Album Review: Siamese Dream [Deluxe Edition] by Smashing Pumpkins
Fantastic, Based on 10 Critics
PopMatters - 100 Based on rating 10/10
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.
While Gish had placed the Smashing Pumpkins on the "most promising artist" list for many, troubles were threatening to break the band apart. Singer/guitarist/leader Billy Corgan was battling a severe case of writer's block and was in a deep state of depression brought on by a relationship in turmoil; drummer Jimmy Chamberlin was addicted to hard drugs; and bassist D'Arcy and guitarist James Iha severed their romantic relationship. The sessions for their sophomore effort, Siamese Dream, were wrought with friction -- Corgan eventually played almost all the instruments himself (except for percussion).
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.
With all the looking back to 1991 that’s been going on this year (it’s the 20th anniversary of everything from Lollapalooza to Donnie Wahlberg setting his hotel room on fire while on tour with New Kids on the Block), it’s easy to forget how 1993 was perhaps an even more significant year for alternative album releases. Besides two of the most anticipated follow-ups ever (In Utero by Nirvana and Pearl Jam’s Vs.), 1993 also saw the landmark debut by Radiohead, Pablo Honey, even though they’ve pretty much disowned it in the years since. Also swimming in that sea of awesomeness, and more than keeping its head above water, was the Smashing Pumpkins‘ Siamese Dream.
The black turtleneck to Kurt Cobain's flannel shirt, Billy Corgan brought an auteur's sensibility to Nineties alternative rock: He didn't smash guitars, he stroked them into ecstatic swells of heaviosity as he cooed composition-book poetry. With 1993's Siamese Dream – which, like the band’s debut, Gish, has been beautifully remastered and loaded with extras, including a hometown show on DVD – Corgan built a monument to art rock and OCD. His dizzy, acid-softened side lent songs like "Hummer" their poignancy – and animates the best bonus 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.
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.
Here we go. For me, Smashing Pumpkins' 1993 second album Siamese Dream is the big one. This album soundtracked my youth, and every song is tinged with the flavour of memories passed, nostalgia and the weight of literally thousands of listens. It was inevitable that one day it was going to be reissued in one form or another, as is the custom, but I’m not exactly sure if I ever expected to be actually reviewing this behemoth.
For all its resonance amongst the youth of the day, the voice of grunge was old before its time and world-weary. Although their chagrin and angst centred on teenage preoccupations, Cobain, Vedder, Staley, Lanegan and co. were ancient beings with none of punk's innocence or naivety; an impression compounded by the genre's sonorous, time-worn vocal style.
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.