"Much like Hamlet is a young manís play, I feel that
Pinkerton is something of a young manís album."
"A collection of get-down party anthems for agoraphobics."Pinkerton
—Jeff Gordinier, Entertainment Weekly
is Alternative Rock
's second album, released on 24 September 1996. The album was initially planned as a Rock Opera
named Songs from the Black Hole
, but the concept was eventually abandoned, and the final album combined songs that were discarded from Black Hole
and new, Creator Breakdowny
As mentioned above, frontman Rivers Cuomo's initial plan to follow their self-titled debut was to create a Rock Opera
that he described as "an analogy for taking off, going out on the road and up the charts with a rock band, which is what was happening to me at the time I was writing this and feeling like I was lost in space". The songs were also influenced by somewhat of a Creator Breakdown
as Cuomo underwent painful surgery to correct the fact that he was born with one leg shorter than the other, and was accepted to study at Harvard
with a letter describing his disillusionment with the rock lifestyle but found himself isolated and lonely.
The album was recorded in September 1995, January, March and June 1996 at a variety of studios (Sound City and Hollywood Sound Recorders in Los Angeles, Fort Apache in Boston, Rumbo Recorders in Canoga Park and Electric Lady Studios in New York) during Cuomo's breaks from Harvard, which left the other band members plenty of free time to indulge in their own projects. Intending a rawer, Darker and Edgier
sound, Cuomo chose to have the band self-produce the record with 12 engineers, replacing Ric Ocasek
's earlier radio-friendly production with a pounding drum sound and vicious, aggressive guitar sounds accomplished by connecting them to multiple distortion pedals at once. Cuomo, bassist Matt Sharp and guitarist Brian Bell also eschewed overdubbing vocals like on their previous album, choosing instead to record them live around three microphones.
The title of the album comes from the character in Madame Butterfly
, but right before its release the Pinkerton security agency
attempted to sue for trademark infringement, only to have their case thrown out almost instantly. The first single, "El Scorcho", stiffed on MTV, possibly due to Cuomo's refusal to indulge in the "gimmicky" videos that made "Buddy Holly" a success, and despite subsequent singles "The Good Life" and "Pink Triangle", Pinkerton
stopped at #19 on the Billboard
charts and endured a severe critical beatdown: infamously, Rolling Stone
's review criticised every song save "Butterfly" (which they praised and compared to Big Star
) and a reader poll named it one of the worst albums of 1996. The terrible response drove Weezer into a hiatus for three years and influenced the band's Lighter and Softer
Despite this, the album settled on being a Cult Classic
and slowly but steadily gathered a fanbase, and years later the consensus altered and it became recognised as Weezer's Magnum Opus
Pinkerton provides examples of:
- Asian Speekee Engrish: The opening lines of "Across the Sea" have this, since they're quoting from a letter Rivers got from a Japanese fan (who apparently lives in a small city named Japan).
- Book Ends: As snarked in the Pitchfork review, Pinkerton begins with "Tired of Sex", where Rivers Cuomo rants about having meaningless sex and desiring true love, but ends with "Butterfly", where Rivers Cuomo abandons the newly-found true love in favour of more meaningless sex.
- Concept Album: While the Rock Opera idea was scrapped, Pinkerton retains some elements of a concept album, chiefly due to its lyrical subject matter.
- Continuity Nod: "Falling for you" gets mentioned in "El Scorcho", only for a song named "Falling for You" to appear shortly afterwards. "Falling for You" itself mentions "turning in my rockstar card", which is a nod to the lyrics of "The Good Life", and the aforementioned girl's cello from "El Scorcho" makes another appearance.
- Darker and Edgier: Big time compared to The Blue Album.
- Darkest Hour: "Across the Sea," which reveals the depth of Rivers' dysfunction for the first time on the album.
- Doo Wop Progression: The chorus of "Why Bother?" and parts of "Butterfly".
- Dreadful Musician: Alluded to in "Falling for You", where Rivers tries to play the cello but fails miserably ("I can't believe how bad I suck, it's true"). This could be more Self-Deprecation since he is a bit of a multi-instrumentalist, or simply a reflection of the fact that the cello is quite hard to play for beginners.
- Emo: Pinkerton has commonly been cited as an influence not only on Alternative Rock in general but on Emo specifically, possibly due to its raw production and the lyrics painting what Pitchfork called "an uncomfortably honest self-portrait" of Cuomo. However, unlike later Emo bands that cited it as an influence, Pinkerton contains a few songs where the band's Power Pop roots shine through ("The Good Life" and "Across The Sea"), some clearly less angsty moments ("Falling for You") as well as a sense of humour, chiefly in the self-mocking lyrics of "The Good Life" and "El Scorcho" as well as Matt Sharp's backing vocals and interjections ("I've HAD it!") and the videos for "El Scorcho" and "The Good Life".
- Freudian Excuse: The bridge of "Across the Sea" tries to invoke this.
- Heroic Self-Deprecation: Considering some of the lyrics the "heroic" part may be in question, but on some songs Cuomo goes to worrying extremes with the self-criticism (see: "Why Bother?" and that lovely line about head-cracking, maybe "The Good Life").
- Ignored Epiphany: Several songs have moments where Rivers acknowledges that his behaviour is wrong, like in "Tired of Sex" ("I know I'm a sinner"), "Getchoo" ("You know this is breaking me up/You think that I'm some kind of freak"), the chorus of "Across the Sea" ("I think it would be wrong"), "The Good Life" ("Excuse the bitching/I shouldn't complain" and "Who do I got to blame?/Nobody but me"), but it takes about a half-hour before "Butterfly" drops the self-pity and Playing the Victim Card. (Not that it helps, as the Book Ends entry shows...)
- I'm a Man, I Can't Help It: Some of the lyrics enter this territory, especially "Tired of Sex" ("I'm sorry, here I go/I know I'm a sinner/But I can't say no!") and "Getchoo" ("But if you'd come back to me/Then you would surely see/That I'm just fooling around").
- Love Hurts: The general theme of Pinkerton. Variations include:
- Lyrical Dissonance: Out of the two bounciest, most accessible tracks on Pinkerton, "The Good Life" is Rivers freaking out about What Have I Become?, and "El Scorcho" cheerfully mentions going into a girl's room and reading her diary.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Most of the Pinkerton is about a 5, with "Tired of Sex" and "Getchoo" pushing the album into a 6, and the acoustic "Butterfly" representing a 1.
- Most Writers Are Male And Angsty: The lyrics of Pinkerton are essentially a Too Much Information-sharing of Rivers Cuomo's romantic misadventures, so at some points they can come across as creepy or self-centered.
- Pop Punk: "Why Bother?".
- Pretty Fly for a White Guy: The chorus of "The Good Life", and some lines in "El Scorcho".
- Record Producer: The band self-produced the album, with engineering by Joe Barresi, Billy Bowers, Jim Champagne, David Dominguez, Greg Fidelman, Dave Fridmann, Rob Jacobs, Adam Kasper, Dan McLaughlin, Cliff Norrell, Jack Joseph Puig and Jim Rondinelli.
- Self-Deprecation: "The Good Life" and "El Scorcho", while inspired by Cuomo's real life angst at being lonely, are mostly of the joking variety. "Falling for You" also contains the line "What could you possibly see in little ol' three-chord me?", coming right after one of the more complex chord progressions and solos of the album.
- Shout-Out: The album's title comes from the main character of Madame Butterfly.
- The album itself is loosely based on the same opera.
- The opening piano and flute in "Across the Sea" apparently are quoting from The Beach Boys' "You Still Believe in Me".
- "El Scorcho"'s title comes from a packet of Del Taco hot sauce named "Del Scorcho", it quotes from Public Enemy's "Don't Believe the Hype" ("I'm the epitome of public enemy"), the lines about "listening to Cio-Cio San" and "watching Grunge leg-drop New Jack through a press table" were borrowed from an essay by one of Cuomo's classmates, and the line "I asked you to go to the Green Day concert" is a reference to how a lot of the female fans Cuomo met on tour were Green Day fans.
- Shrinking Violet: According to Word of God, "El Scorcho" was inspired by Cuomo's inability to say hello to a Harvard student he had a crush on, which is outright spelled out before the last chorus with "But that's just a stupid dream that I won't realize/Cos I can't even look in your eyes without shaking, and I ain't faking".
- Studio Chatter: The beginning of "Across the Sea" consists of a door opening, Pat Wilson laughing and several random notes on piano and flute. The beginning of "Falling For You" features one of the band members' amps randomly picking up a Korean radio signal, specifically an advertisment saying "What company makes this product?".
- A few songs on the deluxe edition contain audible studio chatter somewhere within the song. "Across The Sea Piano Noodles", "Butterfly (Alternate Take)", and "Longtime Sunshine" are notable examples.