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Pinkerton is the second album by the American alternative rock band Weezer, released on September 24, 1996. Rivers Cuomo, the band's lead singer and guitarist, wrote all of its songs after a painful leg surgery; as a result, they were written in first-position on his guitar's fretboard so that he would not have to move too much to play them.

The album was seen as a departure from the band's original power pop sound for a much darker and more abrasive sound. Upon its release in 1996, the album was considered a critical and commercial failure. However, Pinkerton has risen in stature to become one of the most highly-regarded albums of the 1990s, receiving much critical acclaim, and is now considered one of the most important albums of the decade, having introduced the emo genre to a wider and more mainstream audience. The album was certified gold in the United States in 2001. As of December 2007, Pinkerton has amassed U.S. sales of 820,000. It went gold in Canada as well with sales of over 50,000. It was the last Weezer album to feature bassist Matt Sharp.

Background

After the multi-platinum success of their debut album Weezer, in late December 1994, Weezer took a break from touring for the Christmas holidays. Cuomo traveled back east to his home state of Connecticut, and using an eight-track recorder, he began piecing together demo material for Weezer's next album. Cuomo's original concept for Weezer's second album was to be a space-themed rock opera, Songs from the Black Hole. The album was intended to feature songs that flowed together seamlessly and end with a special coda that briefly revisited the major musical elements of the piece. The band began demoing and working on Cuomo's concept through intermittent recording sessions in the spring and summer of 1995. During this time, Cuomo, who was born with one leg shorter than the other, received leg surgery intended to stretch out his right leg. This would impact his songwriting for the album because he would be under the influence of painkillers. Sometime during this period Cuomo applied to study at Harvard Universitymarker with an application letter describing how disillusioned he was with the rock lifestyle.

Ultimately, the Songs from the Black Hole album concept was dropped. The album would instead feature songs composed before their first album (which had briefly been incorporated into the space-opera) as well as some new ones written while Cuomo was at Harvard.

Recording process

After touring for their debut album wrapped up in August 1995, the band took a seven-day break. Just a few days before Rivers Cuomo was set to travel to study at Harvard Universitymarker, the band gathered for two weeks of recording at Electric Lady Studios, the same studio where they recorded their debut. Guitarist Brian Bell commented "We're going for the deeper, darker, more experimental stuff," but assured fans, "we'll always be the Weezer you know and love." In these very early sessions, the band would attempt to record a "special coda" of several overlapping songs. It would be from these sessions that Songs from the Black Hole would come to fruition. The songs "Why Bother?", "Getchoo", "No Other One", and "Tired of Sex" would be tracked.

For the album, the band decided against hiring a producer. Cuomo felt it was "the best way for us to sound like ourselves is to record on our own." The intention of the band was to make a raw record, which would better resemble the band's live sound. The main goal was to achieve a big drum sound and abrasive guitar sounds. This was accomplished by connecting multiple distortion pedals. At just under thirty-five minutes, Pinkerton was according to Cuomo, "short by design." In recording the album over four respective sessions, the band would usually spend two days on rehearsals and then head into the studio to record the tracks. To give the album a live feel, members of the band would record the vocals in tandem around three microphones.

While Cuomo was at Harvard, his busy schedule left his fellow band members with copious amounts of free time. Cuomo himself, while at Harvard, would focus his attention on textbooks about music theory. Various members of the band used this time to work on their respective side-projects. Matt Sharp would work to promote his side-band The Rentals' debut album, while Patrick Wilson and Brian Bell worked on material for their side-bands The Special Goodness and the Space Twins, respectively. The band regrouped in January 1996, during Cuomo's winter break, for a two-week recording session at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, Californiamarker, with an intent on wrapping up the songs they had previously worked on at Electric Lady Studios from last August. As well as recording new songs, "El Scorcho", and "Pink Triangle", before the band went their separate ways, once again, while Cuomo returned to Harvard. The other members of the band went back to work on their various projects.

During a week-long break, in the spring of 1996, the band regrouped, once again, at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California to continue work on the album. During this break, the band recorded three new songs, "The Good Life", "Across the Sea", and "Falling for You", before Cuomo returned to Cambridgemarker for the remaining weeks of his second semester at Harvard and his university finals.

The band would put the finishing touches on the album in the early summer of 1996 in Los Angelesmarker. During this time, Cuomo would be without a permanent L.A. residence and would stay at Le Parc Suites in West Hollywoodmarker. At this point, he would worry about the transition from the academic lifestyle to the rock lifestyle. In the final Pinkerton session, two additional tracks, "I Swear It's True" and "Getting Up and Leaving" (originally written for the band's debut album but not recorded) were attempted and nearly finished, but were left incomplete just prior to the mixing process.

Writing and composition

Much of the album's content was written by Rivers Cuomo while studying at Harvardmarker. Cuomo strived to write from a more direct and personal stand point. The album touched upon various life experiences of Cuomo and included subjects like groupies, dysfunctional relationships, a fan letter, identity and former girlfriends.

The inspiration for the lead single "El Scorcho" came from Cuomo's shyness and inability to say "hello" to a crush of his while at Harvard. Cuomo revealed 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." For the single, Cuomo refused to make any "Buddy Holly"-like videos explaining "I really don't 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." The final video featured the band playing in an assembly hall in Los Angeles, surrounded by light fixtures of diverse origin, flashing in time to the music.

The song "Tired of Sex" was written on an 8-track, prior to the release of the The Blue Album. Cuomo rants about meaningless groupie sex encounters, reciting his list of conquests, and wondering why true love eludes him.
"The Good Life" music video


The second single from Pinkerton, "The Good Life", chronicles the rebirth of Cuomo after an identity crisis as an Ivy League loner. Cuomo, who had been isolated while at Harvard, wrote it 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."

Another song, "Across the Sea" whose inspiration came from a letter he received from a Japanese fan during a lonely winter at Harvard university. Cuomo remarked: "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. Even if I did see her, she was probably some fourteen-year-old girl, who didn't speak English."

The final single, "Pink Triangle", was released to radio on May 20, 1997 in a last ditch effort to boost sales for the album. The song describes a man who falls in love and wants to get married, but soon discovers the object of his devotion is a lesbian.

Themes

Pinkerton is named after the character B.F. Pinkerton from Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly, and the album plays as a concept album based loosely around the opera. Like the Puccini opera, the album includes other references to Japan, Japanese people, and Japanese culture from the perspective of an outsider who considers Japan fragile and sensual. The album's lyrical themes infuse the Japanese allusions with its first-person narrator's romantic disappointments and sexual frustration, the latter at times visceral and graphic. Due to the cohesion of the narrative themes, the album plays as a concept album about sexual longing and lost love, and because of its first-person voice, many consider Cuomo's songs autobiographical. Cuomo has stated that "the 10 songs are sequenced in the order in which I wrote them (with two minor exceptions). So as a whole, the album kind of tells the story of my struggle with my inner Pinkerton."

Artwork

The artwork on the album's cover is Kambara Yoru no Yuki ("Night Snow at Kambara"), a print by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hiroshige.There are other references to Japanese culture and Puccini as well: In some pressings, when viewed at an angle, the back of the album's jewel case has a vague image of a woman, perhaps a geisha. A more direct reference to Puccini may be found around the edge of the CD. This is the written lyrics from Puccini's opera 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…"

Behind the album's CD tray is a map with the title "Isola Della Farfalla e Penisola Di Cane." which is Italian for "Island of the Butterfly and Peninsula of Dog." Also on the map are a ship named U.S.S. Pinkerton and "Mykel and Carli Island", an allusion to Weezer's fan club founders, as well as more references to Madame Butterfly (Don Giovanni, Sharpless, Cio Cio San Island). In a 2005 appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Rivers Cuomo said that the names listed on the map are those who influenced him during the writing and recording of the album, with Howard Stern being one of those influences. Other names include Yngwie Malmsteen, Brian Wilson, Lou Barlow, Joe Matt, Camille Paglia and Ace Frehley.

Release

After finishing the record, the label's fear was put to rest that the band would be a flash in the pan after the success of the "Buddy Holly" video. 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? I could have been interpreted as them being a disposable pop band.'" The label overall was pleased with the record and felt "no one's going to be disappointed" with the album.

The first music video was shot for "El Scorcho." The band would pass on a video treatment proposed by Spike Jonze, who had previously helped raise the band's status to platinum sales with the help of his "Buddy Holly" video. Cuomo wanted to take a straight approach to video making because he was against doing any big-budget videos since he felt the videos would "taint" his songs. Mark Romanek, the director of the video would eventually quit the video after numerous verbal arguments with Cuomo, leaving Cuomo to edit the video himself. The final video featured the band playing in an assembly hall in Los Angeles, surrounded by light fixtures of diverse origin, flashing in time to the music. It debuted on MTV's program 120 Minutes and only received moderate airplay on the channel.

Just as "El Scorcho" was gaining momentum on the radio, on MTV, and a day before the album was to be released for public sale on September 24, 1996, a restraining order was obtained against the band and Geffen by Encino, Californiamarker-based security firm, Pinkerton's Inc. The company sued the band and Geffen for alleged federal trademark infringement, claiming that Weezer was trying to capitalize on the company's reputation. 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." Geffen spokesman Dennis Dennehy, defended the title stating "to Weezer, Pinkerton is a character in Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly... It was not meant to be aimed at any sort of corporate entity." Cuomo wrote a six-page paper defending his choice of the title. He described what the papers entailed, it "explain[ed] why [he] chose it, and how it works for the album, and how it's essential." Although a federal court hearing had been initially set for October 3, the seriousness of the legal and financial ramifications surrounding the album forced the case to be expedited to September 26. Due to the cover art which was akin to the Puccini's opera, the case was thrown out-of-court, after the judge dissolved the previous court order to have the CDs pulled after determining "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."

The second single fared much worse than the first single. Noticing the commercial failure of the album, the band had to compromise to make the video more to the liking of MTV. The music video for "The Good Life", was directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, features a pizza delivery girl (played by Mary Lynn Rajskub) on her route, highlighting the monotony of her job. The music video is noted for its use of simultaneous camera angles appearing on screen as a fractured full image. The video was rush-released by the record company to try to save the commercially-failing album, but was not successful.

In October 1996, the band toured the Far East with concert appearances in Australia, New Zealand and Japan. After wrapping up the tour of the Pacific Rim, the band flew home to Los Angelesmarker. Patrick Wilson and Matt Sharp did a promotional appearance on the nationally syndicated radio show "Modern Rock Live", in an attempt to improve the album's standing on the U.S. album charts. A few days later, on November 1, Weezer launched its tour of North America at the Ventura Theatre in Ventura, Californiamarker. On November 6, Weezer performed an acoustic set at Shorecrest High Schoolmarker in Seattlemarker due to a contest won by a student. A few of the songs performed at the acoustic set would later appear on the The Good Life EP. The band would continue to tour up until just before Christmas. They wrapped up the tour with a performance at "The Palace" in Los Angeles. Overall, the Pinkerton tour was largely successful, bringing the band to mid-size venues around the globe.

Reception

Initial

"Pinkerton" which peaked at #19 in the U.S. upon its release, was unable to sell nearly as many copies as its multi-platinum predecessor, The Blue Album. The album also received mixed reaction by critics on its release. Jeff Gordinier of Entertainment Weekly criticized the band for bypassing Blue Album producer Ric Ocasek to handle the production duties alone and dismissed the album saying, "[Pinkerton] sounds like a collection of get-down party anthems for agoraphobics" The album received heavy criticism - most notably by Rob O'Connor's review for Rolling Stone, who called the songwriting "juvenile" and described the song "Tired of Sex" as "aimless". In addition to the negative review, the readers of the magazine named the album the second worst of 1996. The reviewer from Melody Maker praised the music but advised the listener "to ignore the lyrics entirely." However, it received praise from Pitchfork Media who proclaimed "Pinkerton takes a few listens to get into. Which is not to say that it won't rock your world. In fact, by listen number three, you're on the ground with pop spasms." NME also praised the album saying, "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."

Perhaps ashamed of its less than stellar critical and commercial response, in 2001, Cuomo would frequently make claims to how much he hated Pinkerton. He told Entertainment Weekly: The band also shied away from performing any songs from the album while on tour supporting Pinkerton's follow up the Green Album, "Tired of Sex" being the only song to make an appearance during the proper tour. Cuomo would also occasionally introduce a newer song as "El Scorcho" just to mock the crowd hoping to hear the tune.

However, in early 2008 Cuomo stated "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."

Retrospect

Despite the rough start, Pinkerton has had enduring sales, and has risen in stature to become one of the most highly-regarded albums of the 1990s, receiving much critical acclaim and appearing on many "Best-of" lists. In 2002, Rolling Stone readers voted it as the 16th greatest album of all-time. It has received perfect scores from both Allmusic and Tiny Mix Tapes with the latter calling it, "one of the best albums of the 20th Century." In 2005, Spin Magazine named it number 61 in its list of the 100 best albums from 1985 to 2005. In 2003, Pitchfork Media's ranked the album number 53 for their list, "Top Albums of the 1990s." In 2004, Rolling Stone gave the album a new review, giving it five stars out of five and adding it to the Rolling Stone Hall of Fame. Drowned in Sound has also highly praised the album and said of the album that, "this is the ultimate break-up album, the best unrequited love album and the greatest collection of confused emotions captured in the universe...EVER!" It was ranked #76 on Guitar World's Top 100 Guitar Albums of All-Time.Non-U.S. publications have acclaimed the album as well: New Zealand's The Movement placed it at number 12 on a list of "The 101 Best Albums of the 90s," and Pure Pop of Mexicomarker ranked it number 21 on a list of "The 50 Best Albums of the 90s."As of December 2007, Pinkerton has sold 820,000 copies, and it is certified gold.


Accolades

Since its release, Pinkerton has featured heavily in various "must have" lists compiled by the music media. Some of the more prominent of these lists to feature Pinkerton are shown below; this information is adapted from AcclaimedMusic.net.
Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Magnet United States Top 60 Albums 1993–2003 2003 #17
Spin 100 Greatest Albums, 1985–2005 2005 #61
The Movement New Zealand The 101 Best Albums of the 90s 2004 #12
Pitchfork Media United States Top 100 Albums of the 1990s 2003 #53
Guitar World Top 100 Guitar Albums of All-Time 2005 #76
Alternative Press One of the 10 Essential Albums of 1996 ("Class Reunion of '96" issue) 2006


Legacy

As Pinkerton was released during the height of the third wave ska movement, it was considered a very different album from what was being released at the time. When it was released, it was considered a critical and commercial failure, however in the years following the release of the album, it would gain a much more positive reputation due to word-of-mouth over the Internet. Eventually, the album would be considered among the band's very best work, by both fans and critics alike. In addition, Pinkerton has been very influential on alternative rock.

Several bands which later became popular, including Yellowcard, Saves the Day, Taking Back Sunday, The Ataris, Thursday, the Used, and Dashboard Confessional, consider the album to be an influence on them. As well as mainstream bands, several underground bands also consider the album to be an influence as well, including The Promise Ring and David Leto of the indie rock band Rye Coalition who called the album the "rocker's album of choice"

Track listing

All songs were written by Rivers Cuomo.

  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


Chart positions

Album

Chart Peak position
Billboard 200 19
Austria 41
New Zealand 11
Norway 18
Finland 35
Sweden 4


Singles

Year Song Peak positions
US Modern Rock

US

Main-

stream Rock


US

Bill-

board

Hot 100


UK

Top 40


Sweden

Finland

1996 "El Scorcho" 19 10 18
1996 "The Good Life" 32
1996 "Pink Triangle"


Personnel

All information is taken from the CD.

Notes

  1. Luerssen D., John. Rivers' Edge: The Weezer Story. ECW Press, 2004, ISBN 1-55022-619-3 p. 137
  2. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 148–149
  3. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 145
  4. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 139
  5. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 157
  6. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 190
  7. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 191
  8. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 171
  9. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 159
  10. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 158
  11. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 176
  12. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 187
  13. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 188
  14. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 189
  15. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 193
  16. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 105
  17. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 192
  18. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 194
  19. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 177
  20. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 215
  21. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 196
  22. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 200
  23. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 195
  24. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 202
  25. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 203
  26. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 204
  27. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 205
  28. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 221
  29. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 219
  30. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 220
  31. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 222
  32. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 223
  33. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 206
  34. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 228
  35. Melody Maker October 1996, p.52"
  36. NME September 1996, p.57"
  37. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 208
  38. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 209
  39. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 307
  40. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 349
  41. Luerssen D., John, 2004 p. 210
  42. Pinkerton booklet and liner notes


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