“Pinkerton” is the experimental follow up album from early-emo pioneers Weezer released on September 24, 1996. Recorded during front man Rivers Cuomo’s time off from Harvard, “Pinkerton” shocked the system of most initial Weezer fans by delivering a sound that was darker, weirder, extremely personal, and certainly not at all radio friendly toward the mainstream circles that had welcomed Weezer’s profoundly impressive debut with such success after pop-rock anthems like “Say It Ain’t So” and “Buddy Holly.” “Pinkerton” had catastrophically failed to launch and to date remains Weezer’s least successful album. The album was largely criticized as sloppy, indicative of the band’s inexperience self-producing a record, and in 1996, Rolling Stone readers voted “Pinkerton” the third worst album of the year. Despite this initial bloodbath, “Pinkerton” is now regarded as one of the best and most influential albums in modern rock. Beginning in 2003, critic sentiment began to change with publications like Rolling Stone, Kerrang, Pitchfork, and Entertainment Weekly retracting their previous reviews and issuing perfect scores of 10/10, A+, and 5 stars. What changed? Following a year of zeroes across the board, original bassist Matt Sharp quit the band, Rivers Cuomo had seemingly accepted the fact that he was a terrible songwriter, the remaining band members viewed the success of their “Blue Album” as a fluke, and in 1997, Weezer began a five-year hiatus. During that time, “Pinkerton” and albums like it began developing a massive underground cult following. Many of the emerging rock scenes of the early 2000’s didn’t care at all what pretentious gatekeepers at major magazines thought about the records they had grown to love. Throughout this period, mainstream rock morphed out of the second coming of pop punk (ushered in from bands like Green Day and Blink 182) and reformed into a championed formulaic blend of heavy metal rap-rock, or what later came to be known as nu-metal (ranging from acts like Linkin Park, Korn and early Slipknot, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, and everything else in between that stuck to the model.) Throughout this paradigm shift, a growing number of rock fans felt left behind in the mainstream conversation. They identified less and less with what was being inundated on MTV and began retreating into the emotional underground of record store bargain bins. Around this time, Weezer reformed and returned in 2001 with their “Green Album,” (which Rolling Stone dubbed as the “Anti-Pinkerton,”) renewing their standing amongst fans and critics with the hit singles “Hash Pipe” and “Island in the Sun.” Finally on the other side of the embarrassment he felt after “Pinkerton,” Cuomo told Entertainment Weekly, “It’s a hideous record,” and “It was such a hugely painful mistake…that won’t go away. It’s like getting really drunk at a party and spilling your guts in front of everyone and feeling incredibly great and cathartic about it, and then waking up the next morning and realizing what a complete fool you made of yourself.” However, in the wake of a new phenomenon that had been taking shape behind the scenes for years, gaining accelerated exposure thanks to early social media platforms like Myspace and file sharing programs, and eventually bleeding into the mainstream zeitgeist, rock’s academics and narrators could no longer ignore the impact that “Pinkerton” had left on the genre. “Pinkerton” was a highly emotional record. Its themes explore gut-wrenchingly vulnerable topics like romantic frustration, sexual inadequacy, feeling undesirable, feeling lonely, and feeling like a disappointment. Weezer had been catapulted to fame just two years prior off their debut record, so the majority of “Pinkerton” can probably be best described as the therapeutic notes from reluctant rockstars struggling with imposter syndrome. Maybe mainstream America wasn’t ready for this representation in ’96, but following the increasing social pressures, isolation, and the diminishing decline of self-esteem throughout the Internet age, rock fans would finally be able to rip off the bandage. What Weezer had unknowingly done with “Pinkerton” was give emotional rock the global platform it deserved. Emo music had been developing quietly in the shadows for many years but was largely inaccessible to most listeners. Following “Pinkerton,” bands like Jimmy Eat World, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Paramore, Panic at the Disco, The Used, and many more started coming out of the woodworks, most of which directly cited “Pinkerton” as an inspiration. Years after nu-metal had lost its veneer, rock was evolving in not just a more emotional direction, but the heavy lifting Weezer had unwittingly performed on Pinkerton’s many experimental elements opened the door for many of today’s alt rock acts to blend together multiple genres without fear and cater to as niche of an audience they desired. In 2004 “Pinkerton” was inducted into the Rolling Stone Hall of Fame and in 2016 the album finally received platinum certification. Let your freak flag fly and give this exceptional record a full listen from start to finish, including the pivotal tracks “El Scorcho,” “Pink Triangle,” and “Butterfly” by streaming the unlikely gamechanger now on Spotify!
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