Sometime in the mid 90s, a mate of mine leant me a copy of Smashing Pumpkin’s Siamese Dream. I was already all over bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden, but there was something new in Smashing Pumpkins that those bands hadn’t delivered. For starters, there was Billy Corgan’s unique vocals, nasal, high and often soft. They were even more unique when backed by guitars that were even louder, more fuzzed out and more smothering than the other ‘grunge’ bands of the era.
Within a week of borrowing Siamese Dream, I’d slapped down $30 (the mammoth going rate for a CD in Australia at the time) for my own copy and listened to it constantly. A year or so after my exposure to the band, Smashing Pumpkins released the double album epic, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. And based on first single Bullet With Butterfly Wings, I was ready for something really special. I bought the album, probably for more than $30 this time, due to its second disc, and sold it to a mate the very next day for 10 bucks after only one listen. I can’t remember ever being so underwhelmed by an album.
In the 20 years since, whenever Smashing Pumpkins is a topic of conversation, I will talk about the near perfection of Siamese Dream and the massive wank that was Mellon Collie. But here’s the thing, I haven’t listened to all of Siamese Dream in probably a decade. As the years have passed, I’ve found myself cherry picking three or four songs from the album and ignoring the rest. When it comes to Mellon Collie, I’ve only heard the singles that have stayed commercial radio staples to this day. So I decided to listen to them both again, top to bottom. Does Siamese Dream hold up? Have I been too harsh on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness all these years? I’m about to find out.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Cherub Rock over the years, but the drumroll and building, multiplying staccato guitars of the intro still hit me as hard as they did on my first listen. It’s also a great entre to the riffage of Corgan and the wall of fuzz that was so integral to the Pumpkins’ sound at this time.
Quiet takes all the loud bits of Cherub Rock and turns them up even more. A lot heavier in every way, including a lot more screaming from Corgan instead of just plain old singing. It’s right up there as one of the cherry picked numbers to still get steady airplay on my various listening devises. And while Today could have been ruined for me by radio over exposure, it still holds up. Its simple guitar riff, its simpler vocal melody, its simple structure. I love that the band knew that they didn’t need to overdo anything on this song.
With Hummer and Rocket, we’re deep in the territory of songs I have listened to less and less as the years have passed. Both are slower, quieter and more deliberate than everything before them. But it’s a testament to how much I listened to this entire record in the 90s, because I still knew them note for note.
The opposite of Today is Disarm. Its acoustic guitars, orchestral strings and epic nature seem like such a more obvious, better fit for Corgan’s voice. But I think that also makes it a bit too obvious. Not obvious for this band, but obvious for why it was the best known single at the time, and one of the most played still to this day. I always feel a little personally offended when a band I love has their biggest hit or breakthrough via a song that’s an anomaly compared to the music that made me like them. Disarm is one of the most perfect examples of that anomaly in my entire music library.
Having said all of that, it might seem like the soft, lullaby sound of Soma would shit me even more. But there’s something that seems a little more original and unique here. Where Disarm sounded like a calculated movie to sell records (mission: accomplished), there’s something more genuine at the heart of Soma. It also gives way to Corgan’s guitar shredding instincts at the end, and that’s always a good thing.
Geek USA might just be my favourite Smashing Pumpkins song of all time. The guitar work is some of Corgan’s best, and the drumming is a fantastic showcase of Jimmy Chamberlin. It’s an epic five minutes that smashes its way into my chest every time I hear it, and thrashes my insides to pieces in the most awesome way that only a great, loud song can.
Wow, Mayonaise, where have you been all these years? And I don’t mean that in the how-could-I-have-got-by-without-this-song-for-so-long way. I mean I don’t remember a single aspect of this song. I’ve seen it on the back of the CD case for years, but aurally, it’s a virgin sound to my ears. And it’s a little plodding, with the stink of filler all over it. And when an album is over an hour long, filler is even more inessential and annoying than usual.
After a little breather with Spaceboy, Siamese Dream comes back and it comes back hard with Silverfuck. This song is so in your face, I don’t know how it didn’t become sentient and demand to be earlier on the track listing. While Sweet Sweet and Luna never reach those sorts of heights, they make for a nice easing out Siamese Dream.
Apart from Mayonaise, everything on Siamese Dream lives up to my nostalgic memories. The songs I’ve always loved, I still love. The others I haven’t listened to enough make a good argument for being listened to more often, and Disarm is still boring. With Mellon Collie next on my to-listen-to list, I have mixed feelings about my desired outcome. If I it turns out that I love it, it’s another awesome album I can listen to on the regular. But that also means I would have to admit to being wrong all these years. And nothing good can ever come from admitting you were wrong. Nothing.