I just realized that Weezer’s second album, Pinkerton, was released ten years ago last week. September 24, 1996, to be precise.
A few years ago, I was emailing a friend and we were arguing about the definition of a concept album. The Mountain Goats had just released Tallahassee, which I suggested was, so far, the concept album of the millennium. Pinkerton, I claimed, was the concept album of the 90s with Exile in Guyville finishing up a close second. My friend didn’t think of either of those as concept albums. I replied that each one definitely tells a coherent story, complete with a fully developed narrative arc. I allowed that it “might be 80% in my head, now that you mention it, but it’s there.” When challenged to spell it out, I whipped off the following…
God damn it. I didn’t want to have to do this because I’m lazy, but here it is (in a crude, stream-of-conscious first draft):
As we start out, our hero, a young musician tasting the first fruits of fame, discovers that he’s tired of casual relationships and the self-loathing that comes with meaningless sex, and wonders why none of these encounters lead to true love (Tired of Sex). So he attempts a real relationship (“This is beginning to get serious / It used to be a game”) but soon realizes the vulnerable position this puts him in, as he starts to understand that the woman he is involved with is still simply seeking the type of casual relationship our hero had been involved in up until this time: “What I did to them / You’ve done to me.” (Getchoo). Although he realizes that this is not the perfect relationship, he decides to stick with her (No Other One). This doesn’t last, of course, and after this relationship dissolves he is deeply hurt and has become guarded even when he meets women that he think he could potentially love (Why Bother?).
But then a letter from a young fan inspires him to examine what he thinks it really means to love. This is the central turning point in the story as our hero realizes that he is absolutely fucked emotionally. He is coming to grips with his psychosexual neuroses that won’t allow him to enter into a relationship that might possibly work out, that he has been sabotaging himself since he was a child. Even his choice of career has made it almost impossible to have a real relationship (Across the Sea). So he decides, fuck it, let’s just have some fun with this… I’m tired of beating myself up about it. He realizes it’s okay to have a healthy sexual relationship, that he doesn’t have to be a monk (The Good Life).
As he opens himself up to new, less self-destructive women, he realizes that he doesn’t really know how to behave in these situations. He knew how to fuck groupies and pine after girls he knew he could never have, but interacting with female peers is scary and confusing (El Scorcho, Pink Triangle).
Eventually, he finds the perfect girl who fulfills everything he needs. While at first he’s ambivalent (“I’d do ’bout anything to get the hell out alive / Or maybe I would rather settle down with you”), they work things out and get downright schmoopy (“You’re the lucky one / No! I’m the lucky one”). Life is great! (Falling for You).
Alas, he discovers that once he gets what he thought he wanted, that he no longer wants it anymore. It’s the thrill of the chase that’s so exciting: “Every time I pin down what I think I want it slips away.” And he has to leave her. And then he does (Butterfly).
That’s how I hear it anyway. And if that’s not a concept album, I don’t know what is.
After writing that up, I decided not to try to do the same with Exile. I realized that explicating Pinkerton took a little magic out of the album. I guess I prefer my concepts to remain in my head.
Previously on GLONO: Weezer at the Aragon, 2001; Weezer vs. the Record Industry: Guess Who Won; Grasp the Rock: Weezer Lets the Hardcore Fans Produce their New Album; and Well, It’s Better than the Last One: Maladroit.