REVIEWED IN WORDS: Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (deluxe edition)
Of course I’m not going to be reviewing the actual reissue.
Here, instead, is my original (second) review of Smashing Pumpkins live, taken from Melody Maker, 4 September, 1993. The day it was published, their press agent rang up and cancelled Melody Maker‘s flight out to America, for a projected cover story on the band. That week, their record company also withdrew all its advertising from MM – or certainly threatened to. (We’re talking hundreds of thousands of pounds here.) My editor Allan Jones when questioned about it just shrugged, and said, “That’s Everett”. Billy later came looking for me at a few festivals with bodyguards in tow: I imagine it wasn’t just for a friendly chat, but I never had the opportunity to find out.
The whole resultant “dressing up in a clown on stage” anecdote regarding me and Billy has been documented elsewhere – most recently here.
Anyway. Here is the review in all its glory.
Many thanks to Ned Raggett for transcribing the original review. As he commented on Facebook:
Hahah I know EXACTLY the article you speak of. Was thinking about it when I was going through the reissues for the Pfork review. One of the most entertaining things I’ve ever read in music. I could be wrong but the concert that’s included on the DVD for the Siamese Dream reissue could well be the same show you reviewed … Amazing how it all comes back to that. That review was a masterclass in bile and frustration and wishing for an alternate reality instead of the one you’re stuck with. (At the time my bete noire was frickin’ Rage Against the Machine…)
The Metro, Chicago
No. This will not stand.
Too many other people are blindly accepting what other people want them to accept. Too many people are being fooled by surface soul, beefed-up production and tortured looks. The only difference grunge (Nirvana, say) seems to have made to contemporary rock is that it’s allowed a lot of bands who would have once been beyond the pale (Pearl Jam, Soul Asylum, Porno for Pyros, say), critical kudos. No wonder The Levellers feel aggrieved — they’re certainly no worse than this continuous wave of macho bombast bludgeoning over from the Atlantic.
Would it make any difference to you if I revealed that Smashing Pumpkins are a standing joke in their hometown of Chicago? That I could recount you more pathetic Billy Corgan stories from different sources than even bitchy Courtney Love ones? That this calculated, sordid amalgam of every saleable moment from rock over the past five years is held up for ridicule regularly? That, in Chicago, folk just cannot believe the gullibility of the English (and, more recently, that of sad metal kids across smalltown USA)? The Jesus Lizard lisp whenever they mention the name. Urge Overkill have them down as “K-Tel Grunge”. I prefer “Grunge Lite”.
Let’s examine the evidence. What do we know about the Pumps? Hmmmm. That they’re sensitive, that the complacent, constipated and pasty-faced Billy Corgan has the soul of a poet. Right. Maybe he should stick to poetry. Anything, rather than regale us with more of his dreadfully over-expressive, chest-clutching falsetto and beefy register.
Sensitive? Fuck! The first five minutes into the set tonight (the second of three nights in an “intimate” setting, ostensibly to reward their fans – more obviously, to be filmed for future use on MTV) are sick-making in extremis. A local radio jock introduces the band to screaming, while Billy looks more smug than I’ve ever seen smug before. Sensitive? Fuck! That would explain why their major label wanted the Pumps to release a record on an “indie” before the real “push” – anything to help that extra-sensitive credibility, right? There’s nothing like honesty, eh, Billy?
Sensitive? Fuck! Is that why Billy sounds like Phil Collins with a head cold, borrows so heavily from every contemporary source going (Soundgarden, Jane’s, Sonic Youth, Kate Bush – and that’s only for starters) and has been known to wear a dress? Fuck! So that would explain the sign hung over the support band’s dressing room tonight: “Please be very quiet – Smashing Pumpkins”. These people are ARTISTS! Don’t sneer.
Sensitive? Right! That would explain why Billy was inspired to write ‘Rocket’ (from the dreadfully overwrought new LP, Siamese Dream), after figuring he would rather take a rocket-ship away from this earth, never to see anyone again – rather than spend five minutes in my company. (Chinny reckin? – Ed.) After tonight, the feeling’s mutual. After tonight, I swear I’m never gonna laugh at a Christian rock band again.
Hmm. What else do we know?
That they’re moody. Hence the slipping from Heart to Warrant, to Roxette and back again to something equally as torride on ‘Geek USA’. Hence the flirtation with drugs and suicide and all that inward-looking whinging. Hence the continuous migraine-inspired screaming, the middle-American rock riffs (well, one can hardly call Ozzy sensitive, right?), the tantrums. Oh well, nevermind.
Maybe the moodiness is just Billy’s feminine side coming to the fore. Joke. Anyone else remember the remarkable change which came over the band in the wake of Nirvana’s success, when Kurt proved you don’t have to be out-and-out macho to sell tons of records?
Oh, and then there’s the smattering of androgyny thrown in to help sway the critics. Nothing gets the critical blood pumping like the notion that a band are being a tiny bit revolutionary in their dress, their stance, their beautiful cheekbones. Nevermind that songs like ‘I Am One’ or ‘Rhinoceros’ sound like Frank Black at his saddest/wackiest pissing into a bottle of diluted bath water as an articulated lorry rattles the side of the house. Nevermind that ‘Mayonaise’, ‘Spaceboy’ and ‘Silverfuck’ (Jesus, those titles!) are like Kiss shorn of the make-up or some decaying, fetid leftover from LA Glam: The Glory Years, or something Chapterhouse might have thrown out if they were incontinent as well as deaf … let’s feel the width. Isn’t Billy a beautiful boy?
Someone recently made a remark to the effect that God is cruel and it’s just not right that all these perfectly-poised goths like Murphy and Sylvian should have no talent, while fat chumps like Guthrie have the magic. It’s perfectly fucking fair! Billy Corgan is a media slut, a corporate whore in the lowest, most pitifully sycophantic way. He doesn’t have a trace of originality, of poetry, of soul inside of him. He is all smugness, all knowing steals and money-grabbing finesse. He is an irritation, a minor one – but one which grows with each passing sales figure.
Look at the Pumps’ interviews. What are they most eager to put across?
(i) That they’re not bandwagon jumpers. (So why deny it so stringently?); (ii) that they’ve gained what they’ve gained through sheer perseverance. (That’s something to be applauded? What about the “artistic muse)?); (iii) that they’re sensitive. Oh yes.
Billy, any time you want to write another song about me, I’ll be waiting.