These are busy times for the Smashing Pumpkins, with re-releases of their early albums on the way and a new album Oceania due out this year, in the midst of the ongoing free Teargarden By Kaleidyscope project. So here’s my Discography for them…
The first Pumpkins album was a great introduction to their style, which was very different to what else was around in an independent rock scene starting to be dominated by Seattle grunge bands. The Pumpkins got lumped in with that anyway, but a listen to some of Gish’s more freeform and trippy moments shows that Billy Corgan was already a law unto himself even at this early stage. Obviously the highlights are tracks like I Am One, Siva and Rhinoceros, and they all come at the start, but even those that aren’t quite as gripping still show plenty of inspiration and quality.
Siamese Dream (1993)
Producer Butch Vig was back for their second album, and Siamese Dream was a quantum leap for a band in both confidence and ambition. Corgan’s vocals certainly became more prominent than they had been on Gish (which he himself describes as ‘an instrumental album, but with vocals’) and the likes of Cherub Rock, Today and Disarm provided the Pumpkins with the kind of classic songs that launched them into the mainstream, whether they liked it or not. One of my favourite album tracks is Mayonaise, but there’s no weak links here, Siamese Dream is a bona fide 90s classic.
Pisces Iscariot (1994)
Siamese Dream was such a success that, rather than wait for a new album, the record company rushed out new product the next year in the form of b-sides/outtakes album Pisces Iscariot, made up, obviously, of songs not deemed good enough for the first two albums. Fortunately, the Pumpkins were on such good form that even their off-cuts were worthwhile and there’s some fantastic stuff here. One of my personal favourites is the plaintive cover of Landslide, while the epic Starla is also pretty much essential. There’s some more patchy material, as you’d expect, but Pisces Iscariot is still definitely worth having.
Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (1995)
If Siamese Dream was a big leap on from Gish, then it’s hard to find words to describe what a jump the Pumpkins took with Mellon Collie. In terms of scope, diversity and sheer cocky ambition, this double-album is HUGE and could have been a complete disaster. That it is a complete triumph shows exactly what level Corgan was operating on at this point. Opening with a piano instrumental before the sweeping strings of Tonight, Tonight, Mellon Collie gets off to a flyer and rarely lets go, with classic singles like Bullet With Butterfly Wings, Zero and 1979 helping keep the Pumpkins at the forefront of alternative rock, while there’s so much incredible music to discover each time you listen to it, even 16 years on.
Three years on, a lot had changed for the Smashing Pumpkins. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin had been fired for problems with drugs after the overdose death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin, while bassist D’Arcy was having her own increasing issues. Billy Corgan had also declared that rock was dead, which hadn’t gone down too well with the rock fans of his rock band. Claims that the next album would be electronic also fared badly, but when it emerged, Adore was more acoustic than anything else and was full of a sadness and melacholy that its predecessor’s title could only hint at. My personal favourite Pumpkins album, Adore is a lush, affecting masterpiece of songwriting and production with too many highlights to name, though a special mention goes to the heartbreaking For Martha and its celestial-sounding guitar solo.
Machina/The Machines Of God (2000)
No matter how good Adore was, Corgan’s mixed messages during its promotion and a lack of hit single material meant that it wasn’t a commercial success. Jimmy Chamberlin returned for its follow-up and so did the heavier guitars, though Machina was still far from straightforward guitar rock despite the suggestion of lead single The Everlasting Gaze. The electro-acoustic influences were still very evident and a lot of it could have fit comfortably onto Adore, so it certainly wasn’t the album that some fans were hoping for. Nor was it as consistently impressive as their best work, despite some fantastic songs.
Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music (2000)
A few months later, a sequel album appeared for free on the internet, made up of tracks that Corgan had intended to use in a Machina double-album, only to be denied that chance by nervous record company execs. Because of its unconventional and ‘unofficial’ release, it’s the forgotten Pumpkins album, and isn’t the easiest to listen to, with the production values notably less lush than Machina, and it all feels a bit more ragged. That’s not to say that there’s no good songs on it, with Real Love, Home and Here’s To The Atom Bomb all very worthwhile, but it would be interesting to hear the album properly released at some point.
Judas Ø (2001) / Earphoria (2002) / Rarities And B-Sides (2005)
Some of the tracks did get a proper release a year later on second b-sides/rarities collection Judas Ø, which was thrown in as a bonus disc to a greatest hits collection called Rotten Apples. It collects a few Mellon Collie-era b-sides (the rest are on The Aeroplane Flies High box-set) but is largely made up of Adore outtakes. Earphoria also has some unreleased tracks along with various live performances, but the motherlode can be found on the download-only 114-song collection Rarities And B-Sides, which has both of these albums, plus pretty much every other non-album song they released before their split.
After releasing one album with Zwan and one solo album, Corgan announced that he was reforming the Pumpkins, or (to be slightly more accurate) recording as them again. He’d always been the driving creative force in the band, so it wasn’t too concerning that the new line-up didn’t include James Iha or D’Arcy Wretzky (or her touring replacement Melissa Auf Der Maur). The first new album after the reformation was a surprising one, being the most straight-ahead rock album of the Pumpkins’ career, an attempt to win back disillusioned fans and win some new ones. It didn’t really work, sadly, as a lack of many great songs meant that it all sounded a bit samey and it ended up leaving people (ie, me) hoping for a bit more diversity next time.
Teargarden By Kaleidyscope (2009-2011)
Much more promising is the sign of creative resurrection that Corgan has shown with his current project. An album made up free downloads, Teargarden is still a work in progress so I’m not going to properly review it, but what has been released so far has largely been very good so far. My personal hopes for new album Oceania are high…