25 years ago today, Billy Corgan, frontman of iconic alternative rock band Smashing Pumpkins, first stepped on stage with his band and started an illustrious career of amazing, genre defining records…That and being notoriously one of the most tumultuous bands ever. The modern day Smashing Pumpkins is very different to those first few records we heard but it does retain one element, one that never changed-Billy.
It’s on anniversaries like this that music publications all over the world, get their brains’ trusts together and work out which records by a given band are the best, and what should be hidden away.
Today I present for you, my take on the Smashing Pumpkins discography.
It was the album that Pumpkins fans everywhere wished hadn’t been released. It was the first album after a seven year hiatus and it was, notably, missing half of the original lineup. Perhaps that’s where this album’s failings are. Billy’s voice is as strong and distinctive as ever, no one can maintain that he has changed. As an album it felt luke warm, as though the band wasn’t really into recording the album.
The process of recording was interesting, they demanded to record, firstly, to tape and thus recorded live without editing. Needless to say this made finding a producer for the album difficult. After much deliberation the band settled on Roy Thomas Baker, whose “on or off” style of producing created an interesting mix for the Pumpkins least impressive release.
6. Machina/Machina II
I’ll place these two albums together seeing as they maintain the same concept, only being released some months apart. The Machina series of albums wasn’t the Pumpkins greatest work either. In fact, Machina/The Machines of God remains as the band’s lowest selling release. It was released at a time of Limp Bizkit and Korn, being the most popular bands of time, and the trouble was that Machina was more along the lines of Adore, a poppier album that took hints from The Cure and New Order.
Irrespective, the tracks don’t jump out at you as being immediately great in this release. Unlike the next album on my list.
Adore, let me say first and foremost, is a rad album. It’s gothic-pop tendencies remind me of the Cure’s records Pornography and Faith. The absolute lack of hope displayed in this record makes it more accessible than Machina, which proved to be the opposite. It was the first album to lack drumming superstar Jimmy Chamberlin who was replaced by a variety of studio drummers. Diehard Pumpkins fans love this album for the seldom performed “Ava Adore” from which the record takes its name.
The Smashing Pumpkins debut onto the grungey music scene of the 90s is comparable to the releases of big names like Nirvana and Pearl Jam at the time. Gish was everything we know and love about the Pumpkins, from Corgan’s distinctive voice to it’s full bodied sound. And you would expect no less when you have Garbage’s drummer, legendary producer Butch Vig, producing your record! Interesting to note is that Billy played nearly every guitar and bass part on this record, a fact that Vig later confirmed. Lead single “Rhinoceros” shows Billy’s song writing at its finest and is still a live staple to this day.
3. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
I can already feel the tension and division amongst Pumpkins fans building around me. This record is astounding. The quality across most of the tracks is high, as good the albums placed above this one. The problem? There’s too much here Billy. Granted he cut the album from 57 tracks down to 28, it’s still too long. The good tracks are fantastic, “Tonight Tonight” remains to this day one of my favorite songs of all time and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” defines the 90s. There’s just a little too much filler for my liking. Oh well Billy, still a bloody fantastic record. Not as good as the next one though.
2. Siamese Dream
A classic if ever there was one. This record is sublime every way. The Pumpkins best known tracks come from here. And there isn’t a moments rest from the opening drum roll of “Cherub Rock” to the closing notes of “Luna”. It’s followed up by an ode to depression in the form of “Today” and other Pumpkins greats like the irrefutably great “Disarm”, “Soma” and “Mayonnaise”, Siamese Dream is in the top records of all time for a very good reason. And that’s because it is legitimately one of the best albums of all time.
Okay I feel the anger and furor of ‘true’ Pumpkins fans coming towards me at a scarily fast pace but just hear me out now. “Oh but it isn’t even a Smashing Pumpkins album, it’s just Billy” I hear you cry. I find this record to be the most consistent out of their entire discography. Oceania is a young album with a lot of room to mature and develop. This forms the second quarter of the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope concept release which will have over 50 tracks. Opening with riproaring “Quasar” and not pausing for breath into “Panopticon” and thereafter! Highlights come in the form of the debut single “The Celestials” which featured in a playlist not too long ago and the piano driven “Pale Horse”. The album is reminiscent of a love child between Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Adore melding the alternative rock we love the Pumpkins for, with their softer side. This is the definitive album of their career, and I know I’ll be flamed for this decision, but I think it’s Corgan’s best effort.
The Smashing Pumpkins are headlining Splendour in the Grass in a couple of weeks and will follow this up with a string of dates across the country where fans will be treated to both vintage Pumpkins songs and most of the new record. These are sure to be shows not to miss! Thanks for 25 great years Billy!