Album Name: Pinkerton
Artist Name: Weezer
Original Release Date: September 24, 1996
Record Label: Geffen
Chart Success: #19, Billboard 200 Album Chart
Pinkerton is the definition of how to make a willfully noncommercial and introspective album.
Pinkerton also has had a profound impact on my life, and the lives of others.
Overview of Pinkerton
Pinkerton is the second album from the "geek rock" band Weezer. Following their hugely successful self-titled 1994 debut album, which included the hit singles Undone (The Sweater Song) and Buddy Holly, Weezer released this album in the fall of 1996. Their record label, hoping for a repeat of the earlier success, pushed the single El Scorcho quite hard. The album tanked. For a discussion on why this album tanked, see the section below entitled "Why Is Pinkerton Viewed As A Failure?"
This album is a bit of a change of pace from their debut album. Although it continues to somewhat follow the pattern of catchy hooks and riffs of their debut, this album is much darker and has much more of a hard rock edge to it. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that the album is actually a concept album, mirroring the opera Madame Butterfly on many levels.
It is a complex artistic achievement, much more so than the average pop record. Let's take a journey through Pinkerton, shall we?
Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot
Wouldn't you like to get away?
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)
el Scorcho b/w you gave your love to me softly and devotion, released September 19, 1996, peaked at #19 on Modern Rock charts, failed to crack Mainstream Rock charts
the good life b/w waiting on you and i just threw out the love of my dreams, released January 4, 1997, peaked at #32 on Modern Rock charts, failed to crack Mainstream Rock charts
The Making of Pinkerton
Pinkerton was a three year work, primarily driven by the band's frontman Rivers Cuomo. In the summer of 1993, a year before Weezer's debut album (in fact, the band had only recently gotten together), Rivers was recording a handful of demos for Songs From the Black Hole, which at this time was only a vague concept of a "teen rock opera" inspired by the concept behind Smile.
Over the next year, Rivers continued to build on the concept of Songs From the Black Hole, recording demos in between practices and sessions for Weezer's debut album; during this time, Rivers mostly listened to pieces like Tommy, Pet Sounds, and Quadrophenia, and was beginning to move in the direction of a single cohesive piece of music.
At Christmas 1994, Rivers had a handful of home demos ready for the follow-up to the band's surprisingly popular debut album, and he spent most of the short break putting the pieces together into one long cohesive piece of music, which he gave to his bandmates on cassette tape. It's hard to gauge what the reaction of the other members of the band was, other than Matt Sharp's reaction.
In February 1995, while on tour in Hamburg, Germany, Matt Sharp had to return home for an emergency while the band stayed behind in Hamburg. Rivers spent this time with the other group members, fleshing out the Songs From the Black Hole concept, completing a second rough draft of the album, which had the following track list:
1. Blast Off!
2. Who You Callin' Bitch?
3. Oh Jonas
4. Please Remember
5. Come to My Pod
6. Oh No, This Is Not For Me
7. Tired of Sex
8. She's Had A Girl
9. Dude We're Finally Landing
10. Now I Finally See
11. I Just Threw The Love Out Of My Dreams
14. Superfriend Reprise
15. You Won't Get With Me Tonight
16. What Is This I Find?
This track list was melded together into a single cohesive piece of narrative music, a rock opera if you will set in space. Rivers went so far as to design the album art for the album, an all black album cover with the image of a couple astride a rocket as it blasted into space.
Then Matt Sharp came back to Hamburg and things began to slip away. While back at home in the states, Matt's side project The Rentals scored a major label recording deal, and thus Matt's attention became focused on their project.
Throughout the summer of 1995, when the band should have been working on their second album, Matt spent much of his time working on Return of the Rentals, his band's debut record, on top of the ongoing appearances that Weezer was obligated to. Rivers was also distracted and began attending Harvard in the fall, and ever so gradually the promise of the Songs From the Black Hole project fell by the wayside.
On August 27, 1995, the band convened to begin recording final tracks for their second album. Rather than recording the pieces Rivers had written as a single cohesive piece, however, the band began to lay down the tracks individually to simply make some sort of progress before Rivers was to leave for Harvard and Matt Sharp would focus on his Rentals project. About one quarter of what would become Pinkerton was recorded in late August and early September under the auspices of being for the Songs From the Black Hole project.
Rivers went away for his fall semester at Harvard, and while there saw the opera Madame Butterfly, in which he saw a great deal of himself. He kept working on songs intended for Songs From the Black Hole, but now he found himself working around Madame Butterfly as a loose narrative structure, and working the pieces out individually rather than a cohesive piece of music.
In January 1996, the band met at the studios to continue work on what was then known as "Album 2," since Rivers had decided around Christmastime to abdicate the idea of Songs From the Black Hole. The album was largely completed in a handful of sessions during Rivers' break from Harvard, to be touched up during the early summer and resulting in a completed album. It was decidedly introspective and often far from a strong commercial record, but it reflected Rivers over the last few years of his life, from the tidal wave of success to the realizations of the nature of relationships.
When the album was delivered to Geffen, they were happy to finally have a recording from the band and thus somewhat overlooked a change in direction from the band, releasing the album and heavily promoting the first single el Scorcho. Both the album and the single failed miserably in terms of market penetration, Rivers went into hiding for a while, and the rest is history.
Themes of Pinkerton
This album has several major themes running through it, and many more minor themes that avid listeners will notice. This section intends to illustrate a few of the major themes of the album.
The overriding major theme is the parallel between the album and the opera Madame Butterfly. The story of both the opera and the album are similar; love found, love lost, lover lost. The opera revolves around the love between Butterfly and Captain Pinkerton (hence the album's name and the name of the final track), while this album revolves around the various rejections and resulting confusion in Rivers' life. The album mirrors Madame Butterfly in that it mirrors the progression of a confused and painful relationship.
The concept of growing up in modern times is also dealt with as a thread running through many of the tracks. There are references to popular culture in several places, particularly in terms of elements that would be recognizable to children of the 1980s (professional wrestling, Public Enemy, Funky Cold Medina, and other such things) tied into the emotional failures of the 1990s, in terms of a fear of growing old and especially being alone.
Another theme is the fishbowl effect of success. Many of the songs address the nearly claustrophobic feeling that people seemingly have hoisted upon them when they become famous to any degree. Musically and lyrically, much of the album feels extremely claustrophobic, as though the walls that society has built are closing in.
tired of sex (3.01)
The album opens with the central character in a string of meaningless relationships that he's beginning to grow tired of. The lad has a meaningless fling every night of the week, and it's leaving him feeling quite empty inside. He seeks something more.
This song comes off feeling much like a march due to the very even and prominent percussion throughout; even though the lyrical content is way off, the track makes for wonderful dancing and exercise due to the percussion. The song is ostensibly about the ease and convenience of repetitive sex with groupies, part of the fishbowl of success theme that fills the album. The bridge of the song features intense amounts of feedback, reminiscent of In Utero or What's the Frequency Kenneth?. A solid opener.
Our hero has found someone that he actually likes, but he discovers that a relationship that grows serious grows in its potential to hurt him. He plans to make sure that he can keep the girl he has found.
Many people find this to be the weakest track on the album, but it includes some extremely memorable riffs and an exacting hard rock feel that carries the track. It is bordered by two very strong tracks and doesn't let them down, although thematically it is much the same as the track that follows it.
no other one (3.01)
Our hero has found the one true love, although there are problems with this love that make him feel uncomfortable. At the end, our hero begins to wonder if this is true love after all or just his need for companionship.
This song seems written to be played in an arena somewhere, with the opening riffs screaming arena rock. Thankfully, the song quickly overcomes this and evolves into a wonderfully harmonized piece with some truly good guitar work, especially during and following the chorus (the opening riff repeated, but it seems less pompous following the chorus).
why bother? (2.08)
Our hero begins to seriously question the relationship, wondering what the point is since it all seems like sexual attraction anyway. Our hero desires escape and looks at another woman with serious interest.
Somehow, this song is reminiscent of the band's big hit Buddy Holly, probably due to the chord progression in the song. Lyrically, it's about as far from Buddy Holly as one can get, though, but it retains the memorability of its predecessor.
across the sea (4.32)
Our hero's heart begins to fall for someone he cannot have who lives across the sea. They exchange letters, but this doesn't heal the hole in his heart.
This song is much more low tempo than the rock heavy songs that preceded it. The lyrics slip in quite a few lines of regret and anger about the whole necessity of living in a fishbowl (Goddamn this business is really lame, for example) within this paean to a Japanese fan about his sexual frustrations. A strong number that just somehow fits here.
the good life (4.17)
Our hero falls back into his old womanizing ways, chasing women and partying, never minding the broken heart he might be leaving behind for this choice.
This song has very tight lyrics, with the lines just fitting snugly into place between the chords, creating a very strong effect when the song finally bursts out into the chorus. It will stick in your mind for a long time if you're not careful.
el Scorcho (4.03)
The hero begins to realize what he has become and how it has again become a futile chase for something he does not have but wants badly. He looks to the one whose heart he broke, but is filled with confusion.
This song was designated as the first single from Pinkerton for the obvious reason; it's far and away the most single-ready radio-friendly song on the album. If you're a fan of the group for their radio and MTV hits, this is the place to start digging into the album. It's catchy in much the same way that Undone (The Sweater Song) is; the melodic quirkiness just steals you away.
pink triangle (3.58)
Our hero looks for love in places where he will never find it in much the same way a donkey chases a carrot on a stick; he wants something but doesn't necessarily want to or know how to reach it.
Although there is no extant evidence of it, one can't help but wonder whether or not the film Chasing Amy was in any part inspired by this song. The lyrics of this song deal with the same area as the film, with an individual falling in love with a lesbian who won't love him in return. The song musically builds on itself all the away along, growing from what seems like a simple number to some very interesting and complex guitar work later in the track.
falling for you (3.47)
Our hero falls in love again with the girl and rediscovers again that she is the woman for him. She accepts him back into her life.
This perhaps could have been a single off of the album, but it is lyrically the roughest of the tracks on the album and probably wouldn't mesh well with their clean-cut Buddy Holly image. The track is full of catchy hooks that set in your mind, refusing to let go, particularly the riff that leads into the chorus.
After finally finding what he wants and getting it, our hero realizes that he cannot stay and must never return. So he leaves his butterfly behind, never to return to hurt the beautiful creature any more.
After nine hard rocking tracks, the album closes with this very soft acoustic number. It has the same cold and numbing effect that All Apologies has at the end of Nirvana; it is the sound of something that was once held together that is now breaking apart. Here, it is our hero's heart. An amazing album closer.
Why Is Pinkerton Viewed As A Failure?
Streaks on the china
never mattered before
When you dropped kicked your jacket
As you came through the door
No one glared
But sometimes things get turned around
And no one’s spared
Both Weezer and their record label Geffen view Pinkerton as being a massive failure in multiple ways.
The record label, obviously, felt that Pinkerton was a failure because it didn't sell well at all upon its release, even though they put significant marketing muscle behind the album and especially the first single. It just simply did not catch on with the supposed Weezer fan base which had already migrated onward to the latest flavor of the month. At the time, the label blamed it on a too-long intermission between the first and second album and an obvious change in musical direction.
More interesting, though, is the fact that Weezer views Pinkerton as a failure as well, even going so far as to refuse to play tracks from the album at live shows. Why is this? It is the fact that from Songs From the Black Hole and Pinkerton, Rivers poured three years of creativity into the album to have fans throw the album back into his face. It was a very bitter pill for him to swallow, indeed, and thus he doesn't enjoy playing material that is personally affecting that his fans rejected.
After the release of Pinkerton, Rivers went through a minor psychological breakdown due to the album's failure to interest his fans and proceeded to fall off the face of the earth for four years. When Weezer finally returned in 2001, they brought with them an album that was even more of a confectionary than their debut, full of saccharine pop music without much personal insight. Their quick follow up to this, 2002's Maladroit, was mostly a mix of leftovers from the other three sessions, meaning that it wasn't quite as sugary sweet as the color albums, but nowhere near the achievement of Pinkerton. In short, Rivers has given up on the musical approach that has grown over the past four years to affect so many.
Me and Pinkerton
I didn't discover Weezer at all until 1996 after their Buddy Holly heyday. A person on my dormitory floor early in my freshman year began to play the band's debut album incessantly and somehow I became addicted to the music. So, one Sunday afternoon, I walked the better part of a mile to a record shop and picked it up along with their new album Pinkerton, which I bought spur of the moment since I didn't know of any of the songs on it.
I took the albums home and listened to them both. I quite liked their debut, loaded with a lot of very catchy geek rock.
I didn't understand or like Pinkerton at all.
Given my personality, though, I'm often stubborn at trying to enjoy a piece of music. I put Pinkerton on my "give it a try" pile and went on about my business. I tossed it in a month later and still hated it. Another couple of months, and I still didn't like it. It eventually found its way into my "take to the used CD shop" pile of drudge I had no intention of ever hearing again.
One night, though, I woke up in the middle of the night in a massive thunderstorm. Wanting to cover up the music, I pulled out my headphones and reached in the darkness to the top of a stack of CDs near my bed, intending to grab what was on top and let it wash over me. I knocked most of the stack to the floor; not wanting to clean up the mess just then, I grabbed the first disc my hand fell on and threw it in the player. Sure enough, it was Pinkerton.
Sometime in that night, as I lay there sleeping with the headphones still pumping Pinkerton in a loop into my head, I began to connect with the album.
The next morning, I woke up and began writing a letter to someone I had fallen in love with recently. We had been swapping letters for a while, but suddenly across the sea popped into my head, and I began to really identify with it.
I wandered through the loneliness that was my first year at college, wondering what I was doing there, why I felt so alone, and why I was so confused. Pinkerton was like an orchestra capturing the feelings of that moment in time like a dragonfly in amber.
Yet, the album didn't just stay there. Like a butterfly, it unfolded itself in new ways, showing me new beautiful patterns. The struggles of a relationship, the confusion about direction in life, the realization that a serious choice rests on the horizon and needs to be made, the perils of actually finally having to grow up. Pinkerton is all of this.
It's an audio look at my life over the last seven years, and of the lives of so many others who grew up in the 1980s and found themselves alone in the 1990s, not even knowing what they're looking for. Some find their way, others don't. But Pinkerton speaks to all of us, in much the same way that Madame Butterfly speaks.
Included in this node to illustrate vividly some of the album's themes are:
Lyrics from Where Everybody Knows Your Name (Theme from Cheers) by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart-Angelo, 1981
Lyrics from According To Our New Arrivals (Theme from Mr. Belvedere) by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart-Angelo, 1981