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Smashing Pumpkins
Siamese Dream (reissue) John Calvert , December 6th, 2011 12:41

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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. The music - heavy and earthy and creaking - spoke of sufferance; its practitioners clad in rough plaid, as if a toughened outer skin evolved to shield from life's emotional hardships as much as Seattle's cold winters. While punk spoke of wild youth – speed, recklessness, vitality - its heavy metal-infused offspring was weighed down with a consternation uncommon amongst men so young, who at heart weren't very young at all. All told, until Chicago's Gen-x superstars arrived on the scene, the spirit of grunge was anything but teen.

With their 1991 debut Gish and 1993 follow-up Siamese Dream, Smashing Pumpkins reinvented grunge as something exquisitely adolescent. These albums weren't alienated, they were shy; the genre's hard exterior attenuated to a sensitive membrane, because teenagers feel everything. Billy Corgan's voice was androgynous, sometimes hush, while the genre's grizzled brand of pain was duly shipped - replaced with a tender teen melancholy and the almost feminine beauty innate to that. Most crucially, Seattle's hulking bombast was repurposed - now the soaring interludes of awe that defined youth's greatest days, yet underpinned by an intimacy. This was, to misrepresent Corgan's phrase, Cherub-Rock; a kind, heavenly guardian watching over Gen X's kids, spookily attuned to the blue-eyed melodrama of grubby-pretty teenhood. Ever since, Gish and Siamese Dream have been touchstones for band's attempting to capture adolescence, ranging from alt-metallers Deftones, to gauzy punks like The Joy Formidable, to twee-rockers The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, to Nu-gazers like M83.

Gish, also reissued alongside Siamese Dream, is the band itself in its adolescent form. All the elements of their sound are in place, yet the sound of 'Smashing Pumpkins: MTV Icons' in on Gish still immature: half-formed, over-exuberant, doughy with puppy fat, and wastefully realized. Nonetheless, it's all the more charming an album precisely for its clumsy greenness, and foretells of everything they were to accomplish in the coming years.

The first thing you notice about Siamese Dream is how sinister it sounds next to Gish. With the band more or less falling apart at the seams, if grace and goodwill came easy on their debut, on Siamese Dream they had to fight for it. And fight they did. Much more the clenched fist than Gish, their second effort saw an increase in intensity, ballast, grit, ambition and sheer scale. With Corgan losing his mind over the mixing desk, Ida and Wretzky splitting, and Chamberlain's heroin addiction spiralling out of control, rather than admit defeat instead they harnessed the darkness that pervaded the studio. Beginning with a roaring statement of intent in the shape of 'Cherub Rock's intro - the distorted, raging opener followed by the diesel-powered 'Quiet' set the stage for a decidedly monstrous outing; a slacker-gothic cry-from-the-dark which nonetheless, like Gish, was straining for some modicum of beauty.

Out of this emotional gutter came moments which shone all the more brightly in the surrounding darkness, and were all the more poignant for having been hard-earned. Following the depraved stylings of 'Cherub Rock' and 'Quiet', at track three comes the sublime 'Today', a Gen X study in twisted redemption Corgan wrote on what he considered was the darkest day of his life. Hence the bitter irony that opens the song. “Today is the greatest / Day I’ve ever known / Can’t live for tomorrow / Tomorrow’s much too long / I burn my eyes out / Before I get out”. A beautified, stately cousin to Pixies' 'Where Is My Mind', under the guidance of Butch Vig 'Today' presented Cobain's generation-uniting woes in a ravaged yet wholly celestial vessel, thus injecting grunge - what had been up to then an existential dead end of a genre – with an air of hope, adventure and the future.

The rest of the album falls away in a swirl of irregular beauty, outsider gloom and gorgeous rebelliousness, before coming to rest on 'Luna' and a note of serenity. 'Rocket' is a straightforward, rocker. However, with its leftfield melody, economic lead riff and hint of vampish theatre, it could only be work of the Smashing Pumpkins. It's followed by the cinematic 'Disarm', which with its strings and tubular bells added a fairytale dimension to the Pumpkins' sound. Urgent and sad, over elegiac crescendos Corgan tackles the divorce of his parents. He fears he is fated to repeat their mistakes, having inherited their flaws “The killer in me is the killer in you”. Equally as enchanted is 'Spaceboy' - Corgan's dedication to his sickly half-brother, Jesse. As well as a touching love-letter to his younger sibling, 'Spaceboy' doubles both as Corgan's soft evocation of the feeling of being different, and his elegy to the passing of youth. “Space Boy I missed you, swimming round my head'” he muses, bereaving the unique and ultimately fleeting state of mind that defines adolescence, as much his brother's absence. “I wanna go home / I wanna go home”. 'Soma', meanwhile, exemplifies 90s rock's proclivity for blending metaphors of pharmaceutical sedation and love (the legacy of shoegaze and dream pop). Over fuzzy textures, in quiet desperation Corgan pledges to simply just sleep, in an effort to numb his addiction to a pernicious romance.

As well as the original albums, the deluxe reissues here contain an embarrassment of riches. Remastered from the original cuts, each package includes a DVD of never-before-seen live shows, track-by-track commentary from Corgan, liner notes featuring an interview between Corgan and author David Wild, and a smattering of photo collages and postcards. Not for nothing, the discs also boast a combined 32 extra tracks, including unreleased studio takes, acoustic versions, radio sessions, alternative versions and a host of live B-sides. All considered, with or without the extras, together the album's provide a unique insight into the 90s teen experience. After Siamese Dream, the sound of the Smashing Pumpkins developed from a state of fine porcelain adolescence into an ungainly adult. The blustery, bloated Mellon Collie And the Infinite Sadness was a decidedly more harsh and complicated prospect - much like adult life. Cynicism took hold at the heart of the band, and the fairness of Corgan's young dream passed into history. Sooner or later, everybody has to grow up.

Dan B
Dec 6, 2011 6:03pm

Unbelievable bit of revisionism here, Smashing Pumpkins were always a grasping careerist load of angsty toss. I hate Butch Vig's production on anything because he makes everything sound so shiny and stiff. Combine that with Corgan's hilariously basic and consistently overdramatic songwriting and the results don't bear thinking about. 'Adolescent' just about covers it, and for all of the wrong reasons.

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Brett Smiley
Dec 6, 2011 6:09pm

Though I can personally no longer abide anything else they recorded ("1979" excepted), I still absolutely adore Siamese Dream. It effortlessly cherry picks the positive points of multiple clichéd Rockist sub-genres (classic, grunge, glam, prog) & infuses them with a gorgeous, tender pop sensibility that Corgan would never successfully latch onto again. It's a once-in-a-career, once-in-a-lifetime classic LP & I'm going to play it... VERY LOUD... right now.

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John
Dec 6, 2011 6:38pm

What on Earth is Dan B on about. Revisionism???? When Siamese dream came out it received great reviews and sold millions of copies, it's you that is doing the revisionism. Basic song writing? Please give an example.

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Dan B
Dec 6, 2011 7:04pm

In reply to John:

I don't want to belabour this point but on the first track he actually rhymes 'money' with 'honey' as the song cycles through a handful of tired riffs. Can't really comment on the critics at the time as I was 9 but I've always been led to believe (and my ears have confirmed) that SP are music exclusively for white kids who hate their parents for a bit.

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Kevin
Dec 6, 2011 10:19pm

In reply to Dan B:

that SP are music exclusively for white kids who hate their parents for a bit.

This sums up about every genre of music most Gen-X adolescents listened to, including: hip-hop, metal, punk, grunge, post-punk, classic and indie rock. That may be the broadest statement ever posted on the internet and you're competing with the likes of YouTube and Yahoo commenters.

As someone at a more relatable age at the time Siamese Dream was released-I was 16-this album is essential. Even hearing it now brings back a flood of memories. A perfect LP. Also it helps that I grew up and continue to live in Chicago.

PS- Pink Floyd rhymed cash with stash in Money, just sayin'.

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John
Dec 6, 2011 10:35pm

In reply to Dan B:

bad lyrics is not bad song writing. Every artist has clumsy lyrics.
Also I am not white or middle class and love the album.

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Dan B
Dec 6, 2011 11:34pm

In reply to Kevin :

Yeah but 'Money' is rubbish, my nan could play 7/4 better than Nick Mason. I know all teenage music is based on some kind of rebellion and hormonal rushes but SP are quintessentially that: that is ALL the are. A rebellion of comfort and privilege, just a massive Kevin The Teenage shrug of disappointment at having it all. If a few kids got to second base with this on the stereo then I'm sorry for denting your youth dreams, but let's not dredge this woeful monolevel shit up AGAIN.

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Harley
Dec 7, 2011 2:11am

In reply to Dan B:

Dan B,
For someone who thinks so little of Smashing Pumpkins & their efforts, you seem to be investing a lot of energy into your position...

Who knows what makes a great record and what doesn't?
Perhaps record sales are an odd measure of things (we all know that crap has/ continues to shift millions of units...)?
Perhaps reviews can be to easily disregarded as 'opinion pieces'...?
Perhaps music 'is' more like art- in that the constricted imagination of seeing it as 'good' or 'bad' is just far too narrow when it comes to something that evokes an emotional response in the world?
Perhaps it might be fair to say, that after 20 & 18 years respectively, the fact that Gish / Siamese Dream are still well loved and cherished works, the fact that there has been enough interest to warrant re-issuing them & the fact that they are being re-reviewed at all, is enough to suggest that as records they are worth something... or perhaps it isn't fair to say that at all.

They may be 'bad'- but i like 'em.

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Rooksby
Dec 7, 2011 10:41am

There's no denying that Siamese Dream is riddled with clichés but, 20 years ago (nearly), aged 18, it sounded IMMENSE, & it's "adolescent" POV seemed like a preferable alternative to the tiresome Cobain/Vedder school of blue collar misery (still does).

If I was still listening to it in 2011 I'd probably shoot myself though.

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Dan B
Dec 7, 2011 11:07am

In reply to Rooksby:

Any self-respecting kid would have been listening to The Frank and Walte...I mean De La Soul.

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Sheq
Dec 7, 2011 3:11pm

Brilliant album, well reviewed. Full of brilliantly original guitar sounds for the time. No complaints on the remaster either.

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Kevin
Dec 7, 2011 4:33pm

In reply to Dan B:

Christ Dan you are quite the judgmental one. I did listen to 3 Feet and Rising, along with Paul's Boutique and Straight out of Compton...in 1989.

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N-Dog
Dec 7, 2011 11:32pm

Another nice piece thanks guys.
Seems to me like Dan B could be using his time more productively by finding something he actually does enjoy to be commenting on instead of wasting his time trying to convert people who've loved these albums for years.
For anyone who's a fan and wants a track by track review of the bonus tracks on these feel free to visit the following posts on my blog:

http://active-listener.blogspot.com/2011/11/smashing-pumpkins-siamese-dream-bonus.html

http://active-listener.blogspot.com/2011/12/smashing-pumpkins-gish-bonus-tracks.html

Thanks

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Russ
Dec 8, 2011 5:11am

Dan B.... You are a douche

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Lesley
Dec 8, 2011 5:41am

In reply to N-Dog:

I get the feeling Dan is responding to the interior self-selfness of Corgan's narcissistic petulant overdramatized bullshit. Dan's concerned about authenticity, but at only 28 years of age, Dan's still got a lot to let go of.

As for me, I've never listened to rap. I bought some from time to time and hated it because they don't sing. They just shout out the lyrics and the music seems repetitive and dull. No, I did own a rap tape back in 1984, a compilation of Sugar Hill artists, and I loved it. "We go dang diggy dangy dangy dang diggy diggy" etc, loved that, and "Well I met this girl and I said to her honey / If you wanna be my baby you got to give me money." But then you had Public Enemy and oh, you know whatever, and I didn't click. I liked PM Dawn, well that one song, Memory Bliss. But post-late 70s (ie. angry) rap excluded me successfully and I was happy enough about that because it meant I could not worry about it and listen to the kind of music that kept me safe from the scary monsters of ghetto life. And now when I go to itunes and think I might check out some rap I hear some dude shouting out stuff that I know I'm gonna find interesting for two listens but then get sick of within a week. So I don't bother. Two Live Crew were funny. Oh and that song about "Bin Laden didn't knock down the projects / It was you nigger / Tell the truth nigger." Brilliant AND melodic. Give me D'Angelo and Maxwell any old day. I guess what I'm trying to say is that angry rap IS interesting but painful to listen to in any long term way without turning you-the-listener into some angry ghettoized upstart yourself. Read some Foucault and you soon realize your barking up a hollow tree.

As for Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream kicks rock'n'roll arse, so suck on that Big Dan. This write-up confirmed all my comfortable insecurities and now I feel cozy in my white kid world.

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Dan B
Dec 8, 2011 11:16am

In reply to Lesley:

Read loads of Foucault mate, the last line of Fearless Speech is 'oh yeah, by the way, in no epistemological or ontological sense can Billy Corgan write his way out of a paper bag'. Couldn't give a fig about authenticity mate, I just want to enjoy the music, SP actively fight against my enjoyment by being BORING.

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Feathher-lite
Dec 8, 2011 1:57pm

It's good but it's no Pablo Honey.
From what I hazily remember, most 90's guitar music was either existential angst or wannabe 60's drivel. Think the pumpkins did okay.

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Ben
Dec 8, 2011 4:32pm

Easy to hate on these guys, particularly when Corgan flipped his wig, shaved his head and wrote a song for a Batman movie. Nonetheless, some of the sounds on these first two records (and the b-sides of the same era) are genuinely innovative, marrying shoegazer's interest in manipulated psychedelic sounds with stadium rock bombast and big pop hooks. I loved it more when I was 14, but I can still listen to this era of this band without being sick in my mouth, unlike almost anything they did afterwards.

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whoops
Dec 8, 2011 9:04pm

Is it me, or are the grammar and punctuation in this article woefully below Quietus standards? I just read at least five well-reasoned, thoughtful, and generally clear (and generally grammatically correct) articles on this same site.
Beyond the nuts and bolts, do you actually know what "bereaving" a "state of mind" would entail? Is "sufference" really what the music "speaks of?" If you're not sure, this here internet makes it really easy to check...

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Dec 9, 2011 11:19am

Do the decent thing Quietus, let Dan B review the NEXT couple of S.Pumpkins reissues (i.e. the REALLY shit ones).

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Dan B
Dec 9, 2011 1:48pm

In reply to :

I think my bias is already stated for the record, could never listen to anything by SP and not see my teenage years with a mushroom cloud in the background.

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Em
Dec 16, 2011 3:24pm

In reply to Dan B:

Well played sir, in stitches at work reading your comments

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Steve
Dec 22, 2011 12:16pm

I saw Smashing Pumpkins tour this album when I was 17. I made the mistake of buying a tshirt before the gig and putting it over the one I was wearing. By the end of the gig the two tshirts had become irretrievably fused together in the sweat and heat of the mosh pit.
Then I went to university in Manchester and discovered all the dance and hiphop that had never managed to reach the sleepy West Midlands village where I grew up. I left teenage angst behind in the pursuit of obscure Mo-Wax 12"s and attempting to redefine myself as cool (failed).
I don't think I listened to Siamese Dream again until maybe a year or two ago. And what a thrilling experience it was. Monstrous power riffs and shatteringly dramatic production. It was the 17 year old in me being shaken to life again that did it. Maybe this was a teenage album, but in 1993 I was a dumb seventeen year old who couldn't wait to escape and this album screamed to me.
When I did escape my cosy village existence, I went and discovered Trip-Hop. Listening to Siamese Dream again I can't help thinking I went wrong somewhere.

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