At The Peak of Their Powers: Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

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.


8 thoughts on “At The Peak of Their Powers: Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

  1. James, your album reviews are a delight! In particular here, I really enjoy the callback to Rumors. Even though I was never personally a fan of Smashing Pumpkins, I enjoyed your on point review. Your experience working at a record store definitely shines through! I really like the layout of your blog. It has a good interface, and there’s ease of access. The contrast of dark backgrounds with the font also add a layer of aesthetics that lend themselves to the whimsy of recollection. I’m looking forward to future posts and to see your blog grow!

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  2. Hi James,

    Considering this is a Billy Corgan-related post, I’m almost obligated to respond to it. Billy and I are very similar in our love for baseball and wrestling. You’re definitely right that Mellon sold more, but I seem to recall that both albums were, and still are, looked favorably upon. I would imagine that if you asked someone which album they preferred, the ones who say Mellon probably prefer the lower tuning, even if they don’t realize it. Most of Siamese Dream is in standard, while the band moves down a half step for Mellon. It’s still true to this day–and it was probably true back then–in some circles, music is considered “inferior” if it’s not in Standard, which I’ve always disagreed with. Fans disagree with this as well. There are so many examples of bands that found a stronger identity by tuning their guitars down, and even using Drop tunings. Looking forward to the next album!

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    1. Chris, interesting points. I’ve always said that Mellon Collie is a fantastic artistic statement masquerading as a double record. To that point, if you culled those 28 tracks down to, say, 12-14, you’d have (in my opinon) the band’s best album. As it stands, however, Siamese Dream is, for me, their peak.

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  3. Ugh. Nothing makes me 19 years old again quite like like Gish. Pretty Hate Machine, I guess. Siamese Dream is one of the first CDs I ever bought after finally getting my new stereo out of Wal-Mart lay-a-way. Soma will always hit. I don’t care if it’s 1993, 2003, or right now. Funny that I’ve been pulling up Mellon again frequently. It’s such a nostalgia one as well. Give me the hard ones, although the soft ones are good as well.

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  4. Oh, James – you’re taking me back! I saw the Pumpkins at Lollapalooza in 1993 or 1994! I’m digging your approach to this site and the catchy headlines and images that go with them. This was the first thing I clicked on and I’m so glad I did. I would love to read too about your personal connection to this album and what it meant to you!

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  5. Hey James! Always wanted to get into Smashing Pumpkins… I’m a fan of grunge, liking Pearl Jam and Nirvana. It was interesting to read about some of the emotional and addition conflict that happened during the album and how that affected the process. It seems to me that the best albums are formed out of some hardship; people then have something significant to say or feel on the record tracks.

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