Album Review: Gish [Deluxe Edition] by Smashing Pumpkins
Fantastic, Based on 8 Critics
Pitchfork - 100 Based on rating 10/10
I remember reading a desert-island-albums list by Billy Corgan in 1993 that was so scarily like my own musical arc-- pop/prog/metal nerd discovers goth, Jane's Addiction, and My Bloody Valentine-- that I couldn't have been more designed for Smashing Pumpkins hyperfandom if I tried. Like no one before him, Corgan made those influences work. As Canadian writer Jennifer Nine once put it in Melody Maker, you got a sense that he was the kind of guy who worked out every last transcription from Guitar Player in the 1980s and then actually did something with it.
It’s a sad fact: the Smashing Pumpkins’ stock has plummeted drastically since the band’s popularity crested in the mid-1990s. For a while, the Chicago group formed contemporary alternative rock’s Holy Trinity with Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but the Pumpkins have since hastened down the path toward irrelevancy, due to distracting internal squabbling that led to line-up shuffles and a 2000 breakup, all while frontman Billy Corgan’s obstinate inclination to follow his muse has yielded wildly mixed results. The extremely devoted among the Pumpkins faithful will argue until they are blue in their faces in favor of the 2007 comeback LP Zeitgeist and the currently-ongoing Teargarden by Kaleidyscope song cycle, but everyone else sees Corgan carrying on without any of his original bandmates as he and his latest roll call run through the songwriter’s dodgy new material.
It’s the early ‘90s — a time where Nirvana’s Nevermind has struck fear into the hearts of arena giants of the ‘80s and left record executives scouring the dingiest clubs of the U.S. to try to hop on this “grunge train.” Somewhere in Chicago, Billy Corgan and his Smashing Pumpkins have already recorded Gish, a solid-but-scatterbrained debut album, and the band is not-so-quietly flipping the bird to indie music and everything for which it stands. “We start (Siamese Dream) with ‘Cherub Rock,’ which is basically my big F.U.
For a moment, let’s put talk of line-up changes, wrestling leagues and teargarden kaleidyscopes to one side, and cast our minds back to The Smashing Pumpkins in 1991. Okay, so I was three years old, but having spent my teenage years obsessing over Pumpkins bootlegs and rarities, let’s also put aside the unfortunate year of my birth. Released four months before the meteoric success of Nirvana’s Nevermind, The Smashing Pumpkins' debut album, Gish, was an oddball surprise-hit representative of a peculiar period of musical history.
Arriving several months before Nirvana's Nevermind, the Smashing Pumpkins' debut album, Gish, which was also produced by Butch Vig, was the first shot of the alternative revolution that transformed the rock & roll landscape of the '90s. While Nirvana was a punk band, the Smashing Pumpkins and guitarist/vocalist Billy Corgan are arena rockers, co-opting their metallic riffs and epic art rock song structures with self-absorbed lyrical confessions. Though Corgan's lyrics fall apart upon close analysis, there's no denying his gift for arrangements.
If your ”grunge at 20” celebrations still feel incomplete after the Pearl Jam Twenty doc and a Nevermind anniversary set, here’s another dose of ’90s nostalgia in The Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish and Siamese Dream Deluxe Reissues. The main discs seem a little less brilliant with time; Billy Corgan’s loud-quiet-loud dynamics play like sludgy metal riffs offset by a few clever hooks. But fans will adore the numerous B sides and demos, and the concert DVDs provide a fun, flannelly time capsule.
An expanded reissue of the Pumpkins’ potential-rich 1991 debut. Jaime Gill 2011 "All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure," Enoch Powell once observed. The same laws apply to pop lives, of course. Just compare the current dispiriting demise of R.E.M.
An opus of angst and unyielding psych-guitar called Gish brought the Smashing Pumpkins to light in 1991. No hits, but it did have balls, and whether the Chicago quartet was all roaring distortion on "Siva" or whispering love on "Crush," it did so with boldness and a single-minded attention to the almighty riff. Such was the explosive, if culturally low-key, introduction to Gen X's third favorite alt.rock band.