The Canon, Examined: Weezer’s "Pinkerton"

Weezer may or may not be breaking up/going on hiatus/whatever (here’s one article on it) but since they’ve essentially been done since the release of Pinkerton ten years ago in 1996. The intervening years and their subsequent comeback attempts can be considered akin to Michael Jordan’s tenure with the Washington Wizards (doesn’t count), so now’s as good a time as ever to raise our \m/ \m/ in tribute.

As much as I like the Blue Album (or Weezer, mk. 1), Pinkerton was the band’s heartbreaking work of staggering genius – the rock ‘n’ roll diary entry that the critical world turned its back on, forever ruining Rivers Cuomo as a songwriter. In some straight-up parallel universe shit, the album got revisited by a new generation of SPIN writers and pop culture reappropriated the formerly hardcore punk subgenre known as emo to describe a bunch of tote bag-toting sweater-setters.

The new emo boom – such as it was – didn’t really set the music world on fire. But hey, Nevermind inspired plenty of awful bands too, and yes, Pinkerton is that kind of record. At a concise 10 songs and 34 minutes, the band present every musical idea and bizarre sexual peccadillo they have, from the faux punk and lonely despair of “Why Bother” to “Across The Sea,” the prettiest-ever song about fan-related sexual perversion. When Rivers sings “I’ve got your letter, you’ve got my song,” it’s both triumphant and incredibly heavy, the sound of a musician cutting his soul into slices and shredding them like so much parmesan cheese.

But Pinkerton is more than a rock band with killer hooks and incinerating guitar amps going well beyond authenticity’s comfort zone. It’s also Serious Art hidden in plain sight. Pinkerton, the album’s title, is also the album’s title character and narrator – yes, he of Puccini’s opera. (Stop me if you figured this one out on yer own, gang.) You can read up on Wikipedia and figure out all the parallels, but there are a few obvious references – the opera, “Madame Butterfly,” follows an colonialist American who arrives in Japan and strings along a fragile beauty (Butterfly, natch) until, out of love and shame, she kills herself. “El Scorcho” name-drops “Cio-Cio San,” Madame Butterfly herself, before getting blatantly meta: “How stupid is it / I can’t talk about it / I gotta sing about it / and make a record of my heart.” The song “Butterfly” follows the plot nearly exactly, and River’s very personal self-loathing and Asian fetish can just as easily – and simultaneously – be reconstrued as a modernization of the opera.

Dude obviously has a lot of very real, very serious issues, but if you’re going to make one of the most intensely emotionally revealing albums ever, what an absolutely brilliant way to do it. Like Jordan firing off that last shot in the NBA Finals, Weezer closed the relevant portion of its career on the best possible note.

Weezer – “Tired Of Sex”: mp3
Weezer – “The Good Life”: mp3

(Buy from Amazon)


The Canon, Examined is a continuing series spotlighting the finest records to ever slip through the cracks. Previously: Sufjan Stevens / Dave Matthews Band / Grant-Lee Phillips / Beachwood Sparks / Natalie Imbruglia / Lullaby For The Working Class