By 1993 grunge was everywhere, but The Smashing Pumpkins never really sounded like anyone else. Hailing from Chicago, it’s not hard to think that these four college rockers made a conscious effort to separate themselves from whatever the hell was going on in Seattle. While other bands turned their amps up to 11 and screamed about how much they hated their middle class life, The Smashing Pumpkins turned their amps up to 11 and screamed about how much they hated their middle class life – and sometimes played strings in the background while they did it.
Okay, that was an unforgivable over-simplification, but Siamese Dream honestly needs no logical introduction. Words are words, but the music speaks for itself, and this right here is the album that took them around the world.
The sound of Siamese Dream is immense, from its absolutely incendiary opener “Cherub Rock” (my God, dat riff) to its poignant closer “Luna.” Through this sonic vastness, this entire record feels like a musical journey, and it’s all held together by Billy Corgan’s signature anguished vocals. Sometimes it even feels like The Smashing Pumpkins’ entire fiery sound was crafted around his equally blazing voice. Even the cleaner sections of songs like “Hummer” soon unfold into moments of noisy intensity – but it always remains unmistakably melodic. If there’s one thing that The Smashing Pumpkins rarely forgets about, it’s melody, and aside from Corgan’s voice, that’s really what gives them their signature appeal.
Co-produced by Butch Vig – who by ’93 was already a veteran of grunge having produced Nirvana’s ultra-success Nevermind – each of the 13 songs of Siamese Dream is enormous in its own way. From the bells and strings of “Disarm” to the shoegazed, almost California-rock sound of “Rocket.” But despite the sharp pacing of many of these songs, Siamese Dream is not without its dark side.
Prior to recording, The Smashing Pumpkins were brutally hyped as “the next Nirvana” and the weight of that pressure bore down on the band heavily. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin suffered severe addiction to heroin, guitarist James Iha and bassist D’arcy Wretzky had recently broken up and Corgan himself experienced intense writer’s block and suicidal depression. And almost magically, all this misery and torture culminated in the tenderness (and later explosiveness) of “Soma,” the centerpiece of Siamese Dream.
Named after a fictional drug in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, “Soma” explores the idea of love as a narcotic, which slowly soothes people into a dangerous illusion of security. Barely audible in parts, this track builds up to a volcanic finale and highlights the confidence in which The Smashing Pumpkins can tackle louds and softs. “Hummer” would also follow this formula, however, with the exception of the slightly obnoxious “Geek U.S.A.”, there’s not a single song on this record that doesn’t sound fresh.
The drums sound as crisp as ice. The bass refuses to be drowned out, even on the louder tracks. James Iha’s solo’s are never overblown. Corgan’s lyrics and filled with introspection and insecurity. And this whole album just nails the contrast between light and dark that The Smashing Pumpkins does so well.
Siamese Dream could perhaps be The Smashing Pumpkins’ greatest album. Sure, there’s their epic follow-up Mellon Collie and Infinite Sadness, which produced “1979” – easily among the most iconic rock songs of its generation – but Siamese Dream is shorter, more concise and just an all-round fun record to listen to. It keeps you on your toes. Even right up to the finale with tracks like “Silverfuck” (great name, right?) with its psychedelic dreamscape sound and the shimmering, painfully short “Sweet Sweet” – just like this entire record, God I wish that song was longer.
In 1996, The Smashing Pumpkins got put on The Simpsons. So that’s it right? Career over; they’ve done what they needed to do.
No but seriously, this band has left a huge legacy on modern rock. Standing out as alternative rockers in the early 90’s was like standing out as a genius in Harvard. But they pulled it off, and there’s no mystery as to how.
The Smashing Pumpkins were just a great band, that created great music that was brutally honest, vulnerable, and yet still in everyone’s face. Though their dreamier songs very well may have influenced the scourge of the late 90’s – post-grunge (ugh, the very name just sends chills down your spine doesn’t it?) – but with its impeccable balance between explosive energy and crystal-clear sensitivity, Siamese Dream is sure to remain a true grunge classic for decades to come.
Reviewer: Lachlan Vass
IRC: Bill Pulice *
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