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Smashing Pumpkins’ Pisces Iscariot Is Thrill-Free for Casual Listeners

This review of Pisces Iscariot originally appeared in the November 1994 issue of SPIN. We’re republishing it in honor of the album’s 25th anniversary on October 4.

Rating: Whoa! Slow down, pal! This album is pretty good, but you can’t buy everything in the store. Can you?

As a source of possibly unintended hilarity, Great Pumpkin Billy Corgan rarely disappoints. His in-concert monologues, for example, are reliable gag-fests—especially the part where Corgan stops mid-song to berate the audience for such breaches of rock etiquette as getting something to eat during the Pumpkins’ set, or not paying sufficient attention to the Pumpkins’ set, or, perish the thought, leaving mid-Pumpkins’ set. Something about the way he sing-speaks, “All you people out at the falafel stand are dicks, but that’s okay,” while the bass player picks her nose, and the other guitarist looks embarrassed, never fails to produce a chuckle.

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Corgan hits new heights of comic splendor, though, with his solo rendition of the Fleetwood Mac chestnut “Landslide,” on this collection of B-sides and other rarities. Over a delicately picked acoustic guitar, he alternately wails in that “I used to be a little boy” voice and croons breathily, trying by way of reckless oversinging to inject emotional significance into the loopy lyrics. I bet Stevie Nicks is, like, wicked proud.

Other than that, Pisces Iscariot (my guess an oblique reference to Kurt Cobain, but I’m probably reading too much into it) is pretty much thrill-free for the casual listener. What’s best about the record is what’s best about preceding Smashing Pumpkins stuff the cool multitracked Brian May-style guitar bits and the way these bits explode out of lacy, ephemeral sections like a Bat Out of Hell (the first one, not Bat II).

What’s lacking is the quality tunesmithery that redeems the turgidity of the worst Pumpkins material. It’s easy to see why these songs didn’t make the cut for Siamese Dream or even Gish. There’s nothing here as catchy as “Today,” or as moving as that one with the cello and the church bells and the weird black-and-white video. I don’t question Corgan’s motivation for releasing this stuff in a readily accessible form; any hot and heavy Pumpkins fan is sure to go apeshit over, if nothing else, the messily typed liner notes wherein Corgan discusses, albeit in hard-to-decipher fashion, the derivation of each of the 14 tracks, saving me the trouble of doing so here.

“My boredom has outshined the sun,” Corgan sings, with admirable megalomania, on “Plume,” originally recorded as a demo for Siamese Dream. For some reason, that lyric really connects with me, man.