Matt’s Throwback Record: Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins


Matt Brady, Staff Reporter

For the second edition of “Throwback Record,” we’re going to take a look back at the massively influential album Siamese Dream by seminal grunge shoegazers The Smashing Pumpkins. The band formed in the fall of 1988 in Chicago, Illinois and their lineup consisted of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, bassist D’arcy Wretzky, guitarist James Iha, and singer and lead guitarist Billy Corgan. While each member of the band contributed to songwriting in their own way, it was Billy Corgan who was the creative engine of the band, coming up with their riffs and lyrics. They released their debut album Gish on May 28, 1991. It became a minor hit, spawning numerous songs that would later establish the band as a force to be reckoned with. With the grunge explosion of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden melting into the mainstream halfway across the country in Seattle in September of 1991, it was unlikely that the Pumpkins weren’t going to succeed; they had so much creative material that fans were practically pawing at them to release the next Nevermind or Ten. And, in 1993, they did; they released Siamese Dream, a love-letter to Chicago cut from a fringy paisley tapestry that evoked everything that was the 90’s, from hazy heavy shoegaze to sweet and sour psychedelic heartbreak-love lullabies.

The album opens with the jaw-dropping “Cherub Rock.” Jimmy Chamberlin plays drumline like marching band shots on his snare drum, making the listener unsure of where the song is going to go. Billy then enters with a clean guitar tone, playing fast punk-rock-like downstrokes. Bass, another guitar, and drums enter back into the mix, giving the song a menacing feeling and before a second thought, a wave of mammoth distortion overtakes the listener’s ears, capturing their attention and gluing them into their seat. Billy’s ethereal and half-whispered vocals enter as he sings, “Freak out and given in. Doesn’t matter what you believe in.” Halfway into the song, he shreds an Eddie Van Halen like solo that’s full of energy and virtuosity and the song ends on a high note with squalling feedback.

Going on from “Cherub Rock,” the album doesn’t lose any steam and it keeps chugging forward, not looking back. The presence of distortion is prevalent on almost every song on the album; not distortion in a hardcore/thrash metal sense, but in a hazier and more melodic sort of way. The wall of sound and fuzzy psychedelic distortion is what gives character to the songs, helping them stand out from the other chart-topping albums at the time. Notable cuts from Siamese Dream that help show its versatility include the kaleidoscopic “Mayonnaise,” and the grieving “Luna.”

“Mayonnaise” starts with a dreamy melodic double guitar part with James Iha on the left and Billy Corgan on the right. They riff off each other for about thirty seconds before Jimmy gracefully enters, playing a soft drum fill that leads to Billy and James suddenly turning on their distortion pedals, building their cacophonous wall of sound and constructing it around the listener until they can’t think of anything but the music. Billy’s sweet soft vocals enter once again; he croons, “Fool enough to almost be it. Cool enough to not quite see it. Doomed.” The closing track, “Luna,” brings the album to a sweet and calming halt, relieving the listener from an exhilarating ride. Billy strums a twangy guitar as the bass rattles the listeners eardrums. For one last time, he comes back in with his whispered vocals, lamenting, “What moon songs do you sing your baby? I’ll sing to you if you want me to.”

The ’90s sounded like a great time to be alive; there were contemporary trends emerging, new movies, technology, cars, and, most importantly, new bands and music. The ’90s wouldn’t have rocked if it weren’t for bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, The Black Crowes, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, but the ’90s became more than rock due to the Pumpkins and Siamese Dream. Here you have a couple of guys – and a girl jamming on bass – from Chicago who helped bring back psychedelic rock to the mainstream and back for decades to come. Siamese Dream is the definitive ’90s album, and if it never came out, the ’90s would have sucked.