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Pinning Down the Butterfly of Fame

Late Garner

Remembering the Good Life: Weezer (from left, Brian Bell, Patrick Wilson, Matt Sharp and Rivers Cuomo) can't decide if it likes being famous.

Like Puccini's Pinkerton, Weezer returns--but is new album a swan song?

By Todd S. Inoue

I'm tired, so tired.
I'm tired of having sex.
--"Tired of Sex"

THE CURIOUS LAMENT that opens Weezer's new CD, Pinkerton (Geffen), lays out the moral crisis that the band--and chief songwriter Rivers Cuomo in particular--has struggled with during the past two years. The band's heady zip to the top is a crime scene that Cuomo wishes to clean up, but that means he must own up to his past sins and then part with his secret longings. Pinkerton is his sonic confessional.

Weezer achieved stardom on the strength of its self-titled debut album, which coughed up three hits ("Undone--The Sweater Song," "Buddy Holly" and "Say It Ain't So"). Teens craved the band's catchy buzz pop, and the boys spent the last two years locked in tour buses and hotel rooms, possibly engaging in excesses like the barnstorming rockers before them.

On Pinkerton, Weezer complains about easy sex, basking in a million screams and getting romantically attached to lesbians. Weezer is not Winger, by any stretch, so how can Cuomo and mates expect sympathy for such disingenuous woes? For the same reason the band can make joyful songs about dour topics, for the same reason it can get bookworms to dance to bouncy and ballsy riffs--because it's Weezer.

The album's title is derived from Puccini's famous opera Madama Butterfly, and Cuomo borrows some of its imagery to fit his own recent past. Pinkerton is the American naval officer who knocks up a geisha named Cio-Cio-San while keeping a wife and kid a secret back in the U.S. When Pinkerton returns to Japan with his American wife and towhead in tow, Cio-Cio-San kills herself (sorry) rather than face the shame, and Pinkerton adopts his socio-genetic experiment before living life safe in America. And so Western attitudes of love triumph over Eastern. Curtain.

I get creeped out over guys who obsess on such a tragic and "mysterious love" story. Cuomo isn't inoculated against Yellow Fever, and his affliction boils over in two of Pinkerton's most striking tracks, "Across the Sea" and "El Scorcho."

A hymn to longing, "Across the Sea" explores Cuomo's fascination with a Japanese girl who wrote him a fan letter. The song is quite chaste, a fantasy piece borne back from the pit of rock stardom. The girl wants to know his hobbies, his favorite food, his birthday; Cuomo wonders what she wears to school, how she decorates her room, how she touches herself.

With all of Weezer's buzz-saw pop melodies firing, Cuomo practically breaks down in a fit of loneliness. Like Puccini's Pinkerton, he expresses lovelorn guilt for being away. But he then does a turnaround, begging his fan to save him. At the end, he settles for a long-distance handshake. "I've got your letter," Cuomo sings. "You've got my song."

The song's sentiments of temporary escape are mirrored throughout the album. The wobbly first single, "El Scorcho," is essentially a plea for "equal status" between fan and performer. But for reasons unknown, "El Scorcho" begins with the quizzical line "Goddamn you half-Japanese girls, you do it to me every time." At "El Scorcho's" schizophrenic core, the band revs up, and Cuomo reveals his reserved nature, in a loud, frazzled voice:

How stupid is it?
I can't talk about it.
I gotta sing about it
and make a record of my heart.
How stupid is it?
Won't you gimme a minute?
Just come up to me
and say hello.

"Pink Triangle," the song about being romantically attracted to lesbians--not through any mental stimulation but through mistaken identity--is a petty penny to pitch. If Metallica had composed "Pink Triangle" (or "Tired of Sex"), the band would be scorned as homophobic or sexist.

Pinkerton's last number, the acoustic "Butterfly," attempts to reconcile Cuomo's wayward ways to his contrite present persona. His voice nearly cracking, Cuomo begs for forgiveness for capturing a butterfly and letting it perish. "I did what my body told me to," Cuomo sings, before twisting the Butterfly motif to suit his inadequacies: "Every time I pin down what I think I want, it slips away."

CD cover

UNDERSTAND THE IRONY. Cuomo can command power from his voice like Freddie Mercury, but his image--confirmed through MTV and Rolling Stone--is that of a Dungeons and Dragons fan clutching a guitar (Pinkerton was recorded around Cuomo's Harvard class schedule). It is this Dilbert vibe that fans relate to. Fans know Cuomo isn't really a philandering Navy man, sexing the ladies and eating sushi off their stomachs.

The album does, however, harbor a subtle strain of Asiaphilia. Given the Hiroshige artwork on the cover, the Karate Kid­like shakuhachi flute and choppy English intro to "Across the Sea," the Madama Butterfly theme and the "half-Japanese girls" line, I'll bet Cuomo hangs rice paper lanterns in his boudoir.

On the surface, Pinkerton is a 10-song, 30-minute whine--or wheeze--fest. The edgy, three-chord, three-minute explosions that characterized Weezer are still crusty and sour as a freshly baked baguette. Matt Sharp's infatuation with fuzz bass and Moog synthesizers (as featured with his side project, the Rentals) oozes into "Tired of Sex" and "Getchoo."

Cock rock also ripples throughout; sample the howls of abandon echoing on "No Other One." Weezer openly adores the sustained solo, the crunch of a stomp-boxed strum, the racket of cymbals crashing all around. Replace Cuomo's plaintive wail with the histrionics of Ronnie James Dio, and much of Pinkerton would be an underground hit for the metal set.

Despite the outward joy in playing that the band exudes on the CD, Cuomo clearly wants out of the rock & roll circus. The "Buddy Holly"­like "The Good Life" recalls life before and after the MTV Buzz Bin:

I don't want to be a known man anymore.
It's been a year or two since I was back on the floor,
shaking booty and making sweet love all night.
It's time I got back to the good life.
It's time I got back ... I wanna go back.

Not all sex is tiresome after all, but there's no going back. Pinkerton will certainly accelerate Weezer's popularity, filling its mailbox with scented letters. The multitude of Weezer fans and newbies will snap up Pinkerton, lowering themselves deeper into the tempting pit of misery that is a rock star's fate. It's ironic, don't you think?

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From the October 10-16, 1996 issue of Metro

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