Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Art is subjective. Music and movies aren’t about competition; they’re about artistic expression. Well, for those of you who know better than to believe those lies, welcome to another installment of Vs. This time, Ryan Bray and Collin Brennan debate over Weezer’s two most iconic albums in honor of Pinkerton‘s 20th anniversary.
Weezer’s body of work over the last 20-plus years could politely be called uneven, running the full spectrum from great to good to meh to flat-out abysmal (here’s looking at you, Raditude). But damn if the band didn’t deliver one of the great one-two guitar pop combinations straight out of the gate. The Blue Album and Pinkerton represent the best of what Weezer has to offer, though each taps into a different facet of the band’s appeal. One is a masterstroke of hook-happy power pop; the other is a darker, angrier, and stunningly personal meditation on fame, alienation, and romantic longing. One was quickly embraced as a ’90s guitar-rock classic; the other suffered the slings and arrows of commercial failure before retrospectively earning its now-classic status.
Admittedly, arguing the merits of one versus the other is a hair-splitting endeavor that almost borders on pointless. But with Pinkerton’s 20th anniversary upon us, Associate Editor Collin Brennan and I couldn’t resist nerding out over the geek rock icons’ best, most enduring records. We each took sides, he arguing for Blue and I for Pinkerton, to find out how the latter holds up against its predecessor two decades later.
Senior Staff Writer
Collin Brennan (CB): This is going to be excruciatingly difficult. I’ve often pondered the question of Blue or Pinkerton over the years and never arrived at an answer I feel happy about. I see-saw depending on my emotional state of being.
Ryan Bray (RB): I know, right? You’re really splitting hairs when trying to decide between one or another, which makes for a great debate. To me, it really boils down to the sugary hooks of The Blue Album vs. the emotional resonance of Pinkerton.
CB: But Blue is also SO emo. I think it’s earned this reputation over the years as being more of a pop/radio album, but it’s got its own kind of darkness. It kind of reminds me of The Beach Boys in that way, and especially Pet Sounds. You’ve got these wildly catchy hooks and a total submission to the joys of pop, but it all seems to be covering up uglier things like insecurity, family tragedy, and nerd-dom before nerds were ever cool. Take Pinkerton out of the equation, and The Blue Album all of a sudden seems a lot sadder.
RB: Definitely, but I’d say Pinkerton is really when those sort of dark undertones kind of took hold of the band, namely Rivers. The Blue Album has this sweet innocence that kind of overarches it, whereas Pinkerton almost sounds like goddamn therapy at points. When Rivers belts out that “OOOOHHH!!!” in “Tired of Sex”, it’s a huge release. I don’t know if there’s a moment on The Blue Album that explodes like that. Maybe Pinkerton was the natural next step from the subtler emotional anxieties displayed on its predecessor?
CB: Uhhh have you HEARD that guitar solo in “Buddy Holly”? Might not be a better release in all of rock music.
RB: True, I guess I was talking lyrically. The band have always had sort of a hard-on for huge riffs.
CB: In any case, I’m glad you bring up Pinkerton’s opening track, because it’s time to go song by song.
RB: Let’s do it.
Click ahead to see our track-by-track battle.
“My Name Is Jonas” Vs. “Tired Of Sex”
CB: Well, let me open with this: I would argue that “My Name Is Jonas” has the more iconic riffs, the more iconic melodies, but “Tired of Sex” does a better job of setting the tone for the rest of the album. It’s Rivers basically saying right out the gates, “This is not going to be anything like the last one.”
RB: You’re right on the mark. This is the definition of a push for me. “My Name Is Jonas” is the song that pretty much grabbed me by the throat and made me a Weezer fan. But in the spirit of this back-and-forth, I’m going to stump for “Tired of Sex”. To your point, it definitely sets the table for the kind of wounded catharsis that follows, and it’s really the coolest, most balls-out track on the record.
CB: And the chorus is the closest thing emo has to “Mambo No. 5”, which is something I greatly appreciate.
RB: I’d go as far as to call it one of my top three Weezer tunes. It’s really personal preference for me, but these two are already making this a tough back-and-forth.
CB: I probably wouldn’t put “Tired of Sex” in my top three of all time, but I think it wins this fight. The thing that stands out to me is how jarringly the perspective has shifted. You go from a song about car insurance [“My Name Is Jonas” references the ordeal Rivers’ brothers had to go through after getting into an accident] to a song about meaningless sex with groupies, which is basically going from “real-world” problems to “rock star” problems. Give me rock stars over insurance brokers any day of the week! On a side note, Rivers’ brother’s name is Leaves, which is also something I greatly appreciate.
RB: No doubt. You know there’s a second cousin named Forest in there too somewhere.
CB: One last thing I’ll say about “Tired of Sex” is that there’s also nothing on The Blue Album that sounds anything like that opening synth line. If you’re stumping for Pinkerton, one of the best arguments is its relative musical diversity, and I think “Tired of Sex” displays that nicely. Even if nothing else about the song is nice. I already feel like I’ve got to take a shower after listening to that one, but let’s move on.
“No One Else” Vs. “Getchoo”
CB: You wanna talk all-time favorite Weezer songs? “No One Else” is my all-time favorite Weezer song.
RB: Really? Well don’t hate me here, but I’ll tow the company line again here and take “Getchoo”. All respect to “No One Else”, which kills it with that ‘60s-influenced boy-girl pop sound the band does so well, but “Getchoo” has a kind of angry swagger to it that I really dig. I can be persuaded here, though, so let’s have it.
CB: Shoot, I thought this was going to be one of the EASY ones. We’re in trouble if we’re splitting so many hairs already.
RB: I know, sorry. I’m like that dickhead professor that you need to convince why you deserve an A. You’ll find as we go, though, that I can break toward Blue.
CB: It’s just that “No One Else” perfectly embodies the jump from that ‘60s-inspired Beach Boys pop to the ’90s alternative sound pushed by the Pixies. But rather than stop there, it takes it a step further and sets the template for what Weezer is at their best: hugely catchy, ripe for the radio, but also not afraid to embrace the ugliness. I think pop’s got a way of trying to put a sheen all over the human experience and make it something it’s not, but here Rivers is saying, “No, that’s not what it’s about. I can take my nasty, anti-feminist journal scribbles and turn them into a really perfect pop song.” “Getchoo” has that ugliness, too, but it shows all of its cards upfront.
RB: You might have convinced me.
CB: Uh-oh. This is beginning to get seri-uh-uhs.
RB: I think the moodiness of Pinkerton, when the band really is in that element, rivals The Blue Album at its sunniest. But I’m listening to “No One Else” now, and I might be sold. I think it might be a savvier song than I initially gave it credit for, and maybe that’s the highest compliment you can pay Cuomo as a songwriter. His songs sound so simple and catchy, but there’s more weight to them than sometimes meets the eye. I’ll give you this one.
CB: Yes! Chalk one up for Blue!
Winner: The Blue Album
“The World Has Turned and Left Me Here” Vs. “No Other One”
RB: I’ll take “World”. Maybe I’m doing a piss-poor job of standing up for Pinkerton, but I love that song.
CB: The contrast of the acoustic guitar with that heavy ’90s rock riff in the intro is definitely Weezer doing what Weezer does best.
RB: It’s tough but tender, which really is the stuff that makes Weezer great. I don’t want to take anything away from “No Other One”, but I don’t think it stands up to its rival here.
CB: Going back to what you were saying earlier about cathartic emotional release, though, that “houuwwww!” at the beginning of “No Other One” is probably one of my favorite moments on Pinkerton. And it’s cool that Weezer found a way to bridge grunge, metal, and emo in this kind of dirge-like waltz, but yeah, “World” is the one I go back to on a more consistent basis.
On a related note, stay away from girls with pet snakes. The drugs are one thing. But seriously, I’d be more worried about the snakes.
Winner: The Blue Album
“Buddy Holly” vs. “Why Bother?”
CB: I am hoping this is less of a barnburner.
RB: This one just doesn’t seem fair. “Buddy Holly” belongs in the alt-rock hall of fame, hung up somewhere next to “Alive” and “Basket Case”. Admittedly, a big part of my love for the song comes from Spike Jonze’s iconic music video, which has nothing to do with the song and kind of puts “Why Bother” at a disadvantage. But putting that aside, “Buddy Holly” is just too catchy, too quirky, and too much fun to contend with. “Why Bother” just feels kind of meh by comparison.
CB: I just watched that video last night while reviewing for this debate. Can’t think of a better visual pairing for a song that’s so ingratiatingly self-deprecating and so shamelessly nostalgic for a simpler time (that never even existed in the first place!). That sweet innocence you were talking about earlier, in reference to Blue — no other song on the record better captures that feeling.
RB: I think you’re right. It kind of nails everything that record’s about right on the head. Not only does it not-so-subtly tip its hat to the band’s geek rock charm, but it’s just so whimsical and happy-go-lucky. Total winner.
CB: I know it seems like Blue is running away with this thing, but that back half of Pinkerton is MEAN. Got a feeling this is going to be a closer race than it looks like at the moment.
Winner: The Blue Album
“Undone – The Sweater Song” vs. “Across the Sea”
CB: This one’s really a debate between what’s clearly the better song (“Across the Sea”) and what’s clearly the better karaoke song (“Undone”).
RB: Yup … This is where I get back on track. I spotted Blue a few, but I’m going with “Across the Sea” over “Undone”. Maybe that’s sacrilege to some, but “Undone” never quite did it for me. It’s a gut thing, and I can’t really articulate it. But “Across the Sea”, by contrast, is really one of those early Weezer tunes where I think Rivers started to really come into his own, especially as a lyricist. The way he pines for the girl of his dreams on the strength of a fan letter, it’s the kind of bold, personal step that he never really fully committed to on The Blue Album. I got to respect the growth here.
CB: I’m totally with you. With respect to “Uh, can I get a ride?”, “Undone” seems like the token Greatest Hits song that probably never appears on any actual Weezer fan’s personal Greatest Hits. “Across the Sea”, on the other hand, is Rivers baring his heart about this underage Japanese girl he’s in love with, and there’s something really romantic and dangerous about that. It doesn’t feel gross because it’s pure escapism — I always pictured him sitting in a snowed-in dorm room in Boston, depressed and just grasping at straws for something better. It’s got all the negative energy of “Tired of Sex”, but somehow ends up as one of Weezer’s sweetest, most earnest songs.
CB: Don’t get used to it, Bray. I came here looking to draw blood.
Click ahead to see which record ultimately reigns superior.
“Surf Wax America” Vs. “The Good Life”
CB: This is why we can’t have nice things.
RB: I’ll let you start here…
CB: I’m edging ever so slightly toward “The Good Life” because I think it’s got one of the best Weezer choruses, and that build-up coming out of the bridge makes me want to run through a wall. I get superpowers listening to this song.
RB: Can we talk real quick about Patrick Wilson? He’s definitely the unsung hero of this band.
CB: Drummers are always the unsung heroes. That’s why I never took up drums.
RB: Well, I especially think his efforts got overshadowed in the early years behind Rivers and Matt Sharp. His simple but powerful drumming anchors a lot of Weezer’s best tunes. To that end, I love the loud, stomping assault he brings to “The Good Life”. I get your superpowers analogy. This song cranks.
But “Surf Wax America” has a lot of fucking gusto, too. Pinkerton gets a lot of kudos for braving more mature subject matter, but seriously, what’s more fun than someone calling out the stiffs for working when they should be surfing?
CB: Wilson also pulls his weight on that tune. Those crashing drums are a big part of what makes this feel like less of a “slacker” anthem and more of a rousing call to action. Get on that board, dude! Do you think “Surf Wax America” is a totally earnest song, or is Rivers making fun of surfer bros a little bit? I could never decide.
RB: I don’t know. I feel like there’s a little bit of that wink-wink, nudge-nudge quality to a lot of Rivers’ stuff.
CB: It kind of hits that sweet spot of irony, where it’s probably a little sincere and a little snarky. OK, so we’ve got superhuman rock song on one hand, and surf-rock safari on the other. I’m going to flip positions here (hah!) and say “Surf Wax” takes the cake here. If only because it embodies an important part of Weezer’s sound that doesn’t always rise to the surface in the rest of their catalog. “The Good Life” isn’t quite as distinctive, even though it rocks harder.
RB: I reluctantly agree. You’re running away with this, Collin.
CB: I’m horrible. Sorry for being such a Blue homer. We can edit this out in the article, but I lost my virginity to this album, so EXCUSE ME if I’m a little biased.
RB: Haha. Now THAT’S confessional. Take that, Rivers!
Winner: The Blue Album
“Say It Ain’t So” Vs. “El Scorcho”
CB: This is another tough one for me. As with “Surf Wax”, both songs represent VERY distinctive sides of Weezer.
RB: I don’t know. I think “El Scorcho” is one of the weaker singles in the Weezer canon. it might have been why Pinkerton struggled so much commercially out of the gate. Although I give it points for the humorous Green Day jab they throw in there.
CB: How cool is that?
CB: I know I said earlier that “Undone” is a grade-A karaoke song, but “Say It Ain’t So” might be even better. These things matter!
RB: I’ve never been much for karaoke (drummer talking here), but I love that stop-start guitar breakdown at the chorus and the way that the splashing hi-hats bridge the guitars.
CB: No wonder you wanted to shout-out Patrick Wilson earlier! I’m on to you, dude. Like “Buddy Holly”, I think this one essentially qualifies as a canonical rock song. A huge, anthemic chorus paired with verses that really tap into the emotional vulnerability a kid feels when he realizes his parents aren’t perfect. The dynamics of this song are out of control. You can really hear the struggle that must’ve been involved in getting those lyrics to paper.
I can’t vote against this one, as much as I love the weird squiggly-ness of “El Scorcho”. I think that song was Matt Sharp at his goofiest and least restrained and really a good example of what’s been missing since he left the band.
Winner: The Blue Album
”In the Garage” Vs. “Pink Triangle”
CB: OK, Pinkerton, time’s running out for your rousing comeback.
RB: “Pink Triangle” wins this round for me. It might be as thematically subtle as a punch to the gut (“I’m dumb, she’s a lesbian”), but man, if the sexual frustration isn’t tangible here. In general, I think the back third of this record is really great, whereas I think The Blue Album trails a bit at the end. “In the Garage” has a certain relatableness to it that I like, especially for us devout music nerds.
CB: I bet you love that Peter Criss mention. Drummers gotta stick together!
RB: I’ll give it points for that. Guy lived under a bridge for a while, so he needs all the support he can get.
CB: “Pink Triangle” is one of my favorite tracks on Pinkerton for all of the reasons you’ve laid out. Weezer may not be the most politically correct band of all time, but part of me loves that Rivers isn’t trying to make any statements beyond his own sexual frustration here. The narrator’s perspective is myopic and selfish and woe-is-me, which isn’t something you often find in pop or rock songs. It’s refreshing and even relatable in its own way, if we’re all being honest with ourselves.
RB: Yeah, he’s not pulling punches. On a side note, what are the odds Kevin Smith used this song as inspiration when he was making Chasing Amy?
CB: The mid-’90s were certainly the pinnacle of straight dudes chasing around lesbians in popular culture.
RB: For sure.
CB: The best of times, the worst of times.
“Holiday” Vs. “Falling for You”
RB: I went into this thinking I was going to stump for “Falling for You”, but … I can’t. I don’t think it’s any fault of the song itself, but maybe rather the sequencing. By track 9, you’re kind of emotionally exhausted by Rivers’ various romantic pains and stresses. When you finally get to “Falling for You”, you kind of feel like you’ve been there and back so many times already. “Holiday”, on the the other hand, might be the most underrated song on The Blue Album. I really dig their songs that follow that waltz time.
CB: It’s certainly the bridge to The Green Album, though it took seven years to get there.
RB: Which one, “Holiday”?
CB: Yeah! I totally see this as an early example of the very, very best moments of The Green Album (also underrated, by the way, but that’s another debate). It’s got those huge, soaring guitar solos, the organs, the ’60s pop influence.
RB: Oh, sure. Good point. I’m really kicking my own ass in this debate. Sorry, Pinkerton.
CB: I was actually ready to cede this one to “Falling for You”, which is another one of my favorite Pinkerton tracks. So angsty! I’ve also been feeling a little like an old goat lately, so that song speaks to me on a personal level.
RB: Yeah, Pinkerton is definitely an old-soul kind of record.
CB: I think this would be a virtual tie if it weren’t for the doo-wop a capella bridge in “Holiday”, which totally wins me over. I read somewhere that Weezer practiced barbershop quartet songs before going into record The Blue Album, and I like to think this is their last-ditch effort to really show off those newfound skills.
RB: I’m ready to give this one to “Holiday”.
CB: Let’s pause for a moment, as I am beginning to literally hear the readers mashing at their keyboards in protest. I think this debate might not be entirely fair to Pinkerton, because it always struck me as more of an “album” album than Blue. It’s not the individual songs that get you, but the overall impression. What I’m learning here is that Blue has the more impressive songs, but nothing quite scratches the “alone in an apartment on a snowy winter night” itch like Pinkerton. On that note, we have arrived at our final round of this power pop bloodbath.
Winner: The Blue Album
“Only in Dreams” Vs. “Butterfly”
RB: The beat on Pinkerton is that it’s louder, angrier, and more abrasive than Blue. But, ironically, nothing on the record strikes an emotional chord like the acoustic “Butterfly”. The way Rivers sings about his struggle to control his urges and impulses is jarringly effective. It also boasts this gem of a line: “If I’m a dog, then you’re a bitch.” I’ll take “Butterfly” here, with all due respect to “Only in Dreams”, which is a nice album closer in itself.
CB: I agree. I’d even say that “Only in Dreams” is too long by half. “Butterfly” gets the same work done in about a third of the time, and I think it’s much more fitting to end on a melancholy acoustic note than with a crashing wave of noize. “Butterfly” lingers in your head, and that procession of “I’m sorry”s at the end is just so wonderfully tragic. It’s almost as if he’s apologizing for the entire album that preceded it, excusing himself for all of the messy emotions he’s spilled out onto the floor.
The Blue Album: 6
RB: OK, we’ve both said our piece, so where does that leave us? It seems that Pinkerton put up a moody fight, but The Blue Album leaves a stronger impression. In retrospect, the biggest divide between the two records seems to be that of the commercial, hook-savvy smash and the late-appreciated cult favorite. Pinkerton has some real winners, a few that are arguably the best in the band’s repertoire, and the depth of Rivers’ songwriting makes it something of a misunderstood classic.
That said, I think The Blue Album, overall, is just more satisfying. It’s catchy, fun, and occasionally silly in the way that the far-more-bogged-down Pinkerton wasn’t. Stripping away the critical analysis, The Blue Album is a near-perfect piece of ’90s guitar pop that just resonates more on a gut level. They’re both classics, but they work in different ways. Stood up side by side, however, I think the winner of this contest is a bit more clear cut than we might have imagined going in. What do you think, Collin?
CB: Yeah, I’m inclined to agree. Which makes me feel dirty, because this was supposed to be a Pinkerton anniversary piece.
I never thought to describe Pinkerton as “bogged down,” but that does make sense. It’s an emotionally heavy album that sometimes lets those emotions get the best of it. Too much catharsis, not quite enough candy. The Blue Album works so well because it strikes a balance between those two extremes. With that said, we don’t always listen to rock music because we want balance. On certain dark nights of the soul, Pinkerton feels like the only album that matters. Twenty years on, it still deserves to be celebrated for that.