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The Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (1993)

February 22, 2015

[Album 379/1001]

I read a nice post at lyriquediscorde’s site this week, Smashing Pumpkins: My Top 10.

There was some overlap with our personal favourites and it got me thinking about my own up & down listening relationship with the band.

Whereas her reasons for listening/not listening to the Pumpkins were more personal, mine had more to do with its personnel.

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In the captioned interview, David Spade was of course speaking about an artist who refers to himself in the abbreviated 3rd person.  Now I don’t think Billy Corgan tends to publicly call himself ‘Ly but I don’t think many would accuse him of having a deflated sense of self-importance either.

As a result, I’ve struggled separating the singer from the songs when listening to the Smashing Pumpkins.  Fortunately, plenty of time has passed since I’ve heard him interviewed (and I’ve intentionally avoided reading any quotes this week) so I was able to fully enjoy them again.

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The Pumpkins are best suited to the studio.

Corgan’s one of those singers that walks the 220px-SmashingPumpkins-SiameseDreamirritating/effective vocal line and the scale tips the wrong way in the live recordings I’ve seen.  With the studio recording, there’s also the benefit of layering guitars and some of these tracks sound like they have dozens of ’em!

Though for all his grand ambition, the best moments on Siamese Dream are often the simplest or the quietest.

There’s the outro to Hummer, where the song changes gears & the distortion disappears for a bit.  The guitars stay clean on the intro to Mayonnaise, a song that would likely land on top of my Top 10 Smashing Pumpkins list.

Has there been a more effective or easy guitar intro than Today?  If you were learning to play guitar in the 90s, this high-pitched hook was a staple in the repertoire.

Disarm‘s recurring 3-note (G-F#-E) walkdown was equally effortless & excellent.  And for name-that-tune/impressing-friends-despite-limited-skill-purposes, easily identifiable too!

The lyrics on Siamese Dream weren’t always as easy to decipher.  That being said, I have fond memories from the Pre-Google Era (nearly as archaic as Precambrian?) of trying to figure them out, repeatedly rewinding tapes to scribble down the lyrics.

I’m surprised my cassette wasn’t noticeably worn at this point in the album; thanks to its novice-friendly guitar chords (no barring needed), Disarm was among those tunes.  Due to the imprecise nature of cassette rewinding and my lack of speed as a scribe, I have also heard the Rocket outro countless times!

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It was good to be back, I’d certainly recommend a Siamese Dream revisit.

Although for maximum enjoyment, make sure the only time you hear Billy Corgan’s voice is on the studio album.

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From → 1990s

29 Comments
  1. I loved this album, back in the day. I had Gish too, and when Mellon Collie showed up I was on it too. I even had Adore but it got played less. But SD held a certain charm the others did not. Then, like most people, I lost track of the band and couldn’t care less about their problems. Year later I went back and I realized just how over-produced to within an inch of its life SD is. It’s so shiny it squeaks. Funny how tastes change, if I was hearing SD for the first time now I wouldn’t like it as much, maybe, as I did then.

    • I’d forgotten Butch Vig was involved here, it has that Nevermind sheen to it.
      Which is where I prefer Steve Albini’s rough underproduced sound on PJ Harvey’s, or In Utero to extend the Nirvana comparison!
      Never owned Gish or Adore, someday I may feel inspired to invest

      • I never knew the names of the producers – I usually don’t care. But I know that that’s foolish of me – these producers stamp records by other people with their own sounds to make them as recognizeable as the artists they’re producing. It’s sad, really. Ego. So weak.

        I’d recommend Gish, and Adore… well, I remember strong songs, but it’s been so long I can’t speak to the overall of it anymore. It’s probably still damn good, in the SP context of things.

      • I’ve only started to pay attention to the producers in recent years – often when I hear background ear candy that reminds me of something else, I’ll look at the producer’s CV and see if they had done the other song as well.
        That being said, not being a real audiophile, production doesn’t usually bother me too much as long as the parts are all audible & it doesn’t drift too far into over-production

      • Sadly, I’d say SD was waaaaay over-produced.

  2. Also, I’m back to the drawing board. Here I was thinking I was really getting somewhere on the guitar when I figured out the chords (and walkdown) of Disarm, and Today as well (the intro and the song) all by myself by ear, no help from the internets. Turns out every campfire guitar hack from 20 years ago was already way ahed of me. Alas. 😉

    • Not to worry, I’m generally 2 decades behind on most things!
      Disarm’s one that will still sound just fine on an acoustic guitar 20 years from now.
      And Today – what a great song to learn some guitar fundamentals: the 1-4-5-6 chord pattern, clean verse/big power chord chorus, and the pull-offs on the lead part, a beaut!

    • Oh and since you mentioned campfires earlier – I’ve had the Arkells Kisscam in my head, “this campfire won’t last forever, the hip have only wrote so many songs.” But as a fellow Ontarian, as long as you’ve got wheat kings & some other TTH in your repertoire, you’re all set!

      • Yeah I can play Wheat Kings, NOIS, and Fiddler’s Green, but only for solo guitar. Lots of bits missing.

      • Hey when in doubt sing the missing lead parts!

      • Did you know we saw the Arkells live? Great show. Didn’t know who they were that night (we were there to see the mighty Immaculate Machine) but we walked out saying we’d see Arkells again anytime.

      • As would I – they opened for the hip in Kingston and played a great set.
        I don’t have the new album yet but the first 2 are solid, 2nd one’s quite ‘produced’ but might be more consistent. The debut Jackson Square has some brilliant singles!

      • Haha meant to mention, I think any real Canadian picking up a guitar for the first time could pluck out a rudimentary Summer Of ’69. I think it’s in our cultural DNA.

        But yeah, Arkells. On my Search list for when I go to Taranna in the spring. If I can find their records, I’ll be gettin’ ’em!

      • I think you’d approve of Jackson Square (their debut) – the most recent one is super-polished, maybe too much. Or maybe it passes the point of over the top ear candy (like Outkast’s Hey Ya) and becomes awesome again!

  3. Pumpkins are one of my “greatest hits” bands! I don’t own Siamese. It’s in the house though. Two copies — my wife’s scratched up old original, and a brand new copy 🙂

    • I’m glad you mentioned greatest hits – I was thinking if you took the best 6 songs from here & another 6 or so from Mellon Collie (maybe a tune or two from the other albums), you’d have a pretty impressive set.
      Also – from your greatest hits question the other day, I realized a type of compilation I really like is the ‘essayist on a topic collection’ – ones like David Sedaris’s Holidays on Ice or Klosterman on Pop. It provides a nice preview to the writer and definitely encourages further reading. So a couple days late & on a different discussion, but there’s my greatest hits answer!

  4. Completely agree – you need to separate the man from his music. Which is helluva tough … and possibly why I can’t listen to anything beyond this one (though there wasn’t much love for it, Zwan was actually okay too). Not that I have this on regular rotation …

    Musically, Corgan’s output is often bloated and pedestrian (Mellon Collie being a perfect example), but this and Gish were ace. Maybe it was a timing thing?

    • I only knew the one Zwan tune (Honesty) but I liked it – that being said, I wasn’t ever inspired to seek out more.

      Bloated is a good term for Mellon Collie – though I admit I have a soft spot for flawed double LPs. Like the Use Your Illusions, I know they’re a mess, but somehow the complete disregard for editing makes them more appealing!

      • It’s actually an enjoyable album. Nice and concise, too.

        Your post got me listening to the Pumpkins … SD yesterday and I’ve got Gish lined up for today.

      • Nice – enjoy the Gish revisit!

      • Remains my favourite, I think.

  5. All time top 5 right here!

    Despite Billy being hard to listen to (when speaking) I’m rather loyal to them musically until the breakup. Even Zwan’s album was quite good, but Billy’s solo effort and then the reformed Pumpkins? … no, come on man, just let it die. Unfortunately I only ever saw them in that form, but at least Jimmy (original drummer) was still with them.

    • And in one of the live versions I watched, Jimmy was the highlight – he could play!

      • Yeah Jimmy’s one of my fave drummers. His style was quite unique for that grunge era – there were more jazz and world-music influences shining through. I loved that (especially Siamese Dream era) he really knew how to make the dynamics work for him. He’s a serious hard-hitter but he knows how to pull it right back

      • I’d agree that’s a defining characteristic of drummers I enjoy – they CAN bang & crash, but they don’t have too all the time

  6. Siamese Dream is my favorite album from the Pumpkins. I heard them live over 20 years ago and thought they rocked. I might have been lucky though and just been to one of their better concerts.

    • That’s good to hear they delivered live when you saw them – his voice was obnoxious in the ones I heard. The drummer could play though!

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