Classic Reviews: Smashing Pumpkins, ‘Siamese Dream’
This review originally appeared in the August 1993 issue of SPIN.
It’s difficult work, making a virtue out of vagueness, but for some reason it’s work that many of our best current rockers are taking up, despite the catcalls of aesthetic conservatives who insist that rock’n’roll has to actually be “about” something. These stick-in-the-muds have lately been getting all worked up about the likes of My Bloody Valentine, whose songs exist merely to proved the context for a sound which is their whole reason for being. If Smashing Pumpkins’ major-label debut makes the kind of splash it deserves to, the Chicago-based band will be the next to throw the meaning-mongers into a snit.
Siamese Dream, coproduced by Butch Vig, takes up and expands nicely where 1991’s impressive Gish left off; it’s got all the feisty, fuzz passion of that record and even more inventiveness. Smashing Pumpkins have an enormous bag of tricks, a lot of them discovered (I’m guessing here) on cannabis-hazy mid-American afternoon where their teenage selves reimagined the music of Deep Puple and Blue Öyster Cult without the preen-rock frills. That moment in the middle of “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” where Buck Dharma’s soaring solo dissolves-resolves back into the song’s Byrd-sinister riff, can open a whole world of possibilities to the intuitive listener, and it’s those possibilities (and many more) that Smashing Pumpkins mean to explore.
So Siamese Dream, they expand the palette, employing real string sections and mellotrons, rolling out a glockenspiel, introing one song with a sitar loop being funneled through the most badly beat-up car stereo speaker you can imagine, and so on. Singer-guitarist Billy Corgan’s soloing runs the gamut from squeally highs to guttural lows; it’s amazing how he can rein his shit back in even after it seems to have gone far off the deep end. On the epic “Silverfuck,” he evokes Television’s “Marquee Moon” — for about a nanosecond. Then he takes off.
Even when you can make out the lyrics they seem to dissolve in the heady ether. Little phrases stick out: “let me out,” “I shall be brave,” “the killer in me is a killer in you,” and most unfortunately, “live’s a bummer / when you’re a hummer.” Corgan sings them with, well, conviction, but he might as well be reciting the alphabet in French. As John Lydon once noted, “words cannot express…” On Siamese Dream, they don’t even try.