Tuesday, 7 September 2010

'But when I woke up I was happier than I'd ever been' by @diaryofaledger

Gish, the first Smashing Pumpkins album hadn't, despite the mighty 'Rhinoceros', set the world alight. In the wake of a world gone grunge though Siamese Dream was an album delivered at just the right time and many of their peers thought the whole thing a bit contrived.  But the album sold by the bucket load, the angsty lyrics and distinct guitar sound actually sounding like something different at the time.

How does is fare now seventeen years after it's release?  Surprisingly well.  It's pretty apparent why Siamese Dream sold so well, it feels crafted, Billy Corgan's determination to make a 'big' album shines through, this is in no way a difficult follow up to their début.

A couple of tracks start with a snare then launch into a deep thudding riff, Corgan's vocal rarely buried in the mix.  'Cherub Rock' which opens the album, starts in exactly that way, a bass heavy, ponderous riff driving the song.  'Geek USA' sounds like it's partner, pretty much following the same pattern.  But other than that each track stands out on its own.

'Today' and 'Disarm' are the two best known songs here, they're slower, acoustic and more accessible, with Corgan's vocal doing a great job of sounding strung out and strained by his words.  Both are quality songs but as a fan of the more brooding stuff it's the five and a half minute 'Mayonaise' (sic) that evokes the most memories.  I think it must have ended up on a few mix tapes back in the day, the quiet/loud thing, that pervades almost all my favourite songs writ large.

After 'Mayonaise' comes the better of the slower tracks.  'Spaceboy' probably highlights the difference between the Pumpkins and the likes of Nirvana with its orchestral arrangements and gentle yearning lyrics.  Corgan  knew how to write a quiet restrained rock anthem back then.

It's an album full of quiet moments, punctured by noise, but retrospectively it's far less dangerous than it sounded back in '93.  It's the less abrasive moments that hold the attention while you wait for something explosive to happen.  'Silverfuck' which explodes after the repeated refrain, 'Bang bang you're dead, hole in your head,' (sung like a nursery rhyme) sort of fails to live up to the sense of expectation but for the most part it works throughout.  There's no miss steps and it's an album that gets better throughout, even the brief sing along 'Sweet Sweet' works within the context of the album.

It finished with the gorgeous 'Luna' which sounds like a luxury rock syrupy treat at the end of a bitter sweet pill of an album.  The final words, sung over and over, just hang there when you've finished listening.  It's a deliberately uplifting way to finish the thing and it works brilliantly when it could so easily have fallen on its face.  Go seek it out....

The only issue I have with Siamese Dream, is that there is no 'Rhinocerous'.  No song that just sits there sneering at the rest of the tracks with its absurdly simple brilliance.  

Corgan's band went into free fall after the third album.  Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was the beginning of the end, the resulting tour ending up with one band member dead and another sacked after they both OD'd on heroin.  More albums have followed but The Smashing Pumpkins were never as good as they were on Siamese Dream.  Was it a contrived masterpiece, deliberately made to fit in with the 'scene'?  Who cares really?  

Dig it out.  Dust it off.  Play loud.  

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