Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#880 in the Series) is Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream
In my favorite film, Almost Famous, Lester Bangs, as played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, warns his young protégé, William Miller, about the trappings of writing “sanctimonious stories about the genius of rock stars.” Going on to say “they will ruin rock ‘n’ roll, and strangle everything we love about it.” Well, at the risk of sounding sanctimonious this is a piece about the genius of rock stars and one rock star in particular, Billy Corgan, and The Smashing Pumpkins 1993 masterpiece Siamese Dream.
1993 was a magical year in music and more specifically, to what many people would refer to as “college,” or “alternative” rock. There was the sublime The Cranberries Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can’t We, The Verve’s debut, A Storm in Heaven, which produced some of the most beautiful soundscapes ever elicited from an electric guitar. Not to mention The Breeder’s cult classic Last Splash, as well as Catherine Wheel’s metallic shoegaze classic Chrome.
I believe that Siamese Dream is better than all of them and is the best album produced that year. Better than Exile in Guyville, better than Songs of Faith and Devotion, better than Suede’s self-titled debut. And yes, even better than Nirvana’s In Utero, which is a masterpiece in its own right.
What makes Siamese Dream so impressive is the melding of so many different genres into one beautiful haze-induced dreamlike epic album.
The album starts off with “Cherub Rock,” which, coincidentally, was also the first single released off the album. This song could fit in just as easily as an arena rock anthem from the70s. Jimmy Chamberlin wailing away on his drums as if they were playing a general admission show at The Kingdome in 1977 while Billy Corgan goes off on prolific guitar solos, hauntingly screaming “Let me out.”
“Spaceboy,” is reminiscent of something off The Beach Boys Pet Sounds, more specifically, Sloop John B. Wistful and sad, yet at the same time unflinchingly beautiful. The two even have the same powerful lyric, “I wanna go home.”
“Soma” invokes Pink Floyd, one of Corgan’s biggest influences and the band he inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Co-written with guitarist and Pumpkins co-founder James Iha, the song is a veritable roller coaster of theme and music. The song itself is “based on the idea that a love relationship is almost the same as opium: it slowly puts you to sleep, it soothes you, and gives you the illusion of sureness and security.” (Billy Corgan) It is reminiscent of one of the main themes in Pink Floyd’s The Wall because it also portrays the anguish and despair of the eventuality of losing that love, as Billy illustrates with the lyrics: “I’m all by myself. As I’ve always felt. And I’ll betray myself. To anyone.”
The Pumpkins once against demonstrate their versatility with “Silverfuck,” a song who’s beginning sonic guitar riff sounds like it could be on Van Halen’s first album if it were stripped down. It vacillates between this and more Pink Floyd like production techniques with the band slowing it down with beautiful atmospherics and Corgan eventually singing “Bang, Bang, you’re Dead. Hole in your head,” with no instrumentation. Why this song has never been used in a dream sequence in a movie is beyond me.
Finally, the album culminates with “Luna” a love song so bittersweet it could easily fall into the vein of such 70s singer songwriters as Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me” or the Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett penned “Superstar” which was made famous by The Carpenters’.
What is amazing is that I have not even mentioned: “Disarm,” probably the most heartfelt song on the album; “Today” the most well-known song on the album, credited with being one of the defining songs of Generation X; “Geek U.S.A.,” ranked number 54 in Guitar World‘s list of the 100 greatest guitar solos; and, finally, “Mayonaise,” which in 2012 won a Rolling Stone reader’s poll for “The Best Smashing Pumpkins Songs.”
This is what makes Siamese Dream so important. It is an album, top to bottom, with not a single weak song, and is one of the most beautifully studio crafted albums of the 90s.
All songs written and composed by Billy Corgan, except where noted.
- “Cherub Rock” 4:58
- “Quiet” 3:41
- “Today” 3:19
- “Hummer” 6:57
- “Rocket” 4:06
- “Disarm” 3:17
- “Soma” (Corgan, James Iha) 6:39
- “Geek U.S.A.” 5:13
- “Mayonaise” (Corgan, Iha) 5:50
- “Spaceboy” 4:28
- “Silverfuck” 8:43
- “Sweet Sweet” 1:38
- “Luna” 3:20
- Billy Corgan – lead vocals, lead guitar, bass guitar, Mellotron on “Spaceboy”
- James Iha – rhythm guitar, backing vocals
- D’arcy Wretzky – bass guitar, backing vocals
- Jimmy Chamberlin – drums
- Mike Mills – piano on “Soma”
- Eric Remschneider – string arrangements and cello on “Disarm” and “Luna”
- David Ragsdale – string arrangements and violin on “Disarm” and “Luna”
Here’s a Siamese Dream Live concert in two parts.