Words About Music
The average music listener’s current attitude to Weezer is pretty similar the average music listener’s attitude to Weezer back in 1996 when their sophomore LP “Pinkerton” came out. Their self-titled debut won them fans the world over, and rightfully so because it’s also a classic, but when “Pinkerton” dropped, fans and critics alike were heavily disappointed. Instead of the slightly emotional tongue-in-cheek humor that they saw on songs like “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and “Surf Wax America,” they heard the post-hardcore/emo influenced darker side of Weezer that was much more sarcastic and much more self-pitying. “Pinkerton” illustrated lead singer Rivers Cuomo’s infatuation with an 18-year old girl in Japan, his boredom with meaningless sex, his desire to live the good life of “shaking booty” and “making sweet love all the night,” and most importantly his desire for love. Critics despised this album when it came out and Rivers suffered the punishment for putting his heart and soul into his music. Ever since, Weezer has been a punchline. So let’s talk about why this album is actually one of the best albums of the 90s.
Weezer had played faster songs before, but none with the complete intensity and noisiness of some of the tracks on “Pinkerton.” The very first song, for example, “Tired of Sex,” begins with feedback, muddy drums, and a keyboard of all instruments. “I’m tired / So tired / I’m tired of havin’ sex” sings Rivers. He’s not tired of sexual intercourse itself, but he is tired of shameful one night stands that he may or may not even be having. “Why can’t I be makin’ love come true?” The song builds up with pained screams, a shrieking guitar solo, and a breakdown that is really nothing like anything Weezer has ever attempted. The key word when it comes to this album is “experimentation.”
They keep the noise level up for the next two songs, “Getchoo” and “No Other One.” The former is about the narrator’s difficulty in maintaining a serious relationship because he is not a very serious guy. He begs for his lady to come back, but she leaves him. He doesn’t play victim for long though, as he admits that what he did to “them”—them being all the girls he slept with in the previous song—she was doing to him. It’s his fault. “No Other One” involves a different girl, and one that is significantly less kind. Here, the cheating and lying is reciprocated with Rivers actually being the victim. But she’s all he’s got and he doesn’t want to be alone, he says. He’s willing to endure this relationship (though if he was capable of getting a better girl he’d leave in a second) just so he’s not alone.
The lamentation continues when he finally gives up on relationships and the visceral and short “Why Bother?” He knows that he’s horrible at relationships and can’t help his sexual urges, so why bother with a relationship when he knows he’s only going to get hurt. It’s not exactly a positive way of thinking, but this isn’t exactly a positive album. The negativity continues when Rivers begins a quasi-relationship with a Japanese fan of his that he falls for, thus revealing Rivers Cuomo’s fetish. She sends him a letter after hearing his music on the radio and he falls in love, but he realizes that it’s not a relationship he can pursue. She’s across the sea.
Thematically, “Pinkerton” is very consistent even when the song isn’t specifically about sex or relationships or heartbreak. For example, “The Good Life” is about the desire to dance, make love, meet people, live the good life, something you can’t do when you’re enduring physical therapy and surgery like Rivers was at the time of writing the song. It’s a catchy upbeat number, but it’s obviously not one that’s going to make you happy. Self-loathing and self-pity galore. This continues, of course, in the next track “El Scorcho.” This song is probably the weirdest on the entire album if only because of the lyrical references to Extreme Wrestling, Green Day, Public Enemy, Madame Butterfly, and even other songs on the album. The narrator is in love with a half-Japanese girl who he’s pretty sure has no idea he exists. He studies her, essentially, and finds himself loving every little idiosyncrasy he finds. Unfortunately, he’s too shy to make the first move. One can assume that Track 9 “Falling For You” is a sequel. But we’ll get there.
One of the more humorous songs on here (probably the most humorous) is the always lovable “Pink Triangle,” in which Rivers falls in love—again. This time though, it’s for a girl he thinks is lesbian because of the gay pride symbol she wears on her sleeve. He’s not really sure though. He admits to fooling around with people of the same sex, but he prefers the company of a straight female above all. He does finally seem to find love in the aforementioned “Falling For You,” but he’s still reluctant. He can’t believe that after 8 songs of heartbreak with countless girls he seems to have finally found one he could settle down with if he didn’t have such an irrational fear of commitment, among other rational fears.
The final song, “Butterfly,” is what ties “Pinkerton” to the opera it is based on, “Madame Butterfly.” In the opera, a man named Pinkerton falls in love with Butterfly, a 15-year old geisha. They get married, but while Butterfly remains committed to the relationship, Pinkerton realizes he only ever felt lust for Butterfly. So he leaves, promising to return. He only does so three years later with an American wife, and Butterfly kills herself. All of this is found somewhere in the song “Butterfly,” but in less plain language. Even if you’re unaware of this opera and its ties to the album, it’s still a devastating song that proves once again that the narrator of this album is incapable of commitment, even though all he seems to want is the perfect relationship.
Instrumentally speaking, “Pinkerton” isn’t too complex. Lyrically speaking, though, it’s one of the most devastating albums to ever be associated with a wave of emo. It taps into emotion, lust, love, and yearning in a very realistic way that never really tries to portray the narrator as a victim when he’s clearly the one who’s damaged. You don’t need to sympathize really, it’s just a sad album about a guy who wants one thing but, irrationally, cannot have it. No wonder critics hated it when it came out! It’s based on an early 20th century Italian opera and directly talks about shameless groupie sex. And this was the band that sang “Oh-wee-ooh, I look just like Buddy Holly.” Nowadays, it’s considered an improperly despised classic, and rightfully so if you ask me. It’s sharp, brutally sad, and even funny at times. Humor doesn’t get this dry this side of the Atlantic, and if you’re looking for insight into the vast and expanding world of emo, there’s no better place to start than “Pinkerton.”