I’m going to forgo the usual “HEY THIS IS MY BLOG TEE HEE HERE’S WHAT I’M A GUNNA DO” type introduction and just dive right in. Chances are if you’re reading this, you know me and know what I represent. If you don’t know me, well then kiddies, read ahead to find out what great things exist in my mind.

Today’s topic would be Smashing Pumpkins. Or THE Smashing Pumpkins as it were. Do you remember those guys? If you’re a 30 something who experienced an annoying rash of angst at the right time you may remember the tortured anguish of this band. Maybe you punched your first into the air shouting “IN SPITE OF MY RAGE I AM STILL JUST A RAT IN A CAGE!” wearing a dark black “Zero” shirt, printing out pictures of the band to tape all over your walls (maybe that was just me?) while staring into D’arcy Wretzy’s nipple on the art work of the artwork of “Adore”?

Maybe you got bored of the band as you got older and that angst left your bones. Perhaps you heard “Adore” and hated the quiet intimacy of the band’s new style. There’s a big chance you heard “MACHINA: The Machines of God” and thought Billy Corgan had completely lost his mind. Perhaps projects like “Zwan” his solo album “The Future Embrace” and the resurrection of the band for the underwhelming “Zeitgeist” convinced you that Corgan was perhaps not a paradigm of sanity or artistic stability.

Yep, totally sane and stable guy, here.
Photo courtesy “My Smashing Pumpkins Collection.com”

However, at one point Corgan (who also went on to briefly WRESTLE and who’s Tweets are truly a joy to read) was not just immensely popular but kind of the most popular musician in the world. The guy is an interesting case study because he’s incredibly sensitive and highly emotional but something of a complete dictator when it comes to music. He infamously played nearly all if not all of the hundreds of guitar overdubs for his guitar rock masterpiece “Siamese Dream” (insisting he could simply do it quicker that way) while his band languished on the sidelines, breaking up and getting addicted to heroin.

Of course, such megalomaniacal tendencies can be explained by the fact that he, self confessedly, wanted to be the biggest band in the world and the most important musician ever. Lofty goals.

Corgan should be given credit for at least partially achieving that goal: after the release of the stuffed to the brim, incredibly ambitious and diverse double album “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” he achieved that goal. There were five major singles from that album which put the band all over the radio. Everybody was wearing that stupid “Zero” shirt and wearing eyeliner,  just like Corgan. In typical Corgan fashion, he then released an unwiedly singles box set which featured all five singles and numerous b-sides for a collection that far surpassed “Mellon Collie” in length.

I really do hate that shirt.

Say what you will about everything the man’s done after “Mellon Collie”: for a brief moment, the man was king. Then he began a series of odd career choices that semi-crippled his band and his career. Corgan had a tendency to change up his sound from album to album. Debut album “Gish” is an underrated mix of hard rock and psychedelic sounds. “Siamese Dream” is a densely layered guitar centric album that features dozens of guitar tones mixing in a single song. “Mellon Collie” features punishing, near metal tracks contrasted with gentle ballads which sit next to massive proggish suites.

Change is good but some fans can only tolerate so much change. So, when Corgan released the quiet, largely electronic and acoustic guitar driven “Adore” some fans revolted. The album was still a success, selling a few million copies. But many fans missed the raging guitars of past albums (which had been the major selling point of past albums) and didn’t like the “electronica” driven direction of the new sound. It didn’t help that drummer Jimmy Chamberlain had been fired for his heroin addiction and his role in the drug death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melovin.

Corgan must have panicked at the modest reception to “Adore” as he snatched Chamberlain back up and brought back the heavy guitar rock for “MACHINA: The Machine of Gods.” This semi-concept album (semi in that Corgan heavily suggests a concept but the dratted thing never really seems to emerge in a coherent way) was well received in some circles but was often considered ridiculous, pretentious, too long (funny for a band who’s best selling album was a double album) and too heavily processes. After the internet only outtakes collection “Machina II” (which some fans consider superior to the original album) the band broke up.

Why am I going so in depth on this band? Well, because I was a huge fan as a teenager and up until my very early 20’s. However, I really strayed far from the band during my college years and began to regard them as a somewhat ridiculous and irrelevant part of my life. I was, I fear, much, much too intelligent (read: pretentious) and mature (read: incredibly pretentious) to get into a band so angsty and goofy as the Smashing Pumpkins.

As smug as this. But nowhere near as psychotic.
Photo: “American Psycho.”

But sometimes I get bit by the nostalgia bug: the older you get, the more effective and annoying this little bugger gets. I had the opportunity to snatch the band’s discography back up at Vertigo Records in Grand Rapids as somebody had just purged themselves of the band’s work (something I’d done years ago). I passed only to find it was already sold the next time I went to the store.

Forget it: downloading is a lot of fun, don’t you know? So I’m relistening to the band to see what I think of them now. Would it reignite the same feelings of devotion and seriousness (really, I thought the band was near gods at one point) as I had experienced in my youth?

Of course not. The concerns of my youth have mostly moved on to new areas. I’m no longer the utterly angst ridden, completely pessimistic person I was at that age. Oddly, I grow more optimistic and confident as I age. I kind of like that, I got to admit.
There is no way they could really hit the same nerve with me they used to when I sat in my grandparents basement, brooding.

So far, I’ve only listened to “Gish,” “Siamese Dream,” “Judas Iscariot” and the first disc of “Mellon Collie.” A few surprises made themselves known to me: “Gish” is a really, really underrated album. I used to consider it pretty blah but I was amazed at how solid the songwriting was at points and how diverse the sounds were. And how psychedelic it was at points.

“Siamese Dream” isn’t quite as big of a departure from “Gish” as I once believed. Yeah, the guitars sound different and the band (rather, Corgan) goes more wild with the guitar overdubs but it takes a similar approach and expands on it. I found the depth of the album stunning and the guitar tones and the diversity of the sounds to be amazing considering how similar sounding each track is when you break it down.

“Mellon Collie” is…well, ridiculously ambitious and musically diverse but remains a lot of fun to me. Corgan really shows a lot of imagination in the arrangements with this album. The problem I run into listening to these albums though is in the songwriting. By that I mean the melodies and the lyrics. Corgan definitely has a genius in him for arrangement but much less of a genius for melody writing. That isn’t to say he can’t do it: all of his songs have melodies. The guy’s not an avant-guardist. But how many of these melodies feel eternal and everlasting?

Very few. Sometimes the actual chord structures and notes he uses are simplistic to the point of punk but arranged as if it was an epic symphony. This isn’t a huge problem with me, per se but I’m sure if I hadn’t of heard these albums a billion times as a youngun I wouldn’t have remembered the songs at all.

Maybe if I hear that song 20 more times I’ll remember it for always.

A bigger problem I run into here is the lyrics. Simply put, Corgan is very often a shit lyricist. Sometimes he hits on a poetic phrase or two and he really tries his hardest to come across as sad, profound and tortured. But lyrics like “love is suicide” really do offend the ear of a man who has reached near full maturity. If I’m to be honest, I found that lyric rather parodically tortured even as a teenager.

Basically, the Smashing Pumpkins (and I’m willing to bet, as I’ll be checking out the rest of his work throughout the week) and everything Corgan does it purely SOUND based. As pure sound goes, the guy is really hard to beat in the 90’s. I can’t think of an artist that successfully wrote songs as punishingly fast and heavy as “Bodies” which then successfully bled into the gentle balladry of a song like “Thirty-Three.”

How silly of me to write a musical post when I created this blog to post about non-musical related concerns! Stupid, stupid me. “Love is suicide” indeed.

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