Thursday, April 12, 2018

Smashing Pumpkins ILM Poll

It caught me by surprise, but this ended up being the most exhilarating of the never-ending ILM poll threads.  The discussion caught fire during the balloting/campaigning thread, enthusiasm was rampant and contagious, and I found myself falling down the rabbit hole of lost SP fandom and going on a bender of their music like I hadn't done in years.  It'll take me eons to unpack all the issues raised, especially since I hadn't thought critically about Smashing Pumpkins in forever. 

They had only one perfect, classic album ("Siamese Dream") and a couple of very good ones with wooly mammoth sized flaws ("Adore", "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness") during their mid-90's peak.  They reached their peak when most other grunge originals (although SP were never really a grunge band) had become irrelevant, which undoubtedly increased their profile as the band standing from the scene .  And yet their seeming longevity was an illusion because only seven years passed between the era of curly haired, feathery vocals Billy Corgan and the croaking, controlling, desperately searching for acceptance Billy Corgan.  Of course both sides of Billy were present during the entire run, but the narrative emphasis slowly switched from when they were up and coming superstars in 1993 to near afterthoughts in 2000.  In the Machina years, even their fans (myself included) felt they had nothing left to give to contemporary music, which was confirmed when they broke up soon afterward.  Their many comebacks and incarnations with a revolving door of new and classic lineup members haven't really changed that -- most of what Billy Corgan says in interviews is viewed as a punchline or as the rantings of a washed up star who still takes himself far, far too seriously.

Even though their albums were generally flawed, the good stuff tended to be really good, which leaves them with a rich and varied discography full of treasures.  "Adore"-era Smashing Pumpkins has always fascinated me.  They ditched the machismo of MCIS for a more tender, mystic version of themselves.  Live shows were eccentric spectacles with multiple drummers that energized the more subdued sounds of the album, and the on stage chemistry between the remaining three band members was never better.  However, said album was at least 40% too long, and the concerts dragged under the weight of the "Adore"-heavy sets, punctuated with epic, meandering medleys and twisted interpretations of their past hits. 

Upon relistening, I developed an appreciation for the Machina albums that I'd never really had.  I've never understood who the audience was supposed to me for these albums.  The hype was all about the Pumpkins becoming a proper rock band again after the interlude that was "Adore", but nu-metal was taking over and it was a terrible time to be releasing a Cure-infused rock album.  They were too soft for the then-typical rock fan, and too esoteric for their lapsed casual 90's fans.  In 2018, the Machina concept with its fusion of goth, glam, and classic alternative rock sounds great.  In 2000, even the Cure were at their lowest point commercially -- caught between their generation defining classic albums and the money printing touring juggernaut they're become since.  There's a lot of proggy nonsense but also plenty of goth-pop gems, particularly on Machina II, and "Stand Inside Your Love" still holds up as one of their very best singles. 

The thread dives deep into countless pressing issues (pinpointing the exact moment when Billy's voice changed from breathy to a strangled gurgle, guitar tabs and piano chord sequences, lyrics about Courtney Love) and it was all great and immensely thought provoking stuff, and I still can't figure out how I really feel about the "Pisces Iscariot" stuff ("Siamese Dream:the fan club outtakes" or a great standalone album that acts as the bulwark before the MCIS excesses set in) and so on and so on ...

No comments: