In 1994 Weezer released their eponymous debut Blue Album. Rivers Cuomo and Co’s sun drenched, geeky guitar pop blended with the grunge soaked vibe of the 90s and saw the record go Gold in just under seven months, and sees it currently stand at thee times Multiplatinum. Just two years later saw the release of the now infamous Pinkerton. Ignoring previous power-pop harmonies, Weezer delved straight into a disturbingly gritty, emotionally raw, roughly recorded concept album loosely based around Madame Butterfly. In complete contrast to the former it was largely criticised by the press as well as the band themselves: Cuomo would later refer to the album as a “hideous mistake.”
Few albums in past years have experienced such a critical overhaul; long loved by fans it seemed that Weezer would never embrace this release as the seminal record it is now appreciated to be, let alone re-issue it and play it live in it’s entirety. But, as emo music made it’s commercial breakthrough, this record seemed integral to more than just Weezer’s career. And so it is over 10 years later, on the verge of the ‘Blinkerton Tour’ that we see this bumper re-issue accompanied by 25 previously unreleased tracks, B-sides, live recordings and acoustic versions, not to mention the entirely separate Death To False Metal album. And whilst there is a certain air of cashing in overhanging this re-issue, there are genuinely enough exciting re-worked songs, demos and previously unreleased material to warrant its release.
Like Puccini’s opera, Pinkerton’s narrative is strung together by constant references to Japan as perceived through the western construct of the “Orient” intertwined by lyrical explorations of sexual frustration, meaningless encounters and juvenile longing. From the opening groans of ‘Tired of Sex’ this album is as vitriolic as it is cathartic: its raw production, howling instrumentals coupled with Cuomo’s confessional vocals sees Weezer at their most honest, and most fucked up.
The famed difficult-second album saw Weezer tackle the pressure of the limelight: the frenzied self-loathing of ‘The Good Life’, (“Screw this crap I’ve had it”/“I ain’t no Mr.Cool,”) conflicting with Cuomo’s need for the public’s adoration, (“It’s time I got back to the Good Life”). Hold up in Harvard, the album also saw the Manhattan born frontman deal with the futility of relationships in ‘Why Bother?’ and the twisted ‘Across The Sea,’ – a track obsessed with a young Chinese girl and a mother figure.
It isn’t all about Cuomo’s lyrics though; Matt Sharp’s savage, pounding bass lines twist around Brian Bell’s howling riffs as they ring out with a feverish ferocity and urgency: making this album darker and deeper than anything they had done previously, and any record they have produced since. Visceral, misogynistic and confused, this album drags teenage angst well into adulthood.
The B-sides and previously unreleased material follow in this vein, as the bellowing, grunge infused bass line of ‘I Swear It’s True’ clumsily plods along amidst sparse percussion and gritty, fuzzy guitars whilst epic ‘El Scorcho’ b-side ‘Devotion’ is a rich, hazy slice of 90s Weezer.
Emotionally fraught, the bonus disks are not just a collection of blistering electric guitars, but include several acoustic versions and beautifully slow, melodic numbers like ‘Long Time Sunshine’. This song was supposed to be the last track on Pinkerton before the equally delicate ‘Butterfly’ was recorded at the last minute. Later intended for the now defunct Songs From The Black Hole and finally ending up on Alone: The Recordings of Rivers Cuomo this stunning piano led number delves into rich acoustic guitar as River’s vocals rasp earnestly, revealing the singer’s insecurities against intimately arranged instrumentals. The special coda version included here results in an incredible a cappella overlapping of ‘Longtime Sunshine’ ‘Why Bother?’ ‘No Other One’, ‘I Just Threw Out the Love Of My Dreams’, and ‘Blast Off!’
Steeped in musical references from grunge to punk and pop, Pinkerton is undeniably one of Weezer’s finest albums and this re-issue is a perfect reminder that yes, Weezer were once this raw, this serious and influential. And so it is with bated breath that I delve into Death to False Metal: an assortment of previously unreleased material that didn’t quite make the cut.
Designed as the logical follow up to Hurley, it achieves the same hit-and-miss status; album opener ‘Blowin’ My Stack’ kicks things off with classic fuzzing 90s guitars but soon follows in the path of ‘Where’s My Sex?’ and ‘We Are All On Drugs’ before it. And if you’re trying to place what another one of these cheesy, tired collage rock numbers sounds like, just remind yourself that the song it was not quite good enough to be included in Make Believe. The terrible, unnecessary and ill-advised Toni Braxton cover, combined with the unbelievably poppy ‘I’m A Robot’ – whose opening guitar rhythm sounds like the worst ‘Lust For Life’ cover you have ever heard – leaves the listener constantly flicking back to the Pinkerton re-issue.
Weezer’s tendency to fill songs with the mundane details of life has become an irritating calling card, one that has left its mark on ‘Autopilot.’ Stuttering along with smooth electronic keys and jolting riffs, the pop aesthetic is punctuated by Cuomo’s benign lyrics about walking to the park with his “doggies.” Although one of the lesser tracks on the album, it may indeed be one of the most telling of recent years, as Weezer have indeed themselves been stuck on auto pilot churning out the same geek pop rock for years to mixed receptions. It’s a formula Cuomo has long fell back on, but looking at the backwards trajectory of Hurley together with the Pinkerton Deluxe Edition even he seems to admit enough might be enough: “I’ve got to get off/ The autopilot/It’s pissing me off.” Then again, that might just be wishful thinking on my part .
It is really tracks like ‘Turn Up The Radio’, ‘Everyone’ and ‘Trampoline’ with their grungy 90s vitriol and high pitched howls, alongside the Maladroit era demo ‘I Don’t Want Your Loving’ and the fragile strings of ‘Losing My Mind’ that save this record from complete oblivion. ‘Losing My Mind’ is a gentle, sweeping, pre Green Album era number that is far more complex than we have come to expect from Weezer in recent years. ‘Everyone’, recorded in 1998, channels the most obvious Nirvana spirit to date, bursting forth with a looping blast of aggressive bass lines, swirling percussion and infectiously disjointed rhythms set against a slightly mindless refrain.
It is almost impossible to treat Death To False Metal as a succinct album, because it was not conceived as such. The amalgamation of songs spanning the length and breath of Weezer’s patchy career is obviously going to be, well, patchy. It’s a cliché I know, but this collection of spruced up, previously unreleased material is definitely one for die-hards. And whilst the same could be said for the Pinkerton Deluxe Edition – if you have never got into 90s era Weezer, or have thus far not been able to overlook the awful commercialism of Make Believe – the Pinkerton re-issue is definitely worth the investment and gets the TLOBF Recommended stamp. The 90s, after-all, saw Weezer at their finest.