Smashing Pumpkins

Gish / Siamese Dream

BY Cam LindsayPublished Dec 6, 2011

This year has seen more than its share of 20th anniversary celebrations for groundbreaking albums. Nevermind, Achtung Baby, Ten, Loveless and Screamadelica, to name a few, all received tributes in some respect for their contributions to shaping popular music as we know it. Before all of the aforementioned came the debut album by Smashing Pumpkins. Originally released by faux indie Caroline, Gish just barely squeaked into the Billboard 200, largely ignored until grunge and the alternative explosion hit months later. Even then, the second Pumpkins album, Siamese Dream, acted as a gateway for most of those who purchased Gish, much like Nevermind did for Bleach. Flaunting a nu-hippie look and guitar-driven sound that wasn't clearly any one thing (metal, prog, classic rock, psychedelia, goth, grunge), the album was unique but overlooked, most likely because it lacked a strong radio single in a very competitive market. Frontman Billy Corgan wasn't cool like the derisive Cobain or the poised Vedder; he was an odd duck with a nasally scowl, a fantastical imagination and inner turmoil that was spilled rather candidly on Gish, which he's admitted was written during a suicidal nervous breakdown. Two decades later, while knee-deep in '90s revivalism, Gish sounds better than ever. The remastering has greatly bolstered Butch Vig's mix, intensifying the quiet-to-loud dynamics of "Siva" and blowing more haze into the dreamlike "Rhinoceros." A great debut, no doubt, but unlike the other 1991 alumni, Gish wasn't, and still isn't, considered groundbreaking. The jump from Gish to Siamese Dream is Grand Canyon-esque, however. In the span of only two years, Corgan, who dominated the recording sessions for both albums, completely overhauled the band on basically every level due to internal strife. From Jimmy Chamberlain's drum roll intro to the crashing guitars on "Cherub Rock" to the closing placidity of the lullaby-esque "Luna," Siamese Dream was destined to become the crossover smash that Corgan longed for. It was markedly different from its predecessor: the songs were bigger, crunchier and far more melodic, with more time and money, not to mention meticulousness. put into its production by Corgan and Vig, as well as the mixing of sound wizard Alan Moulder. It was Corgan's sweeping, grandiose ode to all the weirdoes, freaks and outcasts who were just like him. If you're looking for one of the reasons why '90s alternative is back in a big way, look no further than the Pumpkins' second album, a groundbreaker if ever there was one. Like Gish, the Siamese Dream reissue comes with what Corgan has called a "massive upgrade" in sound quality. Basically, it sounds spectacular, especially next to the original mix. The upgrades for each album are enough to qualify for deluxe editions alone (and they are just that, on the vinyl releases), however, the CD box sets come with extras. A bonus disc reveals previously unheard recordings — mostly demos, alternate versions and radio sessions. There are no B-sides or new songs, but there is plenty to get excited about. Gish offers an alternate version of "Drown," complete with new, screeching guitar parts, a shoegaze rendition of "Daydream" and a 2011 mix of the big muff-enhanced "Plume." Siamese Dream, on the other hand, packs a scorching six-minute version of the title track, related instrumentals in "U.S.A." and "U.S.S.R.," and acoustic mixes of "Spaceboy" and "Disarm," which sound even better stripped down. Two DVD concerts are also included, featuring shows at the Metro in their hometown of Chicago in 1990, a year before the release of Gish, and 1993 at the Siamese Dream release party. The former suffers from some muffled audio and grainy visuals, but anyone looking to see the band in action so early on will revel in this. In three years, the Pumpkins became a composed and proficient band, as the Siamese Dream concert demonstrates. Corgan provides some great stage banter, most notably dedicating a big "fuck you" to a nasty Sun-Times critic and pointing out his little brother, Jesse — his inspiration for writing "Spaceboy." Housed in shiny cardboard boxes, complete with photo cards from each era, it's hard to call these anything but essential editions of two albums that helped define a generation.

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