Smashing Pumpkins ‘Siamese Dream’ Turns 20 Years Old; A look back at an alt-rock masterpiece.
This is the first in a series of Albums That Changed My Life.
So Smashing Pumpkins ‘Siamese Dream‘ turned 20 last week. Good lord. I feel old. Where’d the time go?
I was 22 it came out. I was also a mess of emotions, a sullen card-carrying member of Generation X. It was serendipitous timing.
My first exposure to Smashing Pumpkins was their 1991 début Gish which I heard the same week as Nevermind. Nirvana became superstars just a few weeks later and the Pumpkins were hot on their heels.
‘Gish’ is one of the best rock debuts ever. It blended classic rock, metal, goth and dream-pop into a multilayered sonic stew. There were endless transitions, ebbs and flows, and stop on a dime tempos. Corgan refereed to this as ‘flow arrangement’.
It took two years for a follow-up, but it seemed like forever. We had ‘Drown’ off the ‘Singles’ Soundtrack to tide us over, but c’mon already!
I remember the first time I heard ‘Cherub Rock.’ I had on my local alternative radio station and came in mid-song. Before I even heard Corgan sing, I knew it was them. The fuzzy diffuse guitar and drums said it all. But the sound was bigger than ‘Gish.’ It was alt-rock on steroids.
I bought ‘Siamese Dream’ the day it came out, and pored over the album art and scribbled lyrics when I got home. It looked like a hallucinogenic scrapbook. Everything looked tattered in the most artfully arranged way.
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This aesthetic bled into the album. ‘Siamese Dream’ sounded like nostalgia; there was a 70’s summer sizzle in the rich guitar tones, and song titles like ‘Mayonnaise’ and ‘Rocket’ added to its thrift shop charm.
If you were a moody alienated dork who was angry at the world, well this was your album. ‘Disarm’ and ‘Soma’; are pity party epics bar none. ‘I’m all by myself, as I’ve always felt,’ Corgan sang on ‘Soma.’ Doesn’t that say it all?
And you could rock hard on riff-fests like ‘Quiet’ and ‘Silverfuck.’
And how about those videos? Billy Corgan driving in a milk truck, the band soaring over homes in black and white…this was a band that knew how to augment their music with images. They remain indelible.
I found myself playing the album endlessly, it buffered me up on good days and reinforced my sulk on bad days. I played guitar to it, learning many songs note for note. I still like to jam out to ‘Cherub Rock’ to this day. Those chords just feel so good to belt out of an amp.
But as much of an alternative rock hallmark as it is, ‘Siamese Dream’ stuck out like a sore thumb upon its release. Rock was in the midst of grunge, where everything was stripped down, unadorned.
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[amazon_image id=”B0064Z76NE” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Siamese Dream (2011 – Remaster) [+Digital Booklet][/amazon_image]
But Corgan said fuck it, and went balls out, adding endless layers of sonic ear candy. And this rankled many; lots of indie rock snobs sneered ‘overproduced.’ And the band made plenty of enemies. Partly for wanting to be unapologetic rock stars, and partly because Corgan had a boulder on his shoulder.
Corgan couldn’t resist diminishing bassist D’arcy Wretzke and James Iha’s input on the album, claiming they played too slow and that he played all their parts to save time. They screamed ‘dysfunctional family’. Which was of course perfect for the time.
Producer Butch Vig’s work is simply flawless, adding some of the fattest guitar tones ever committed to tape.
And Jimmy Chamberlain’s drumming acrobatics are jaw dropping. Just listen to his playing on ‘Geek USA.’ Amazing.
Their follow-up ‘Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness‘, remains their most popular album (obviously I like it!), but ‘Siamese Dream’ is my desert island disc. It’s one of the best examples of merging heaviness with beauty, where metal riffing can coexist with dream-pop swoon. It provided a soundtrack of emotion for anyone who would submit to its charms.
So that’s why ‘Siamese Dream’ changed my life.
Do you love it as much as I do? What’s your favorite song off the album? And what’s your favorite Pumpkin’s album? I have polls for both, so vote for your choices!