Released: July 27, 1993
One of alt-rock’s most polarizing bands, Chicago’s Smashing Pumpkins successfully managed to ride the early-90s grunge wave to unparalleled success, all the while maintaining a unique sense of identity. Eschewing many of the genre’s aesthetic trappings, the band’s sound and image were more in line with the pomp and circumstance-excess of 70’s AOR and 80’s goth/new-wave than the punk-inspired ‘jeans & flannel’-rock that served as the bread and butter of their contemporaries.
And while the band had certainly made some inroads with their psychedelia-tinged debut (Gish), it was with their second full-length effort, Siamese Dream, that the Smashing Pumpkins became a household name. Riding the buzz-wave created by a handful of ‘in-constant-rotation’ music videos and some increasingly successful touring, the band teamed up with producer Butch Vig and set out to make the album that would finally set them apart from the fray.
Created amid some Fleetwood Mac-esque drama, complete with drug addiction, band-member break-ups, and record label pressure, frontman Billy Corgan immersed himself in the recording process, tracking and re-tracking song after song as he grappled with depression. In fact, the creative process proved so successful that even the obligatory ‘B-sides’ collection (Pisces Iscariot) that followed a year later soon went platinum as well, garnering status as one of the Pumpkin’s most beloved records.
Where Gish saw the band establishing their template for loud rockers and moody ballads, Siamese Dream found the band more cohesively embracing the varying degrees of their sound. When the record rocks (with the monolithic stomp of the album-opening “Cherub Rock,” the metal-leaning “Quiet,” and the prog-tinged “GeekU.S.A.”), it rocks harder than anything the Pumpkins had recorded. And when the album simmers (with the brooding “Disarm,” the fan-favorite “Mayonaise,” and the downright beautiful “Luna”), it does so with a new level of thoughtfulness.
But where Siamese Dream really distances itself from the band’s prior work is with Corgan’s newfound penchant for sonic shades of grandeur and effortless dynamics. This combination is perhaps most fully realized with the heart-wrenchingly sincere “Soma” and the epic, whisper-to-a-scream epic “Silverfuck.” Siamese Dream is more than merely a collection of solid singles; it remains the Pumpkins’ most cohesive and deliberate sonic statement.
Siamese Dream is, in many ways, the Smashing Pumpkin’s finest hour. It may not be their biggest ‘selling’ record (the ode-to-artistic-indulgence that is Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness holds that distinction). Still, Siamese Dream is arguably their best–a vividly candid snapshot from a band at the peak of their powers, flirting with self-destruction.