“El Scorcho” was the lead-off single for Weezer’s 1996 “Pinkerton” album, the follow-up to their very successful self-titled debut album from 1994.
The story behind “Pinkerton” is now legendary, but here’s the Cliff Notes version: lead singer Rivers Cuomo was having extremely mixed feelings about the success of his band, eschewing further band work to enroll as a Harvard undergrad in the interim. The songs he wrote for “Pinkerton” were intensely personal … oftentimes embarrassingly so … spelling out his ambivalent feelings for the fame and fortune his band received and revealing himself to be anything but the rock star people were thinking he was. The harsh sound and intensely personal lyrics of “Pinkerton” were off-putting for many folks. The album failed commercially and ended up getting bad to mixed reviews. Cuomo advised in 2001 in an “Entertainment Weekly” article: “It’s a hideous record… It was such a hugely painful mistake that happened in front of hundreds of thousands of people and continues to happen on a grander and grander scale and just won’t go away. It’s like getting really drunk at a party and spilling your guts in front of everyone and feeling incredibly great and cathartic about it, and then waking up the next morning and realizing what a complete fool you made of yourself.”
But … as these stories often go … the album took on a life of its own after it faded from the pop charts. The people that loved it … REALLY loved it … and praised the album in internet chat rooms. This fervent adoration for “Pinkerton” after its alleged critical and commercial failure wound up giving Weezer a new life, which caused them to subsequently reunite and achieve even greater and sustained commercial success in the new millennium. “Pinkerton” is considered by many to be Weezer’s best album and even Cuomo came around in 2008 admitting to Pitchfork: “Pinkerton‘s great. It’s super-deep, brave, and authentic. Listening to it, I can tell that I was really going for it when I wrote and recorded a lot of those songs.”
“El Scorcho” hardly seems like a radio hit on first glance. It’s off-kilter melodies and vocals almost derail the song, but the song keeps coming back to a chorus that increasingly becomes more rousing and anthem-like. The song is about having a crush on someone so intense that you don’t have the ability to communicate effectively around them. The goofiness of the vocals and musicianship is exactly what people do when they acknowledge that what they’re feeling is embarrassing and try to mask that embarrassment … poorly.
“El Scorcho” is in the best tradition of intense crush songs … the awkward, neurotic cousin of Jackie DeShannon’s “When You Walk in the Room.” It may seem off-putting and easy to dismiss at first, but seriously, you need to give it a few more listens. The song grows on you in the same way certain people do that you would at first write off. There’s always more than meets the eye and that’s what I see as the enduring appeal of not only this song and “Pinkerton” but of Weezer, in general. They can almost be forgiven for this album inspiring some of the most God-awful confessional “emo” music imaginable.