05 Oct ‘90s Alt. Rock Countdown: Pinkerton by Weezer
Key Tracks: Tired of Sex, El Scorcho, Butterfly
On first glance there seems nothing particularly special about Weezer. Best known for their rip-roaring power pop anthem Beverly Hills and their acclaimed 2001 hit Island in the Sun, many can be forgiven for mistaking the group for little more than a gang of unartful, unfashionable American geeks.
But between the success of their debut album and their unapologetic return to a relentless pursuit of mainstream appeal, the Rivers Cuomo–led group produced what has steadily come to be recognized as one of the ‘90s best albums: Pinkerton.
Pinkerton presented a marked move away from the band’s glitzy self-titled first album as Cuomo looked to produce a far darker, abrasive, and more experimental sound. Based at Harvard University and situated with a host of personal and new found fame-related problems, Cuomo’s new album manifested as an exploration of these issues. His clean power pop was left behind and instead he embraced a far edgier punk-influenced sound.
A key facet of Pinkerton’s underlying brilliance is the album’s rich conceptual depth. While the lyrics of many of the songs seem unremarkable in isolation, in its entirety, the album operates as a simultaneous illusion to two purposefully intertwined stories: The tale of Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Cuomo’s first-hand account of his romantic and personal struggles at university. In this respect, the record draws Cuomo himself into a comparison with Butterfly’s cruel antagonist Pinkerton, for whom the album is named; as the record’s recurring references to a Japanese love reverberate in tune to a power struggle between love and lust.
The story of the album begins with one of the key tracks of the record – Tired of Sex. Acting as an introduction to the band’s new coarser and grittier sound, the song is characterized by a powerful vocal and accompanied by an exhilarating hook. The track also sets the tone for the confessional nature of the album as it explores Cuomo’s desire for love over and above the emptiness of sexual promiscuity.
In another key track, El Scorcho, Cuomo recalls an ill-fated romantic encounter to the beat of what is arguably the album’s catchiest tune. Somewhat of a microcosm, the song exemplifies both the power pop and punk influences of the record while communicating a theme of frustration in the pursuit of a reciprocal emotional attachment. It is a theme which once again bares a close resemblance to the relationship between Pinkerton and Ciocio-san, who is referenced directly in the song for good measure.
Butterfly, the final track on the album, draws the record to a masterful conclusion. Acoustic and tender, the track echoes the final abandonment of Ciocio-san by Pinkterton as he administers the false promise to return “When the robin makes his nest.” Aside from drawing the narrative of Butterfly to a close, the track also brings Cuomo’s personal journey to an ironic end – he betrays his lover for a meaningless sexual encounter, taking him back to where he began and bringing the album full-circle.