Before the infamous Butch Vig-produced album that would change the face of music was unleashed in the fall of 1991, another Vig project was making some racket out of Chicago earlier that summer, with a sound much different than the punk-oriented material the year 1991 was known for producing. The idea to have Billy Corgan and Vig work together on an album was a perfect combination, as both of them enjoy huge production, pay meticulous attention to detail and wanted to push their boundaries as far as possible. For my first installation on the Smashing Pumpkins I’m going to talk a bit about the album that sometimes gets overshadowed by other albums of 1991 and other records in the band’s catalog.
When the drums first hit you on the opening track “I Am One” and the bass swoops in to push it along, I find it hard to sit still. From there we are taken along on a ride of arena-sized anthems, soaring ballads and crazy guitar squeal. You can hear the influence from 70’s rock champs like Zeppelin, Sabbath and Queen being blended with the noise of My Bloody Valentine, Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth, this was something a little different than an update of punk rock.
Within the first few tracks you can get a sense that Billy Corgan is an ambitious fellow and he wants to push his own limits as well as the band’s, thus creating a sound that would make the Pumpkins famous. When I was younger, listening to this album, I often thought that if Mars or some other planet had life, that is where Corgan came from. To me this was album was progressive in a way for larger audiences to consume and it came from outer space.
Some of the songs do drag a bit with excess guitar trickery, but I can’t ever get over Jimmy Chamberlain on drums. Don’t get me wrong, Avid Reader, D’Arcy and James are important, but part of the reason I kept listening to the group for so long was for Jimmy’s snare hits. A few years ago I was listening to Gish and the first few releases from Tool, Opiate and Undertow, and I realized there were some similarities in their sound. Both bands were blending metal, progressive rock and layers of guitar over incredible drumming.
Some clutch tracks here are: “Bury Me”, “Tristessa”, “Siva” or the epic “Rhinoceros”. This was a step in a new direction and also helped to kick open the door for many bands to call themselves alternative. If you are an alt-rock junkie like me, then this has a special place in your collection and if you don’t own it, I suggest you get a copy and turn it up very loud.