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Pinkerton (album)

Pinkerton is the second studio album by American rock band Weezer, released on September 24, 1996 by DGC Records. After abandoning plans for a rock opera entitled Songs from the Black Hole, Weezer recorded the album between songwriter Rivers Cuomo's terms at Harvard University, where he wrote most of the songs.

Pinkerton
A village in a mountainous landscape during night. A man with a conical hat and a cane, and a saddled horse can be seen in the foreground. At the top left corner of the image is written "Weezer", and at top right is "Pinkerton".
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 24, 1996 (1996-09-24)
RecordedSeptember 1995–June 1996
Studio
Genre
Length34:36
LabelDGC
ProducerWeezer
Weezer chronology
Weezer
(1994)
Pinkerton
(1996)
Weezer
(2001)
Singles from Pinkerton
  1. "El Scorcho"
    Released: September 19, 1996
  2. "The Good Life"
    Released: October 29, 1996
  3. "Pink Triangle"
    Released: May 20, 1997

To better capture their live sound, Weezer self-produced Pinkerton, creating a darker, more abrasive album than their self-titled 1994 debut. Cuomo's lyrics express disillusionment with the rock lifestyle; the album is named after the character BF Pinkerton from Giacomo Puccini's 1904 opera Madama Butterfly, whom Cuomo described as an "asshole American sailor similar to a touring rock star". Like the opera, the album contains references to Japanese culture.

Pinkerton produced the singles "El Scorcho", "The Good Life", and "Pink Triangle", and debuted at number nineteen on the US Billboard 200. It received mixed reviews and did not meet sales expectations. Embarrassed by the reaction, Cuomo returned to more traditional pop songwriting and less personal lyrics for Weezer's subsequent albums. However, Pinkerton went on to achieve wide acclaim; it was certified platinum in 2016, and several publications have named it one of the best albums of all time. It was the last Weezer album to feature bassist Matt Sharp.

BackgroundEdit

 
Frontman Rivers Cuomo (pictured in 1997) cites struggles with music success as an inspiration on the writing of Pinkerton

In 1994, after the multi-platinum success of Weezer's self-titled debut album, Weezer took a break from touring for the Christmas holidays.[1] In his home state of Connecticut, songwriter Rivers Cuomo began preparing material for Weezer's next album using an 8-track recorder.[2] His original concept was a science fiction rock opera, Songs from the Black Hole, that expressed his mixed feelings about success.[2] Weezer developed Songs from the Black Hole through intermittent recording sessions throughout 1995.[3]

In March 1995, Cuomo, who was born with one leg shorter than the other, had extensive leg surgery to lengthen his right leg, followed by painful physiotherapy sessions. This affected his songwriting, as he would spend long periods hospitalized, unable to walk without the use of a cane, and under the influence of painkillers.[4] In the same period, Cuomo applied to study classical composition at Harvard University with an application letter describing his disillusionment with the rock lifestyle, writing:

Fans ask me all the time what it is like to be a rock star. I can tell that they are dreaming, as I dreamed, when I was a kid, of someday ruling the world with a rock band. I tell them the same thing I would tell any young rock-star-to-be ... You will get lonely. You will meet two hundred people every night, but each conversation will generally last approximately thirty seconds, and consist of you trying to convince them that no, you do not want their underwear. Then you will be alone again, in your motel room. Or you will be on your bus, in your little space, trying to kill the nine hours it takes to get to the next city, whichever city it is. This is the life of a rock star.[5]

Cuomo felt frustrated by the "limitations of rock". Every night after performing with Weezer, he would listen to Giacomo Puccini's 1904 opera Madama Butterfly; the "depth of emotion and sadness and tragedy" inspired him to go further with his music.[6] By May 1996, Cuomo's songwriting had become "darker, more visceral and exposed, less playful", and the Songs from the Black Hole concept was abandoned.[7] Weezer's second album would instead feature songs written while Cuomo was at Harvard, chronicling his loneliness and frustration, or what Cuomo referred to as his "dark side".[2][8]

RecordingEdit

In 1995, a few days before Cuomo left to study at Harvard University, Weezer spent two weeks at New York City's Electric Lady Studios, where they had recorded their debut, and tracked the songs "Why Bother?", "Getchoo", "No Other One" and "Tired of Sex".[9][10] Weezer hoped to explore "deeper, darker, more experimental stuff"[10] which would better capture the band's live sound;[11] they decided against hiring a producer, feeling that "the best way for us to sound like ourselves is to record on our own".[12] To give the album a live, "raw" feel, Cuomo, guitarist Brian Bell and bassist Matt Sharp recorded their vocals in tandem around three microphones rather than overdubbing them separately.[13]

While Cuomo was at Harvard, other Weezer members worked on side projects.[14] Sharp promoted Return of the Rentals, the debut album by his band the Rentals,[14] and Bell and drummer Patrick Wilson worked on material for their bands the Space Twins and the Special Goodness, respectively.[9][14] In January 1996, during Cuomo's winter break, Weezer regrouped for a two-week recording session at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California, to complete the songs they had worked on in August.[15] After recording "El Scorcho" and "Pink Triangle", they separated again while Cuomo returned to Harvard.[15]

During Cuomo's 1996 spring break, Weezer regrouped at Sound City Studios and recorded "The Good Life", "Across the Sea" and "Falling for You", before Cuomo returned to Harvard for his university finals.[16] They completed Pinkerton in mid-1996 in Los Angeles. Two additional tracks, "I Swear It's True" and "Getting Up and Leaving", were abandoned prior to mixing.[17]

Music and lyricsEdit

Pinkerton features a darker, more abrasive sound than Weezer's debut.[18][19] Writing from a more direct and personal perspective,[20] Cuomo wrote of his dysfunctional relationships, sexual frustration, and struggles with identity.[13][21][22][23][24] The album charts his "cycle between 'lame-o and partier'."[25] At just under thirty-five minutes, Pinkerton is, according to Cuomo, "short by design."[13] Critics have described the album as a mixture of genres including alternative rock,[26] emo,[27][28] power pop,[18] and pop punk.[29]

There are some lyrics on the album that you might think are mean or sexist. I will feel genuinely bad if anyone feels hurt by my lyrics but I really wanted these songs to be an exploration of my "dark side" - all the parts of myself that I was either afraid or embarrassed to think about before. So there's some pretty nasty stuff on there. You may be more willing to forgive the lyrics if you see them as passing low points in a larger story. And this album really is a story: the story of the last 2 years of my life. And as you're probably well aware, these have been two very weird years.

Rivers Cuomo's letter to the Weezer fan club (July 10, 1996)[30]

The first song, "Tired of Sex", written before the release of the Blue Album,[31] has Cuomo describing meaningless sex encounters with groupies, reciting his list of encounters and wondering why true love eludes him.[13] "Across the Sea" was inspired by a letter Cuomo received from a Japanese fan: "When I got the letter, I fell in love with her. It was such a great letter. I was very lonely at the time, but at the same time I was very depressed that I would never meet her."[23]

"The Good Life" chronicles the rebirth of Cuomo after an identity crisis as an Ivy League loner. Cuomo, who felt isolated at Harvard, wrote the song after "becoming frustrated with that hermit's life I was leading, the ascetic life. And I think I was starting to become frustrated with my whole dream about purifying myself and trying to live like a monk or an intellectual and going to school and holding out for this perfect, ideal woman. And so I wrote the song. And I started to turn around and come back the other way."[22][23] "El Scorcho" addresses Cuomo's shyness and inability to approach a girl while at Harvard; he explained that the song "is more about me, because at that point I hadn't even talked to the girl, I didn't really know much about her."[23] "Pink Triangle" describes a man who falls in love, but discovers the object of his devotion is a lesbian.[24]

Pinkerton is named after the character BF Pinkerton from Madama Butterfly, who marries a Japanese woman named Butterfly.[30] Calling him an "asshole American sailor similar to a touring rock star", Cuomo felt the character was "the perfect symbol for the part of myself that I am trying to come to terms with on this album."[32] Other titles considered included Playboy and Diving into the Wreck (after a poem by Adrienne Rich).[32]

Like Madama Butterfly, Pinkerton views Japanese culture from the perspective of an outsider who considers Japan fragile and sensual;[33] the Japanese allusions are infused with the narrator's romantic disappointments and sexual frustration.[19] Cuomo wrote that Pinkerton "is really the clash of East vs West. My hindu, zen, kyokushin, self-denial, self-abnegation, no-emotion, cool-faced side versus my Italian-American heavy metal side."[34] The songs are mostly sequenced in the order in which he wrote them, and so "the album kind of tells the story of my struggle with my inner Pinkerton".[35]

ArtworkEdit

 
The artwork for Pinkerton is from an ukiyo-e print by Hiroshige

The cover artwork is Kambara yoru no yuki ("Night snow at Kambara") from Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hiroshige's series 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō.[36] Lyrics from Madama Butterfly are printed on the Pinkerton CD in their original Italian: "Everywhere in the world, the roving Yankee takes his pleasure and his profit, indifferent to all risks. He drops anchor at random..."[37]

Behind the CD tray is a map with the title Isola della farfalla e penisola di cane (Italian for "Island of the Butterfly and Peninsula of Dog").[37] On the map are a ship named USS Pinkerton and "Mykel and Carli Island", alluding to Weezer's fan club founders, and the names of some of Cuomo's influences, including Howard Stern, Yngwie Malmsteen, Brian Wilson, Lou Barlow, Joe Matt, Camille Paglia and Ace Frehley.[37][38][39]

Release and promotionEdit

Geffen A&R rep Todd Sullivan described Pinkerton as a "very brave record," but worried: "What sort of light does this put the band in? It could have been interpreted as them being a disposable pop band."[24] Geffen was pleased with the record and felt that "no one's going to be disappointed".[24]

Weezer turned down a video treatment for lead single "El Scorcho" proposed by Spike Jonze, who had previously helped raise the band's status with his videos for "Undone – The Sweater Song" and "Buddy Holly". Cuomo explained: "I really want the songs to come across untainted this time around... I really want to communicate my feelings directly and because I was so careful in writing that way. I'd hate for the video to kinda misrepresent the song, or exaggerate certain aspects."[20] The final video featured the band playing in an assembly hall in Los Angeles, surrounded by light fixtures flashing in time to the music.[23] Director Mark Romanek quit after numerous arguments with Cuomo, leaving Cuomo to edit the video himself.[40] The video debuted on MTV's 120 Minutes and received moderate airplay.[20]

A day before Pinkerton was to be released on September 24, 1996, a restraining order was obtained by Encino, California-based security firm Pinkerton's Inc. The company sued Weezer and Geffen for alleged federal trademark infringement, claiming they were trying to capitalize on the company's reputation.[41] Under the terms of the restraining order, which had Pinkerton's Inc seeking two million dollars in damages, Weezer would be kept from "selling, distributing, or advertising an album with the name Pinkerton."[42] Geffen spokesman Dennis Dennehy defended the title, arguing that "to Weezer, Pinkerton is a character in Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly... It was not meant to be aimed at any sort of corporate entity."[43] Cuomo wrote a six-page paper defending the title, explaining "why I chose it, and how it works for the album, and how it's essential".[44] The case was thrown out of court after the judge determined that "the hardship of not issuing the Pinkerton disc would be greater for Geffen than any hardship Pinkerton's Inc or its shareholders might incur from consumers who mistakenly presume the company has anything to do with the album."[44]

As Pinkerton was not meeting sales expectations, Weezer felt pressure to make another music video more to the liking of MTV.[45] The music video for "The Good Life", directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, stars Mary Lynn Rajskub as a pizza delivery girl and uses simultaneous camera angles appearing on screen as a fractured full image.[45] Geffen rush-released the video to try to save the album, but was not successful.[46]

In October 1996, Weezer toured the Far East with concert appearances in Australia, New Zealand and Japan.[47] Afterwards, the band flew home to Los Angeles, where Wilson and Sharp made a promotional appearance on the nationally syndicated radio show Modern Rock Live.[47] A few days later, on November 1, Weezer began a tour of North America at the Ventura Theatre in Ventura, California.[47] On November 6, Weezer performed an acoustic set at Shorecrest High School in Seattle due to a contest won by a student.[46] A few of the performances were released in 1997 on the Good Life EP.[48] Weezer continued to tour until mid-1997.[49]

Critical receptionEdit

Professional ratings
Initial reviews
Review scores
SourceRating
Entertainment WeeklyB[50]
Los Angeles Times    [51]
NME7/10[52]
Pitchfork7.5/10[53]
Q     [54]
Rolling Stone     [55]
Spin7/10[56]

Pinkerton debuted and peaked at number 19 on the US Billboard charts, selling 47,000 copies its first week,[57][58] falling far short of Weezer's previous album sales.[59] Initial reviews were mixed.[60][61] Jeff Gordinier of Entertainment Weekly criticized Weezer's choice to self-produce the album and dismissed it as "a collection of get-down party anthems for agoraphobics".[50] In Rolling Stone, Rob O'Connor gave the album 3/5 stars, calling the songwriting "juvenile" and describing "Tired of Sex" as "aimless". However, he praised "Butterfly" as "a real treat, a gentle acoustic number that recalls the vintage, heartbreaking beauty of Big Star ... underneath the geekyteenager pose is an artist well on his way to maturity."[55] Rolling Stone readers voted the album the third worst of 1996.[62] Some listeners were perturbed by the sexual nature of the lyrics;[63] Melody Maker praised Pinkerton's music, but advised the listener "to ignore the lyrics entirely."[64]

Steve Appleford of the Los Angeles Times wrote that Pinkerton's songs often "are sloppy and awkward, but express a seemingly genuine, desperate search for sex and love."[51] Mark Beaumont of NME praised the album, writing that "by the time the affecting acoustic lament 'Butterfly' wafts in like Big Star at a wildlife protection meeting, Pinkerton starts feeling like a truly moving album."[52] Ryan Schreiber of Pitchfork wrote that "Pinkerton might actually be a bit much for fans who were wooed with the clean production and immediately accessible sound of these guys' debut, but if given a chance, it might surprise even some anti-Weezer folk."[53] Q was complimentary and wrote, "On every tale of romance, delivered in perfect verse/chorus formula, you can see Jennifer Aniston giving it some attitude in the kitchen."[54]

LegacyEdit

Professional ratings
Retrospective reviews
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic     [18]
American Songwriter     [65]
Entertainment WeeklyA[66]
Pitchfork10/10[67]
Rolling Stone     [68]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide     [69]
Tiny Mix Tapes     [70]

Despite Pinkerton's mixed reception, in later years it garnered enduring sales, critical acclaim and cult status through internet word of mouth.[71][72] It came to be considered among Weezer's best work by fans and critics.[18][73]

Cuomo was embarrassed by Pinkerton's reception and the personal nature of its songs. In August 1997, he wrote: "This has been a tough year. It's not just that the world has said Pinkerton isn't worth a shit, but that the Blue album wasn't either. It was a fluke. It was the ["Buddy Holly"] video. I'm a shitty songwriter."[74] In 2001, he told Entertainment Weekly:

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.[75]

After the Pinkerton tour, Sharp left the band and Weezer went on a five-year hiatus.[63] During this time, Pinkerton amassed a cult following, and a wave of mainstream emo bands including Jimmy Eat World, Saves the Day, Dashboard Confessional and Motion City Soundtrack were citing it as an influence.[63] Cuomo was not comforted by this development, and told Rolling Stone in 2001: "The most painful thing in my life these days is the cult around Pinkerton. It's just a sick album, sick in a diseased sort of way."[63] For Weezer's subsequent albums, Cuomo moved to simpler songwriting with less personal lyrics.[76] Rolling Stone described Weezer's 2001 comeback album, the Green Album, as the "anti-Pinkerton", with album art and "squeaky-clean" production that recalled Weezer's debut.[63]

Pinkerton's critical standing continued to rise. In 2002, Rolling Stone readers voted it the 16th greatest album of all time.[77] In 2003, Pitchfork gave Pinkerton a perfect score and named it the 53rd greatest album of the 1990s.[78] In 2004, Rolling Stone gave the album a new review, awarding it five stars out of five and adding it to the "Rolling Stone Hall of Fame".[68] Over the following years, it appeared in best-of lists by publications including Spin[79] and Drowned in Sound.[80] By August 2009 it had sold 852,000 copies in the US[81] and was certified gold.[82] In 2016, almost 20 years after its release, it was certified platinum for sales of over one million copies in the US.[83]

By 2008, Cuomo had reconsidered the album, saying: "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."[84] In 2010, Bell told The Aquarian Weekly: "Pinkerton has definitely taken on a life of its own and became more successful and more accepted ... As an artist, you just have to do what you believe in at the time, whether it’s accepted or not. You just have to keep going with it."[85] In 2010, Weezer embarked on the Memories Tour, playing Blue and Pinkerton in their entirety.[86] Cuomo said of the tour: "The last time we played all of those [Pinkerton] songs, they went over like a lead balloon. And I just remember that feeling of just total rejection. And then to see 5,500 people singing along to every last word through every song on the album, even the really difficult ones, was incredibly validating for me."[86]

AccoladesEdit

Pinkerton has been named one of the greatest albums by numerous publications.[87]

Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Magnet United States Top 60 Albums 1993–2003[88] 2003 #17
Spin 100 Greatest Albums, 1985–2005[79] 2005 #61
The Movement New Zealand The 101 Best Albums of the 90s[89] 2004 #12
Pitchfork United States Top 100 Albums of the 1990s[78] 2003 #53
Guitar World Top 100 Guitar Albums of All-Time[90] 2005 #76
Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Albums of the '90s 2010 #48
Guitar World Top 100 Guitar Albums of All Time 2007 #76
Alternative Press One of the 10 Essential Albums of 1996 ("Class Reunion of '96" issue) 2006 N/A

Reissues and other releasesEdit

On November 2, 2010, DGC released a "deluxe" Pinkerton reissue with an additional disc containing live performances, B-sides, and previously unreleased songs.[91] The reissue debuted at number six on the Billboard Catalog Albums chart[92] and achieved a perfect score on the aggregate review website Metacritic.[93]

Cuomo's 2011 compilation album Alone III: The Pinkerton Years comprises demos recorded between 1993 and 1996, when Cuomo was studying at Harvard and writing material for Pinkerton and the abandoned Songs from the Black Hole project. The album was included with a book, The Pinkerton Diaries, which collects Cuomo's writings from the era.[94]

In May 2016, Pinkerton was reissued on vinyl by the record subscription service Vinyl Me, Please. The album is pressed on "dark blue translucent vinyl with black marbling" and is packaged in a custom sleeve with pop-out art, a custom lyric sheet, artwork by Japanese painter Fuco Ueda, and a sake cocktail recipe.[95]

Track listingEdit

All tracks are written by Rivers Cuomo.

No.TitleLength
1."Tired of Sex"3:01
2."Getchoo"2:52
3."No Other One"3:01
4."Why Bother?"2:08
5."Across the Sea"4:32
6."The Good Life"4:17
7."El Scorcho"4:03
8."Pink Triangle"3:58
9."Falling for You"3:47
10."Butterfly"2:53
Total length:34:36

Deluxe EditionEdit

Disc one bonus tracks[96]
No.TitleLength
11."You Gave Your Love to Me Softly"1:57
12."Devotion"3:11
13."The Good Life" (radio remix)4:08
14."Waiting on You"4:13
15."I Just Threw out the Love of My Dreams"2:39
16."The Good Life" (live and acoustic)4:40
17."Pink Triangle" (radio remix)4:02
18."I Swear It's True"3:19
19."Pink Triangle" (live and acoustic)4:18
20."Interview – 107.7 The End – Blue vs. Pinkerton" (unlisted track)1:32
Disc two[96]
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."You Won't Get With Me Tonight" 3:29
2."The Good Life" (live at Y100 Sonic Session) 4:37
3."El Scorcho" (live at Y100 Sonic Session) 4:07
4."Pink Triangle" (live at Y100 Sonic Session) 4:10
5."Why Bother?" (live at Reading Festival 1996) 2:18
6."El Scorcho" (live at Reading Festival 1996) 4:09
7."Pink Triangle" (live at Reading Festival 1996) 4:52
8."The Good Life" (live at X96) 4:13
9."El Scorcho" (live and acoustic) 4:26
10."Across the Sea Piano Noodles" 0:38
11."Butterfly" (alternate take) 2:48
12."Long Time Sunshine" 4:17
13."Getting Up and Leaving"Cuomo, Patrick Wilson3:28
14."Tired of Sex" (tracking rough) 2:58
15."Getchoo" (tracking rough) 2:57
16."Tragic Girl" 5:26

PersonnelEdit

Adapted from the booklet enclosed with the album.[37]

Weezer

Additional musicians

  • Karl Koch – percussion on "Butterfly"

Production

ChartsEdit

AlbumEdit

Chart Peak position
Australian Albums (ARIA)[97] 38
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[98] 41
Canada Top Albums/CDs (RPM)[99] 15
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[100] 94
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[101] 65
Finnish Albums (Suomen virallinen lista)[102] 35
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[103] 11
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[104] 18
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[105] 4
UK Albums (OCC)[106] 43
US Billboard 200[107] 19

SinglesEdit

Year Song Peak positions
US Modern Rock
[108]
Sweden
[109]
Finland
[110]
1996 "El Scorcho" 19 10 18
"The Good Life" 32
1997 "Pink Triangle"

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Works cited

External linksEdit