexually frustrated as to be combustible. Who knows what turned public opinion against Pinkerton when it was first released? Maybe it was Cuomo’s volatile voice, which could veer, in the span of a minute or so, from stalker-snarling (“I’m just fooling around”) to little-boy nervousness (a just-the-vocals version of Pinkerton would probably be just as entertaining as that a-capella “Running With the Devil” that made the rounds a couple of years back).
What distinguishes Weezer from the emo that followed in its wake is a sense of humor: a band like the Promise Ring, for example, had all of the self-indulgence but none of the self-deprecation. It’s all there in “El Scorcho,” during one of the album’s half-dozen cathartic nervous breakdowns. “How stupid is it/ I can’t talk about it/ I gotta sing about it/ And make a record of/ My heart,” Cuomo sings, a line for every boy or girl who ever picked up a guitar (or a pen, or a football) to impress a crush, and then hated themselves for it. It’s a good thing that Pinkerton has only gotten more popular as the years have gone on, because these are the sorts of songs that sound infinitely better when sung along to in a room full of people who know every word.
The second disc of this deluxe reissue is composed entirely of unreleased material, and most of it just drives home the monotony of being a touring band. By the third live, acoustic version of “The Good Life,” you’ll either never want to hear that song again or be aching for the studio version. It’s only the piano-led “Long Time Sunshine” that casts revelatory light on the album itself — not to mention everything that came after. “Sometimes I want to go back to school/ An East Coast college with some history,” Cuomo sings. Of course, he’d already done that — a good chunk of Pinkerton was written by Cuomo while socially outcasted at Harvard. But on this song, it feels as if he’s singing about never coming back. By song’s end, it’s a haunting kiss-off to the music industry, with Cuomo’s bandmates singing his old lines back to him and giving them entirely new meaning: “Why bother, it’s gonna hurt me,” “Leave behind everything I used to know” (the latter a line from “Blast Off,” which surfaced on Rivers’ first Home Recordings disc). It’s no longer Cuomo vs. women, it’s Cuomo vs. the industry. If this was Weezer’s last song, it would make almost too much sense — as if they’d gone back into the studio a year after Pinkerton‘s poor reception to tie a nice little bow on the band’s mythos. Which, considering what came after, may actually have been preferable.