From the pounding, primal assault of the opening track, "Tired of Sex," it's clear from the outset that Pinkerton is a different record than the sunny, heavy guitar pop of Weezer's eponymous debut. The first noticeable difference is the darker, messier sound -- the guitars rage and squeal, the beats are brutal and visceral, the vocals are mixed to the front, filled with overlapping, off-the-cuff backing vocals. In short, it sounds like the work of a live band, which makes it all the more ironic that Pinkerton, at its core, is a singer/songwriter record, representing Rivers Cuomo's bid for respectability. Since he hasn't changed Weezer's blend of power pop and heavy metal (only the closing song, "Butterfly," is performed acoustically), many critics and much of the band's casual fans didn't notice Cuomo's significant growth as a songwriter. Loosely structured as a concept album based on Madame Butterfly, each song works as an individual entity, driven by powerful, melodic hooks, a self-deprecating sense of humor ("Pink Triangle" is about a crush on a lesbian), and a touching vulnerability ("Across the Sea," "Why Bother?"). Weezer can still turn out catchy, offbeat singles -- "The Good Life" has a chorus that is more memorable than "Buddy Holly," "El Scorcho" twists Pavement's junk-culture references in on itself, "Falling for You" is the most propulsive thing they've yet recorded -- but the band's endearing geekiness isn't as cutesy as before, which means the album wasn't as successful on the charts. But it's the better album, full of crunching power pop with a surprisingly strong emotional undercurrent that becomes all the more resonant with each play.
As a cult classic released in the heyday of CD singles, radio promo gigs, and benefit albums, Pinkerton was a ripe candidate for a deluxe edition -- and that's not even considering that it has roots in Songs from the Black Hole, a scrapped second album whose long-rumored existence may raise the hopes of diehards for this 2010 deluxe edition. Those diehards may be disappointed that the second disc doesn't have the entirety of Songs, but based on this and the two collections of Rivers Cuomo solo demos, it seems that Songs was never close to completion and few tracks were recorded by Weezer as a band. Those tunes they did cut show up either on the finished Pinkerton or as some of the outtakes here, but most of this set consists of live performances (selections from the 1996 Reading Festival, acoustic numbers at modern rock radio stations, or electric takes from their summer festivals), radio remixes, and B-sides, with a couple of rough tracks ("Tired of Sex," "Getchoo"), demos, and outtakes for good measure. Like so many of these deluxe editions, this is a clearinghouse of rarities that lacks momentum as an album, and if the best stuff did wind up on the proper album there's nothing bad here, with a handful of the unheard songs -- the propulsive "You Gave Your Love to Me Softly," the nifty new wave heartbreak "I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams," the sludgy ode of devotion "I Swear It's True," and the breakneck "You Won't Get with Me Tonight" -- worthy of inclusion on the final album if only they had fit the theme. Of course, they didn't, and that's the use of a clearinghouse like this: it provides the devoted with more of the best, freshening up a familiar album just enough to make it addictive again.