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.