The narrative arc around Pinkerton is shopworn by now: we all know that the album came and went without making much of a noise before becoming a cult classic. It's more beloved than the rest of their albums now, in a lot of ways.
Even though it's immediate impact wasn't much, it sent a slow-simmering shockwave that has rippled outward since the album’s 1996 release, and which has indelibly helped shape the cultural landscape in ways both big and small, public and intimate. Here is a sampling of all the things good, bad and in-between that Pinkerton had a hand in creating.
Cuomo could only pour his heart and the darkest corners of his psyche into Pinkerton to make the album as good as it is, but it took what came next to cement the album’s legacy. A critical and commercial backlash led to anguish on the part of Pinkerton’s creator and turned the album and Cuomo into sympathetic focal points for a surprisingly large legion of fans that just care. SO. MUCH. It would be dishonest to take away credit from forefathers like Rites of Spring for the emo genre but Weezer deserves its due for helping to herald in a new wave of emo bands like Dashboard Confessional, the Get Up Kids and Say Anything that brought the genre to increased levels of mainstream success. Pinkerton’s impact likely also had the positive effect of leading fans to trace origins back to seminal bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and Jawbreaker.
Mykel and Carli Allan were called the “cornerstone of Weezer fandom” by the band’s roadie and unofficial fifth member Karl Koch. The sisters ran Weezer’s fan club before the band signed a major label deal and likely stumped harder than anyone else after Weezer’s mainstream success seemingly collapsed under the weight of Pinkerton’s missed commercial expectations. Weezer wasn’t the only band Mykel and Carli ran a fan club for but it was the most successful, and the relationship was likely mutually beneficial—the sisters were the subject of a song on the B-side of the “Undone – The Sweater Song,” a song to which Mykel contributed spoken vocals. But Mykel and Carli earned whatever fame they achieved through their Weezer fandom, working like crazy to keep the 4,000-member club updated on Weezer news and even touring alongside the band. In 1997, Mykel, Carli and their younger sister Trysta were driving from a Weezer show in Denver to another in Salt Lake City when their car went off the road and all three were killed. Weezer canceled a tour date to attend the funeral and later headlined a benefit concert for the sisters. It was all so tragic for so many reasons, not the least of which being that Mykel and Carli gave so much to the band and Weezer recognized and loved them for it, probably even more so when the sisters’ love stayed strong even as the world appeared to have turned and left Weezer.
If Rivers Cuomo hadn’t been devastated over Pinkerton and developed a reluctance to share his thoughts and feelings on record, there’s no way he would have ended up someday writing a song like “Beverly Hills,” a piece of music that makes “Stacy’s Mom” look like “Paranoid Android.” To be clear, it’s a super catchy skronky rock stomper with an irresistible chorus and a goddamn talk box solo, but it’s free of meaningful content. Cuomo may have saw it as expanding Weezer’s reach to a wider audience—and it was a nice hit—but it’s likely the closest any fans of the band’s first two albums ever came to saying ‘fuck it, the old Weezer is gone’ as light rock stations across the country made “Beverly Hills” the official coffee break anthem of 2005. But it wasn’t an abandonment of Weezer’s foundational sound, just a perfectly executed experiment in making airtight radio-ready pop rock and a well-deserved shot of wide-scale admiration.
Weezer has experienced some peaks and valleys since Pinkerton but that’s no crime. Even infallible god bands like Radiohead have at least one King of Limbs for haters to kick around. No, the real tragedy is the prolonged calls for a “return to form” for Weezer that have been in the public echo chamber even since the Green Album didn’t turn out to be Pinkerton 2: Electric Boogaloo. It’s almost as if Weezer has been some amorphous blob for the past 15 years and fans have sat by waiting for the band to coalesce into human beings again. Weezer’s run through the 2000s was not the bed shitting it has often been portrayed as, but rather a sweetly earnest attempt at getting more people to like the band. In a way, it was a reverse course from a common narrative that sees many bands get more experiment/less accessible on successive releases following popular debuts. And Weezer’s years of polishing up its song craft can be heard newer songs like “Back to the Shack” that focus the band’s riff wizardry into bright, clear pop songs. Anyone waiting for a return to form only needs to jam Make Believe and feel “Perfect Situation” to know that Weezer never really went away.
The Rentals experienced their highest highs while front man Matt Sharp was still bassist for Weezer. “Friends of P” slotted perfectly between the Blue Album and Pinkerton and bolstered the early Weezer crunchy guitar fuzz formula with the addition of female vocals and a ton of Moog. It’s possible that the Rentals wouldn’t have received as much attention initially had it not been for Weezer’s success. But had Sharp not bailed in the wake of frustration following Pinkerton, it’s also possible that the Rentals wouldn’t have been in a position to release their very good 1999 album Seven More Minutes or the solid Lost in Alphaville in 2014.
Massive squads of Weezerheads ride for “Suzanne” as the ultimate non-album Weezer song and perfect wrap-up for Mallrats. A small but strong contingency of cool moms and dads swear by “All My Friends are Insects” from Yo Gabba Gabba. But sorry to say, all their allegiances are misguided because “Longtime Sunshine” from the deluxe reissue of Pinkerton is clearly and definitively the best non-album Weezer song. On what sounds like an 8-track recording, the boys sing a wistful tune longing for a simple life while a piano plunks through chord progressions. Then it all gives way big, beautiful heartfelt mess of a layered vocal section where the competing parts never quite align but never fall apart either. It’s a perfect piece of the ramshackle happiness that’s present throughout all of Weezer’s most endearing moments.
Even when he sang about looking just like Buddy Holly, Cuomo was still missing a key component. He is almost unrecognizable on the Blue Album cover because he’s not wearing his ubiquitous black glasses. But sometime between the emotional fallout around Pinkerton and the release of the Green Album, Cuomo put on some thick frames and hasn’t been seen without them since, and has subsequently become the most recognizable hero of hiding behind one’s glasses. Cuomo’s eyeglass choice was likely more function than fashion but he inadvertently set in motion our current society’s hellish black plastic framed reality ruled over by Emperor Warby Parker and his hordes of “nerds.”
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