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Smashing Pumpkins
Pisces Iscariot (reissue) Marc Burrows , August 14th, 2012 12:17

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And so Billy Corgans' plan to re-release his entire life in remastered-box-set form continues apace. Following last year's excellent Gish and Siamese Dream deluxes comes the 1994 odds n' sods collection Pisces Iscariot.

That Pisces is deemed worthy of this at all is remarkable enough - the original record was a compilation of b-sides and offcuts from the band's first two records released as a just-in-time-for-Christmas stop gap for fans awaiting a proper follow up. Any of the 14 tracks on the album-proper warrant inclusion on previous special editions, yet a couple of new mixes aside the Pisces material has been held back for its own moment in the post-millennial-reissue sun, repackaged with an exhaustive disc of extra tracks, a DVD and a replica of the band's first demo tape; over three and a half hours all in. Few are demanding such treatment for Ocean Colour Scene's B-Sides, Seasides and Free Rides.

If this sounds OTT for a box-tick stocking filler, it only takes one spin to appreciate the worth. Pisces Iscariot is almost entirely brilliant - this is Smashing Pumpkins smack in the middle of their imperial phase. The absurdly prolific Corgan and producer Butch Vig left a lot to the cutting room floor in their pursuit of perfection, and like an alt-rock Raggy Dolls the reject pile is all character and heart and no shiny bits. Thus we have enjoyable grunge groovers like 'Frail and Bedazzled', 'Hello Kitty Kat' and 'Pissant', or opener 'Soothe', a fragile and delicate thing - Corgan rarely renders himself so musically naked.

Elsewhere 'Starla', despite its eleven minutes, is an exercise in taut restraint, building around one hypnotic scale that explodes in its final movement. It's amongst the best in Corgan's 20+ year career. Many contemporaries would have eaten their plaid shirts for album cuts as good as 'La Dolly Vita' or even James Iha's countryish 'Blew Away'. Smashing Pumpkins stuck them out as b-sides.

But what of the b-sides-to-the-b-sides? Given that this is the third reissue to mine this period for extras, Disc 2 is, as you'd expect, a mixed bag. Only Pumpkins purists need the 15 minute instrumental jam 'Why Am I So Tired?', and quite how a poorly recorded live take on 'Slunk' found itself here is anyone's guess.

There are jewels to be found though, both uncut and jagged in scrappy demos like 'Blissed', or polished and glowing like the lovely 'Glynis'. The really interesting stuff comes with the 1988 demo tape and DVD footage from a cable-access show that same year. They portray an awkward, gangly four piece, all thrift store shirts and weird haircuts (check Jimmy Chamberlin's mullet against Iha's Morrissey fringe), not-quite gelling on likeable Cureish jangles ('Jennifer Ever'), weird thrashy shredders ('Nothing and Everything') and mashes of both (the bonkers 'Spiteface'). Most curious of all is 'East'. It's by no means the stand out of the set, but present in those psychedelic pinwheels and grungy stabs is the blueprint for the next decade of alt-rock. Quite the treasure trove.

andy
Aug 14, 2012 5:59pm

Still have my cd of Pisces.Album worthy material (just like Sci-Fi Lullabies),especially interesting is its stark contrast:gentle ballads like Soothe,Whir,Obscured and raw heavy rockers like Frail,Pissant,Hello Kitty Kat,Starla... Those early tracks just show their obvious influences the Cure and Black Sabbath.Excellent album. I believe no one has b-sides as good as Pumpkins and Suede.

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John Blonde
Aug 15, 2012 9:20pm

In reply to andy:

I'm with you, Andy. Although Prince's b-sides, up through the Sign 'o The Times singles, may be the best batch of them all.

R.I.P. B-sides.

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