Weezer: The Early Years

By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  December 7, 2010

Pinkerton was a straight-up bomb: the singles "El Scorcho" and "The Good Life" tanked on radio, and the album was both a commercial failure and critically reviled. The band broke up soon after, and by the late '90s, Weezer seemed destined to be just one of many on the alt-rock discard pile. All these years later, Cuomo himself is still stymied by the album's initial reception. "I was surprised. I think I was holding, in my mind, a number of possible outcomes for the record before it came out. Like, you know, maybe it'll be a failure and sell half as many as our first record. Or maybe this is gonna catapult us to legend status and I'll be viewed as this genius songwriter/frontman guy. But I don't think that anywhere in my range of possibilities did I imagine that it would actually sell only 10 percent of what the first album sold, and then would be voted second-worst album of the year by Rolling Stone and immediately fall off the Billboard charts."

The album's reception affected Cuomo, and as the band languished in uncertainty, he was open about the outright embarrassment that Pinkerton had caused him. He had conceived it as a rock opera based on his newly conceived love of Puccini's Madama Butterfly, but the end result was less arch and more painfully honest and scarred, dealing with the guilt and loneliness he felt as a rock star seeking anonymity, among other things. (Cuomo entered Harvard in 1995; eventually, in 2006, he got a BA in English.) Over time, though, he's warmed to the album — it's come to mean more than the band's big misstep. "To me, I can hear, on Pinkerton, that the heart of the tracks, the origin of the songs, is just me and an acoustic guitar, so the songs really hold together as just a guy singing and strumming. Instead of some of the later stuff we've done, where things are built up track by track. In curating the recent reissue, I spent a lot of time listening to the record and some of the sessions from '95 and '96, and I was just hit with how complete and beautiful it sounds, to me."

Cuomo hasn't been alone in rediscovering Pinkerton in hindsight. While he was holed up in Boston writing song after discarded song, a new generation of Weezer fans was drawn to the band's albatross album, which in the ensuing years had come to be seen as a kind of blueprint for the nascent emo movement. The drumbeat became too loud for Cuomo and the band to ignore; they emerged from hibernation with 2001's Weezer ("The Green Album"). Since then, Cuomo has rarely suffered from writer's block: Weezer have managed to put out a new release every few years and maintain a high profile and generally preserve their status as a successful and influential modern rock band in an era where such a thing has become rarer and rarer.

Even though they've had huge hits that have far eclipsed the success of any single from the first two albums (notably "Hash Pipe" from "The Green Album," "Dope Nose" off 2002's Maladroit, "Beverly Hills" from 2005's Make Believe, and "Pork and Beans" from '08's "The Red Album," all four of which made Billboard's Top 10), fans continue to clamor for "The Blue Album" and Pinkerton. That could have something to do with the general critical reception of the later material. Make Believe was Weezer's biggest-selling album when it was released, but it was eviscerated by the press as incoherent and juvenile.

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