August 9, 2019, my buddy and I decided to take a trek out to Jones Beach Theater in Long Island to see my guy, Noel Gallagher. (Concerts...remember those?) It was a co headlining tour of The Mighty I and The Smashing Pumpkins and like most people, I only knew of a few songs of the Pumpkins at the time but was more than willing to see what they were all about.
For those that don't know, Jones Beach Theater is an outdoor venue of around 15,000 people, and I was one of very few that wasn't there mainly for The Smashing Pumpkins. It then dawned on me that this was their second tour with two members of their original lineup (James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin). I then texted one of my co workers at the time whom has introduced me to countless great bands and albums over the years and asked him what all the hype was about; he then replied, "Are they playing anything off Gish?" (Their first album). I replied, "I don't believe so," and he goes, "Bolt." My buddy and I then look at each other and start laughing to ourselves, thinking we were in for a real treat *sarcasm*.
Noel then put on a phenomenal setlist and blew me away, as always. Nobody knew any of his songs aside from, "Wonderwall," because why would they know anything else? American music and American audiences are the bane of my existence, they wouldn't know good music if it ran over them in a Chevy pick-up truck in Alabama going 1776 miles an hour.
The intermission goes by and the lights go black, people start going mental, I turn to my buddy and give him the, "here we go," look. The Pumpkins opened up with one of their bigger hits, "Today," and within the first 20 seconds into the song, feedback is blowing all over the stage and I start losing it, hysterically laughing. The sound crew then got everything under control and the show proceeded. As the show went on, I really wasn't feeling it at all. I then looked at the stage setup as well as the stage presence that the band members were giving off, it was all just a matter of figuring it out before making a judgment call on it. I then realized that if you go into a show where you're focused on seeing someone whose music makes you incredibly happy, proceeded by one of the more notorious gloomy and daunting bands in recent years, it's not going to sync right away. I left the show that night knowing there was something worth looking into even though I didn't enjoy their set whatsoever.
A few weeks go by, it's now the beginning weeks of fall; I start just cycling through their hits and start to really enjoy one after another. Next thing I know, I'm playing through Siamese Dream (1993) multiple times a day as well as a few songs from Gish (1991) and their double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995). To this day, Siamese Dream is my favorite album of theirs, I think it's a literal masterpiece which captures the range of the softest, most delicate and beautiful clean tone guitars and dream-pop vocal melodies to the hardest, most distorted, angriest chords and screams. That being said, they're a very musically diverse band that is capable of playing a large, eclectic range rather than just doing the same thing that works for them. Take excellent musicianship with the highest highs, the lowest lows, and now combine that with fall weather and seasonal depression and you've got yourself the perfect Smashing Pumpkins vibe all figured out!! The thing with The Smashing Pumpkins is that their music has a very beautiful and comforting sadness to it, an art form to which you can appreciate as well as loath in, hence why I admire their work so much.
Starting into the first album, Gish, their debut album released in 1991 on an indie label, Caroline Records. A few songs that really resonate with me on this record are, "Siva,"and, "Snail"as well as "Rhinoceros," and, "Suffer,"two hard and two soft. The band were given an unusually high budget of $20,000 to record their debut album and had exceeded all expectations and very quickly grew out of the indie circuit and were destined for major label attention and stardom. Gish was received with such praise, that the band ultimately became hyped as "The Next Nirvana," after Nevermind (1991) had turned the music industry as well as the rest of the world on the side of its head. Major labels were drooling at getting their hands on the next biggest thing and The Pumpkins eventually signed with the parent company of their indie label, Virgin Records.
Fast forward to early 1993, (Great year by the way *cough cough*) Billy Corgan and company entered the studio to record the follow up to Gish, which would eventually be hailed as their greatest masterpiece as mentioned earlier, Siamese Dream (1993). The recording process to this record would eventually go down as one of the greatest nightmares in the history of recorded music, seeing that it nearly killed producer Butch Vig. Vig had recalled the recording process being the most physically and mentally exhausting record he'd ever done. Vig one said in an interview, We were working 12 hours a day, six times a week for about three months, and for the last two months we worked seven days a week, 14 or 15 hours a day because we were behind schedule."
Corgan is also quite the perfectionist, in the sense of he knew what he wanted things to sound like and knew how he wanted them played, resulting in him playing every bass and guitar track on the album, both lead ad rhythm, causing great tension amongst himself, D'arcy and James, meanwhile, Jimmy laid down all of his drum tracks with ease and would go on week long drug fueled benders. Although its extremely unfortunate that certain measures have to be taken in order to attain what you know you want, it's always worth it in the end, for the music will last forever and follow you wherever you go, and thats what people will always remember you by; and Billy Corgan will always be known as the mastermind behind the Smashing Pumpkins.
The video blow truly captures both some of the hardest and softest moments on the album in just one song. Starting at 4:13, the tempo of the song completely changes for an incredibly smooth transition which correlates perfectly with the first half of the song.
A few other tracks worth mentioning from this album are "Cherub Rock," "Today," "Hummer," "Disarm," "Soma," "Geek USA," "Mayonnaise" and "Luna," especially "Luna!"
Few more years down the road, Siamese Dream is a global phenomenon and Billy was eager to get back in the studio to record... a double album? That's right, introducing, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Right off the bat, let me just come out and say that I'm not a fan of double album and I never have. Its just too much material to take in all at once, most of which are probably just fillers anyway. Granted, this is one of the better albums recorded, however, I think it would have been received much, much better if they just made it a single album and used a few leftover tracks as B sides. That being said, some of the singles to come off this record are some of the greatest songs of the bands career, such as, "Tonight Tonight," "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," "Thirty-Three" and of course, "1979."
The album opens up with with the title track, "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness," to a dooming, gloomy piano which truly emulates the title of the song and the album. It's a mood setter more than anything, giving the listener an ideas as to what kind of mood they're in for on this 28 song journey. It then runs straight into "Tonight, Tonight," which features a 30 person orchestra to record to strings section and gives it an upheaving, seismic aura to it, pained with twinkling guitar licks and doomsday drum fills. Adding onto the description of this song, it features one of the greatest music videos ever recorded in the history of music videography; so much so that it took home six MTV VMA awards that year. The main subject of the video is someone you all know dearly... someone of a certain Sponge background. You'll just have to watch and look up for yourself >:)
The final few songs I'm going to touch up on this behemoth album are the singles. "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," is you classic slow start to eventual buildup to exploding chorus, not to mention one of the more famous choruses from the 90s. "Thirty-Three," is a very beautiful and gloomy piano driven song where the protagonist is living their past painful experiences, whether they're experiencing the same emotions through different occurrences or just reliving the same things with the same person and not making and progress of any sort.
Finally, their biggest hit as a band, "1979," the song that Corgan had dreaded writing because he knew that his time was running out as being a cultural icon to the youth, so his intention was to pen one last generational anthem for the youth and he did exactly just that. "1979," is all about being young and carefree, not worrying about the consequences of your actions as you would an adult. It's about enjoying life as a kid while you're a kid and not being in any sort of rush to grow up. Go to parties, shack up in a car with your friends, do silly things and go to weird places together; seeing that it's the only time in your lives to have such freedom across all aspects, as portrayed in the music video below. One more thing worth nothing about this song, in my opinion its one of the absolute greatest highway driving songs in the history of music with its ongoing chord progression and care-free feel to it through the lyrics and vocal delivery. A generational song without any sort of refute.
Having just written all of this out, never in a million years did I think I would ever develop any sort of appreciation for this band after seeing them live that one night. I was always creeped out by Billy Corgan and his infamous bald head and squealing vocal delivery, however, it just proves that you have to do your research, look deeper than just the hits and feel out the proper vibe and setting that you find most fitting with the music. Without further ado, if you've made it this far in the article, I thank you from the bottom of my heart and hope you discover some great new music as a result of this. I also question how bored you must be. Nevertheless, I'm glad I was able to share with you my favorite seasonally depressed band!
Below is a playlist of some of my favorite songs from their first three albums!