Say what you will about the era, the timing, and the absolute explosiveness of the Smashing Pumpkins during their heyday, but man o’ man, they had some great tunes back in the day. Once again I’m remembering to the '90s and how this band was not easily missed. With the release of their double album, 1995's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the high chart-topping and music video success and the world tours, the sky seemed the limit for this band. But before all that came, there was one album that paved the way, and that album is called Siamese Dream.
Despite the now-known controlling attitude of SP main man, Billy Corgan, the Siamese Dream sessions were mainly his work and the exact amount of time the other members contributed is still questionable. The end product was an alternative album of wealth and warmth, a lo-fi shoegazer rock album with ties to Seattle grunge and UK Britpop. There are many layers to be found here (literally...) and with that, this album stands up as one of the best of the '90s.
A big shoutout goes to Butch Vig who produced the record and Alan Moulder who mixed and helped Corgan get his wanted sound, which was inspired by acts like My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Slowdive. So once you get down the influences, you should know what this record entails. It’s a departure from their debut album, Gish, in which the chunky psychedelic riffs of before are now replaced with many layers of guitar and fuzzed-out feedback. On record, it’s said that the song “Soma” contains over 40 overdubbed guitars. Wowzers.
But anyway, it’s not the technical aspects that make this record amazing. No, it’s the memorable experiences and quality of music that makes it stay with you. Of course we also should remember the radio and TV singles: “Today”, “Cherub Rock”, “Rocket” and “Disarm”, but what about the rest of the album??? To tell you the truth, the rest is better—if not more perfect—than those mentioned songs.
In my personal tastes, I’m always finding myself constantly jamming the song “Geek U.S.A.”, which still holds up to this day. It starts off with a nice drum pattern supplied by Jimmy Chamberlain, then suddenly erupts with the guitars of Corgan and second guitarist, James Iha. The rhythm flows by quickly with many tempos and changes and D’arcy Wretzky’s thumping basslines, then climbs up until the middle segment where a high-pitched guitar squeal simmers down into an elegant strum. A trace of their old psychedelic flourishes shines briefly, then quickly disappears as one of my favorite guitar solos of all time kicks in and takes the song into a whole other level. Throughout all this, Corgan sings along with a voice that some might find grating, but I can’t picture it with any other music. It’s made for him and he glides along with the highs and lows. It’s a great song and probably the album highlight until it segues into the track “Mayonaise”. Co-written by Iha and Corgan, "Mayonaise" is an elegant tune with a very personal touch. “Fool enough to almost be it / And cool enough to not quite see it / And old enough to always feel it / Always old, I’ll always feel this.” There’s no wonder I often heard screamo/emo bands during the middle 2000s cover this band. (By the way, Poison the Well’s cover of the song “Soma” is awesome.)
Other album highlights include the tracks “Hummer”, “Spaceboy”, “Silverf*ck” and, for those purists out there, look for the album outtakes such as “Frail and Bedazzled”, “Whir”, and the cover of the Fleetwood Mac song, “Landslide”, which are included on their B-sides and rarities album, Pieces Iscariot.
And so it comes down to the test of time, and where does this album stand??? I assume the line may be drawn somewhere in the middle, but I certainly hope not. The Smashing Pumpkins became rock legends after this, but before all that happened, there was just this four-piece from Chicago that made a splash in 1993. The waves eventually became bigger and I think many of us rode them as far as we could, but nothing can top their first big splash. Siamese Dream is a reminder of so much, but always a good listen in the meantime...