After 21 northeastern winters in a row, I’ve grown pretty damn sick of the season. The cold always seems to pierce through my woolen layers and straight to the bone; the already sickly social scene at my college seems to fall headlong into a frost-bitten coma; and if there’s any magic to be found in snow anymore, it’s eluded me for at least a few years now. One of the few positives I still associate with winter is the brutal, unforgiving insecticide that comes with it.
Another would be Pinkerton. It’s an album that can be enjoyed in any season, but one that fits best in the kind of lonely, New England winter that birthed it. The music wields the same bitter sting as does a harsh wind chill, yet has a sort of kinetic warmth to it, vital and angry and hot-blooded. There’s enough friction between the guitars to start a fire, enough vitriol in the vocals to heat an empty apartment — lord knows I’ll be sweating by the time I’m done singing and thrashing along with it, no matter the temperature outside.
The same can be said for the album’s incredible clutch of b-sides, songs so good that they give their incredible parent album a run for its money. Taken as individual works separate from their overarching theme and cohesion, half the songs on Pinkerton proper would have a hard time matching the strength of a rock’n’roll behemoth like “Waiting On You.” Even acclaimed and often-hilarious music critic Mark Prindle — whose general hatred for Weezer is no secret — swoons for this one, noting in his review of the The Good Life EP:
I haven’t listened to the first couple Weezer albums in years, but if their guitar tones are anything like the one in “Waiting On You,” it’s no wonder I gave them such high grades! It’s basically just a ’50s love ballad, but the guitars are like BLACK SABBATH heavy! There’s also a nice Flaming Lipsy guitar line after the chorus…
That’s a pretty good summary of Cuomo’s musical influences of the time: classic pop songwriting, guitars weighted by a heavy dose of metallic angst, and a bit of contemporary indie rock flavor — during a 2008 radio interview, Cuomo admitted that the Lips’ sound was a big inspiration for that of Pinkerton.
There’s much more than that going on here, though. Musically speaking, there’s the fantastic falsetto melody Cuomo sings during the intro, one of the more obvious antecedents of his Puccini crush of the time, as well as the great vocal counterpoint Brian Bell provides on the chorus — and the reference to Harry Nilsson’s 1968 classic “One” in the line, “Mine is the loneliest of numbers.” It’s a song built on the traditions of ’50s and ’60s pop, ’70s and ’80s metal, ’90s rock, and early 20th century opera — all references that are executed with subtlety and panache, creating something that is bold and unique but manages not to insult your intelligence or palette by making it all too obvious.
And even after taking the brilliant songwriting into account, there’s yet more: this song reeks of unashamed, human emotion. In a melody gorgeous and harmless enough to be a lullaby, Cuomo drops his guard and asks why he hasn’t heard from a love interest in a while — “I need to know,” he pleads. “Now is the loneliest of times,” he despairs with Bell on the chorus, a bit out of sync and disoriented. It’s a song about being off, and knowing it — the girl’s call wouldn’t be “nineteen days late” (and counting) if Cuomo had it together, right? “Still, I sit and wait,” he admits. “Waiting and waiting on you.”
Of course there’s anger, too, in the acrid jealousy that starts to seep into the second verse: “Who have you been seeing, that made you forget me? / I bet you called him… / Where does he come from? I bet he lives close by / I bet he’s ‘just a friend!'” (Is it safe to add Biz Markie to the list of references in this song!?) And Cuomo’s tortured shouts before and between dancing around Bell’s vocal lines on the second chorus just drip passion, especially when the rising guitar line that enters at the 3-minute mark starts to push up against them. Cuomo’s operatic vocal re-enters, this time wedded to words — “I asked you if you had a good heart / You answered ‘Yes, I’ll never do you harm'” — a sad, fading mantra amidst a growing din of vocal interplay from Bell, tom rolls and cymbal rushes from Pat Wilson, Matt Sharp’s bass runs, and feedback swells spiraling out of Cobainesque anti-solos. The ending canon to “God Only Knows” is musical proof of how heavenly love can be: the ending cacophony of “Waiting On You” shows the lonely flipside, an ugly and maddening hell.
Some things never change: perhaps the biggest complaint about the Weezer of the 2000s is the consensus that they have never once sequenced an album to contain the best material of its respective era. The same could be said for the band’s two ’90s albums, to be honest, but the difference there is that while “Waiting On You” might make a song like “Why Bother?” sound like child’s play, it was wisely left off the album for considerations of sequencing, flow, and conceptual unity. The end result is a couple great albums with some surprisingly great leftovers; something like The Red Album, on the other hand, winds up being a frustratingly haphazard mess with frustratingly superior outtakes.
“Waiting On You” actually predates not only Pinkerton, but even the release of The Blue Album, written immediately after the latter’s classic b-side “Susanne.” Although it made neither of the embryonic tracklist proposals, it was written as a part of Cuomo’s aborted Songs From the Black Hole space-rock opera, although no alternate lyric sheets exist to my knowledge. A couple alternate versions do, though, including a hissy Ft. Apache demo that replaces Cuomo’s operatic vocal line with a synth organ, and in fact has no lead vocals at all but only a few scattered backing harmonies. The song also got a rare live performance in 2008 at Cuomo’s Fingerprints in-store “hootenanny” jam with die-hard fans, a shaky but admirable one-take featuring something that sounds like some kind of middle school woodwind — as documented on the Not Alone DVD. Both are worth a listen for Weezer specialists, but no else in his right mind would give a shit.
A damn fine song, regardless, and one more reason to get excited for the forthcoming Pinkerton Deluxe two-disc release. Might wanna release that one while winter lasts, fellas. ‘Tis the season…