Review Summary: Billy Corgan's 'Dream' comes to fruitition with the help of Butch Vig. The result: the Smashing Pumpkins introduce themeselves to the world with a firm handshake and a cannon full of powerful well thought-out songs.
The 1990s will be remembered for some questionable trends – Baywatch, Pogs, curtained hair and Hanson etc. but thankfully the birth of alternative rock overpowers these atrocities. That and Pokémon. But in all seriousness, the 90s produced bucket loads of exciting classic albums for the lost youth of the decade’s early years to embrace. The Chili Peppers injected the world with the sleazy funk of ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’, Pearl Jam crooned their way into the mainstream with ‘Ten’ and then there was that Nirvana record, we all know about that story though, so ‘Nevermind’ that. One of the brightest musical lights of the 90s however came in 1993 in the form of a thirteen-track LP named ‘Siamese Dream’.
From day one, the Smashing Pumpkins were determined to avoid turning into a clichéd rock and roll group, but upon the release of just their second album, they had already ticked half of the boxes of a stereotypical dysfunctional rock band. The recording of ‘Siamese Dream’ was hindered by depression, drug addiction and an inner-band breakup, which makes it all the more impressive that they produced such a positive and cohesive sounding record, especially since head-Pumpkin, Billy Corgan is famously reported to have switched to control-freak mode and played all the guitar and bass parts himself, despite James Iha and D’arcy Wretzky being both competent musicians. Despite these setbacks though, Siamese Dream vastly improved on their attention-drawing debut ‘Gish’, and catapulted the Chicagoan outcasts into the big time.
A couple of drum rolls open the album up with a sense of urgency until Corgan barges his way into the song. It is from this point on that he and mighty drummer Jimmy Chamberlin duel to outdo one another at their respective instruments for the rest of ‘Cherub Rock’. Not only is it the perfect opener, but ‘Cherub Rock’ (the first single released from the album) also hints at what to expect from the other twelve tracks on offer: fuzzy electrifying riffs, powerhouse drumming, candy choruses and euphoric guitar solos. Just two tracks later we are treated to ‘Today’ the universally-known bittersweet tune penned by the singer at a particularly suicidal time in his life that pushed the Pumpkins onto television screens worldwide. In this, Corgan showcases the type of genius song writing Robert Smith made his name with, where one can turn a bleak or downright depressing topic into a perfect pop song, with the help of it’s adorable clean guitar intro. Other landmarks include ‘Rocket’ - a mid-tempo floating of a song, climaxing in Corgan’s relatable vow of ‘I shall be free’ and the emotional acoustics of ‘Disarm’ another hit single in which Billy exorcises the demons from his past of being abused as a child.
Running through the album, the sound which meets the listener with each track is of a very consistent nature, which the title quite neatly embodies. Despite the ironically unrelenting ‘Quiet’, the rollercoaster of ‘Geek USA’ which features one of Chamberlin’s greatest drum tracks, and the apocalyptic chaos of ‘Silverf**k’ the whole record manages to maintain this (for want of a better word) ‘dreamy’ vibe. Layers upon layers of guitars drift through the songs; each feeling like audible furry cream, to transform ‘Siamese Dream’ into one of those classic albums where something new is heard upon each listen, thanks largely due to master producer Butch Vig, who flawlessly realised the sound of the album Corgan yearned to make . But however loud the Pumpkins turn it, each song acts as a fresh cold side to a bed pillow to rest one’s head against and swoon. That is not to say the album puts one to sleep, quite the contrary as moments such as the intense soloing of ‘Soma’ that follows after it’s lullaby-like first three minutes can induce guitar-grabbing and serious note-bending whether you own a six-string or not (with accompaniment from guitar wanking faces, an air guitar will do just fine). The point I’m trying to make is that even the album’s thunderous snare assaults from the aforementioned insane ‘Geek USA’ or the feedback whirrs from ‘Mayonaise’ sound perfectly pleasant to the ear and can feel like a warm teddy to cuddle up to even upon first listen. Whether the same can be said for Corgan’s at times testing whine for all is open for debate, but he places it carefully into the equation in such a way that even if one’s skin crawls at the sound of him straining on the word ‘Hoooney’ then it can be easily tolerated due to the superiority of the music present. Tracks such as ‘Sweet Sweet’ and ‘Spaceboy’ with it’s grand mellotron float on by to balance out the rock present on the album with the soft and ahem, sweet, while amazingly preventing it from dipping in quality or momentum whatsoever. Finally ‘Luna’ rounds the album off with a sitar-tinged slice of romantic melody tailor-made to be sung to girl or boyfriends the world over with the same conviction and gentleness that Corgan impressively musters.
If I had to recommend just one track for you to judge the album on, I would tell you to listen to ‘Hummer’. It has it all, the rolling bass intro, Chamberlin’s solid renowned hands, fuzz-filled guitar riffs, soaring vocals, and the most beautiful two minutes of music possibly in the Pumpkins’ entire discography, complete with simple but poetic words and gorgeous delayed guitar. But as a whole, I think Corgan and crew should be applauded for defiantly setting out and succeeding in creating such a bright, dazzling and dreamy soundscape in a time where most bands competed to be the angriest and the unhappiest. Rock albums haven’t come as close to a dream since.