“Freak out, give in: it doesn’t matter what you believe in.” -Smashing Pumpkins, “Cherub Rock”
Shortly after the New Year, I got my hands on a copy of the reissue of the Smashing Pumpkins’ 1993 album Siamese Dream.
As a teenager, it was one of my favorites (the Mellon-Collie-era Pumpkins were unquestionably my favorite band circa 1996). Like most Pumpkins fans, I’ve grown up a bit and some of Billy Corgan’s screechings — even the vintage ones — grate a little more than they used to. But none of that ever grated as much as the fact that nearly every album and concert review of the Pumpkins spent half its time discussing Corgan himself and his outsized ego.
Corgan is one of the 1990s’ most underrated guitarists. Cobain could barely solo; early Pearl Jam solos were not too far removed from the hair metal they purported to depart from. But Corgan balanced melody and noise in an alt-rock song the way that My Bloody Valentine (an influence of his) only wish they could. And despite the band troubles and Corgan’s … distinctive singing voice, they became one of the last surviving commercial alternative bands of that era. Even though they were never very commercial.
Also: Jimmy Chamberlin is the best rock drummer of all time. Yes, I said it. No, that link is not meant to be definitive proof.
It was hard to be a (obnoxiously fervent) Pumpkins fan as they drifted from Mellon Collie into the indulgent Adore and MACHINA, but you will find very few who argue with Siamese Dream.
I have tended to be wary of remasterings, as they always seemed like exercises in audiophilia. But I know this album well, and one of the complaints we had with it initially was how low Chamberlin’s drumming was in the mix. The reissue seems to have fixed that — the guitars are clearer, the drums more present and the whole thing just seems a great deal more polished. Both Gish and Siamese Dream come with a bonus disc of rarities, which I guess count as C-sides, since the best B-sides from both albums ended up on 1994’s Pisces Iscariot (the album that ignited my love of the Pumpkins — thanks, Vince). They are C-sides for good reason — the album’s title track does not appear on the album, and it’s all the better for it.
Am I going to listen to Oceania (the forthcoming album of new material from the reformed “Pumpkins”)? Probably. But it will not measure up. It cannot, but that’s okay.