Music: The Smashing Pumpkins
"Shakedown 1979, cool kids never have the time..."note
"My kids love you, and thanks to your gloomy music they've finally stopped dreaming of a future I can't possibly provide."
Formed in 1988, The Smashing Pumpkins are an alternative rock band (with strong Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly
leanings) from the Windy City
consisting of Billy Corgan. Okay, that's not true, there's three or four other band members (one of them being a female bassist), but Corgan's the songwriter, lead vocalist and the only member who's been present throughout the band's entire lifespan, so we'll start from there.
The band is known for its angsty lyrics combined with heavy metal guitars and dense production. Other features include an epic scope (perhaps best displayed by the music video for Tonight, Tonight
) and Corgan's nasal singing voice. After sticking to mostly heavy rock with experimental / psychedelic / progressive elements for their first three albums, the Pumpkins swerved over into folk rock and electronica territory for one entry, returning to form thereafter due to significant fan disappointment. They were also one of the first bands to experiment with online distribution: Machina II / The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music
had a print run of exactly 25 vinyl records given to select friends, family and fans, with orders attached to rip and upload to the Internet for free.
Almost as tumultuous was the band's internal affairs. The band consisted originally of second guitarist James Iha, bassist D'arcy Wretzky, drummer Jimmy Chamberlinnote
and (of course) Corgan, whose obsessive perfectionism drove the others to distraction; Iha and Wretzky were often Garfunkeled
on albums, their parts re-done by Corgannote
. Plus, Chamberlin, described by Iha and Wretzky as the only non-Corgan member who was actually important to the band's sound, was also an inveterate druggie. The result was a band plagued by Troubled Productions
and often teetering on the edge of full-on Creator Breakdown
. Then tragedy struck during the Mellon Collie
tour, when session keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin died of a heroin overdose while shooting up with Chamberlin. Jimmy was fired, which might have had something to do with the electronica sound of Adorenote
. Unfortunately, people listen to the Pumpkins for
their rock sound, and Adore
was pretty much a wipe commercially (though it did receive some of the best reviews of the band's career). Chamberlin straightened himself out and rejoined, just in time for Wretzky to quit, replaced by Hole
bassist Melissa Auf der Maur, and the band produced one more album (well, technically two
) before announcing they would break up at the end of 2000. And, for a while, all was quiet in Pumpkinland.
In '05, Corgan released his solo album. He then upstaged himself by, on the very same day, announcing that he was reforming the Smashing Pumpkins. He and Chamberlin were the only permanent members (Iha and Wretzky are on record as declining to participate, and Auf Der Maur's offer to rejoin wasn't accepted), which also changed after the release of their first post-reunion album. Chamberlin's split was amicable this time; he has been replaced by the 19-year-old newcomer Mike Byrne, and current bassist Nicole Fiorentino and guitarist Jeff Schroeder are also participating in-studio. The Pumpkins are once again experimenting with digital distribution; their next album, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope
[sic], is going to be released, song by song, for free on the band's website
The Pumpkins claim inspiration from bands like Queen
, My Bloody Valentine
and The Cure
. What is really interesting, though, is that almost nobody claims to take any inspiration from them
; just about the only bands on record for that are My Chemical Romance
, Kill Hannah, and neo-shoegaze
band Silversun Pickups
(though considerably less than is often credited to them; the band hadn't even listened to Siamese Dream
until after their first album). Oh, and they're on Guitar Hero
, Rock Band
and the soundtracks for several blockbuster movies, such as the first live-action Transformers
excursion. Corgan was also featured as a playable character in Guitar Hero
Studio album discography:
- Gish (1991) - the debut album, occasionally overlooked.
- Siamese Dream (1993) - the mainstream breakthrough, mainly because of "Today" and "Disarm".
- The two were remastered and reissued in 2011. Each had a bonus CD and a bonus DVD.
- Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (1995) - the epic double album.
- Remastered and reissued in 2012, with three bonus CDs and a bonus DVD.
- Adore (1998) - the folk/electronica album.
- Remastered and reissued in 2014, with five bonus CDs and a bonus DVD.
- Machina/The Machines of God (2000) - the attempted comeback.
- A remastered reissue is scheduled for 2015. It will include all of the material from Machina II (sequenced to fit Corgan's original concept of a double album, before Executive Meddling set in) as well as additional bonus material, presumably around the size of the Adore reissue.
- Machina II/The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music (2000) - not a commercial release and, for that matter, was not intended to be; Corgan wanted Virgin Records to make the album free to anyone who had bought Machina I. When they declined, he just gave it to everyone.
- Zeitgeist (2007) - the first post-reunion album.
- Teargarden By Kaleidyscope - under construction.
There's also a bunch of EPs and compilations like:
- Lull (1991) - first EP. In Billy's words: the EP was really supposed to be a single but they tricked me.
- Pisces Iscariot (1994) - compilation of BSides, demos and outtakes from the 'Gish' and 'Siamese Dream' era.
- Remastered and reissued in 2012, with a bonus CD, a bonus DVD, a bonus cassette, and (in some versions) a bonus 7" single.
- Vieuphoria (1994) - a video compilation of various live performances, mostly from the Siamese Dream tour, plus comedy bits (usually centered on friends The Frogs), interviews, and other features. It was reissued on DVD in 2002 with several extras, including a complete interview and some additional performance footage from 1994 that Corgan had found before the release date. Similarly, its soundtrack was initially released as a promo CD in 1994, titled Earphoria, and then officially released in 2002. Earphoria retains a segment where the band jokingly played part of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" during a medley of "Silverfuck" and "Jackboot", whereas the Vieuphoria footage had to edit that part out due to licensing costs.
- The Aeroplane Flies High (1996) - box set including all the singles and B-sides from the Mellon Collie era.
- Remastered and reissued in 2013, with a substantial amount of bonus material on each CD as well as one additional bonus CD and a bonus DVD.
- Judas ∅ (2001) - more B-sides and rarities, bonus disc coming with the Greatest Hits Album Rotten Apples.
- Rarities and B-Sides (2005) - Exactly What It Says on the Tin: gathering just about every B-side and rarity for a total of 114 tracks. (It's not entirely complete; a few tracks had to be left off because of licensing issues. Many of these were included on the recent deluxe reissues of the albums, however).
Provides examples of:
- Arc Words: "My one and only" on Mellon Collie. It shows up in "X.Y.U.," "Zero," "Lily (My One and Only)", and "By Starlight."
- Bald of Awesome: Billy, starting in the Mellon Collie era, although some may view it as Bald of Evil.
- Book Ends:
- The first track on disc 1 of Mellon Collie, "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness," has a running time of 2:52, as does the last track on disc 1, "Take Me Down." The first track on disc 2, "Where Boys Fear to Tread," is 4:22, as is the last track on disc 2, "Farewell and Goodnight." Furthermore, the piano theme at the end of "Farewell and Goodnight" is a reprise of the eponymous instrumental (the theme also appears in a different key at the end of "Thru the Eyes of Ruby").
- The same lines from the start of "Appels + Oranjes" from Adore are repeated near the end.
- Call Back: The opening lines of the heaviest song on Mellon Collie, "Tales of a Scorched Earth" ("farewell, goodnight, last one out turn out the lights"), are echoed in "Farewell and Goodnight," which is the sweetest and quietest song on the album, and is basically a lullaby.
- Mellon Collie ends with a bedtime song ("Farewell and Goodnight"), on a disc titled "Twilight to Starlight". Adore opens in the same key and the first line is, "Twilight fades, through blistered Avalon."
- Careful With That Axe
- Celebrity Resemblance: Since Billy shaved his head, he looks like the twin of Björn Strid.
- Concept Album: Mellon Collie (which Corgan called "The Wall for Generation X", though is a rather loose concept about coming of age); both Machina albums (about a boy hearing the voice of God in the radio and fashioning himself into a Captain Ersatz version of Billy Corgan, fronting a rock band; chart by Billy here◊); and Teargarden (similar chart here◊).
- Cover Version: "A Girl Named Sandoz" by The Animals, "Terrapin" by Syd Barrett, "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac, "Dancing in the Moonlight" by Thin Lizzy, "You're All I've Got Tonight" by The Cars, "Clones (We're All)" by David Carron, "A Night Like This" by The Cure, "Destination Unknown" by Missing Persons, "Dreaming" by Blondie, the classic pop tune "My Blue Heaven", "Rock On" by David Essex, "Soul Power" by James Brown, "Sad Peter Pan" by Vic Chestnutt, and those are just the ones that made it onto albums and compilations.
- The band has taken to performing "Space Oddity" by David Bowie during shows on the Oceania tour.
- Conveyor Belt Video, The Oner: "Ava Adore". If it doesn't click in that it's a oner, the halfway point where the camera spins around and reveals the camera's track and all of the sets will do it.
- Description Cut: Used in the Vieuphoria segment "Bugg Superstar" — After a clip of a fan speculating about the "cool, artsy life" James Iha must live, we then see James sleeping in a very messy bed with his clothes and sneakers still on.
- Digital Piracy Is Evil: Subverted. As mentioned above, Machina II was intended to be leaked onto the internet for free. Teargarden by Kaleidyscope is being released song-by-song for free on the band's website.
- Doomsday Clock: The Trope Namer, with a song of the same name on Zeitgeist.
- Dude Looks Like a Lady: James Iha playing a Wholesome Crossdresser in the video for "Today."
- Corgan's stage attire has often included dresses / skirts.
- Epic Rocking: Quite a lot — "Rhinoceros", "Hummer", "Soma", "Silverfuck", "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans", "Thru The Eyes of Ruby", "X.Y.U.", "Tear", "Shame", "Cherub Rock," "For Martha", "Glass and the Ghost Children", "Heavy Metal Machine (alternate take)", "In My Body", "Starla", "The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)" ...Oh, we could go on.
- Live versions of "Silverfuck" were known to take the 9-minute song as far as 40 minutes. The 2013 reissue of The Aeroplane Flies High featured an officially released 35-minute version. "Transmission" could go on for a long time, too; the DVD on the reissue of Adore has a version that goes on for nearly twenty-six minutes.
- Billy's other band, Zwan, had "Jesus, I / Mary Star of the Sea", which went on for over fourteen minutes.
- Fading into the Next Song: "Perfect" into "Daphne Descends."
- "Where Boys Fear to Tread" abruptly cuts off into the radio static at the beginning of "Bodies."
- For Doom the Bell Tolls: "Disarm".
- Gaia's Lament: Discussed vaguely in "Appels + Oranjes" from Adore, and more directly in "Doomsday Clock" from Zeitgeist.
- Grand Finale: The last show at the Metro in 2000 arguably.
- Grief Song:
- "Glynis" is a tribute to Glynis Johnson, the bassist of the band Red Red Meat, who toured with the Pumpkins and died of complications from AIDS one year before the song was released on the HIV benefit album No Alternative.
- Adore, being recorded in the wake of Corgan's mother's death from cancer, has a number. Obvious examples include "For Martha", "Once Upon a Time", and "Tear".
- Grunge: They benefited heavily from the Alternative Rock wave out of Seattle to the degree of having their song "Drown" featured on the soundtrack to the Seattle film Singles alongside Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, but they don't really fit into the scene because they had a more experimental sound, probably closer to pure Alternative Rock or even Alternative Metal. They went out of their way to distance themselves from the failing movement for their second album.
- Heavy Meta
- I Am the Band: Billy Corgan, to the point where Corgan threw out Iha and Wretzky's parts on Siamese Dream and re-recorded them himself. This attitude while recording mellowed out for the next album but Corgan always kept this demeanor.
- The Killer In Me: Mentioned by name in "Disarm."
- Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: Zeitgeist came in six different versions, only one of which actually contained the title track.
- The entire catalogue from Gish to Machina is receiving this treatment, with releases from 2011 to 2015. Each album, including the b-side collections, is being repackaged with alternate takes, demos, outtakes and a live DVD showcasing the band's set from each album's period. While the first few releases were slim affairs, Mellon Collie emerged with a whopping 5 discs and 1 DVD, and each following release is just getting bigger. Adore featured the vinyl's mono version in digital for the first time, while Machina is to be sequenced like the original double album that was envisioned.
- Line-of-Sight Name: Corgan said he got the title of "Mayonaise" from looking in his fridge.
- Loudness War: This has been a particularly bad problem starting with Machina (although not with Machina II, which was vinyl-only, so not as likely to be a victim of this; the only track on that that had a clipped master was "White Spyder", which was clearly done for artistic purposes). Zeitgeist and the reissues have also had problems with this, although strangely, the reissues have only been really bad on the bonus tracks (for example, the Adore remaster was DR8 on the stereo version of the album and had minimal clipping, while the mono version was DR5 with lots of clipping and the other bonus CDs had similar ratings and amounts of clipping). The earlier Pumpkins albums were mostly mastered with a fairly large amount of headroom, although the problem had started to creep up with The Aeroplane Flies High, which is clipped in some parts. It's also worth pointing that there's an "pre-mastered" version of Machina floating around the internets that has a substantially larger amount of dynamic range than the CD (and no clipping). Their usage of this trope also appears to have dropped off with time, as Oceania is a tolerable DR8 and has very little clipping.
- Lyrical Cold Open: "Bullet With Butterfly Wings". You know the line. "The world is a vampire."
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Today" — musically (mostly) upbeat, lyrically sarcastic and based on Corgan's depression and suicidal thoughts.
- Lyrics/Video Mismatch: "Tonight Tonight". The video is essentially a shot-for-shot remake of the 1902 sci-fi short A Trip to the Moon.
- Metal Scream
- Miniscule Rocking: "Pastichio Medley" combines this with Epic Rocking in a bizarre example of both tropes. It consists of literally dozens of song snippets stitched together to make a twenty-three-minute piece. Most of the snippets last for only about ten seconds, but the last of them, "Die", consists of the same highly dissonant riff repeated for about seven minutes before reprising the riff of "X.Y.U." Several, though nowhere near all, of the songs in the medley were eventually released in their entirety on the re-releases of Siamese Dream, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and The Aeroplane Flies High.
- "17", the closing track to Adore, is seventeen seconds of lo-fi piano, which abruptly ends mid-note. The booklet to the CD includes a short poem about how significant "17 seconds" can be.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Anywhere from a 1 ("Tonite Reprise," "Take Me Down") to 8 ("X.Y.U.," "Tales of a Scorched Earth"). The aforementioned "X.Y.U" is arguably in a 9. But generally in the 2 (Tonight Tonight) to 6 (Bullet With Butterfly Wings) range.
- Many live cuts push their respective songs' ratings up one or two notches. "Fuck You (An Ode to No One)" from their "last show" at the Chicago Metro in 2000 is an easy 9.
- Mood Whiplash: Mellon Collie utilizes this quite effectively (and often):
- The beautiful "1979" is followed by the Pumpkins' heaviest song, "Tales of a Scorched Earth". On vinyl, despite the re-arranged tracklisting, "Galapogos" precedes "Tales", keeping similar whiplash intact.
- "Take Me Down" (the last track on disc 1) is followed by "Where Boys Fear to Tread" (the first track on disc 2).
- "Thirty-Three" follows "Bodies."
- "Stumbleine" is right before "X.Y.U."
- Music Video Overshadowing: for "Today", a Lyrically Dissonant song about suicide.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: They're a goth-dream pop-progressive-psychedelic-electronica-metal-shoegaze-alternative rock band.
- Non-Appearing Title: Frequently.
- Billy, regarding song titles: "Say you write a song about a chandelier, and the chandelier gives off light. And the light is the color red and red reminds you of the color you're not supposed to wear around a bull. So you name the song Cow."
- "Rhinoceros" is slightly more sneaky about this. The chorus is "she knows, she knows, she knows." It sounds, however, like "she ''nose,'' she ''nose,'' she..."
- Sometimes complicated by the song's Non-Appearing Title appearing in other songs (For example, "Where Boys Fear to Tread" is mentioned in "Cherry", albeit not quite in that exact order).
- Not Christian Rock: Religious themes appear sometimes in the Pumpkins' music, but they are not a Christian rock band.
- Obligatory Bondage Song: "Pug" and "Annie-Dog," which take very different views on the subject.
- Perishing Alt Rock Voice: Corgan, even when doing the Metal Scream Careful With That Axe thing.
- Precision F-Strike: Machina's final track "Age of Innocence" contains the only instance of profanity on the entire record.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "I. AM. MADE. OF. SHAMROCKS, I. AM. MADE. OF. STERN STUFF." ("X.Y.U.") "GOD! RIGHT ON! KRISHNA! RIGHT ON!" from "Quasar".
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Melvoin's death is supposedly the inspiration for Sarah McLachlan's "Angel".
- Re Arrange The Song: Adore's sombre acoustic work and Machina's poppier songs got the "Pumpkins treatment" in concerts, showing just how anchored they were in Corgan's songwriting process.
- Similarly, "Disarm", which appeared on Siamese Dream as an orchestral ballad, was given a much louder, more aggressive arrangement for some TV appearances promoting the album.
- Re Cut: The vinyl version of Mellon Collie reorders the entire tracklist to better fit the Dawn / Tea Time / Dusk / Twilight / Midnight / Starlight naming of each of the six sides of vinyl. It also includes "Tonite Reprise" and "Infinite Sadness" on its final side.
- Adore's 2014 reissue featured subtle differences in the mix, highlighting some of the electronic elements cut from the original pressing. This is most notable in "Ava Adore".
- Machina is being reissued in its original double album format with the songs from Machina II included. Part of this will include a fake concert, much like Pink Floyd's The Wall did.
- Refrain from Assuming: "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" — you know, The One With The Rat In The Cage?
- It's "Ava Adore", not "We Must Never Be Apart".
- It's "Disarm", not "The Killer in Me" or any variation thereof.
- "Quasar," not "Right On."
- "I of the Morning", not "Radio".
- Retraux: The "Tonight, Tonight" music video.
- Shaped Like Itself: This line from "Disarm": "What I choose is my choice."
- Shout-Out: Corgan mentioned that Gish was named as a reference to Lillian Gish, specifically because his grandmother would tell him that she lived in a town in "the middle of nowhere" and one of the most important things that happened was Gish riding through said town in a train. He also joked at one point that it was originally named "Fish" but changed the name to avoid confusions with Phish.
- "Siva" was originally named "Shiva" as a reference to the Tantric concepts of Shiva and Shakti, but Corgan changed the name slightly because he didn't want people to assume it referred to the Hindu god Shiva.
- Oceania, a notably metallic and post-rock inspired album, contains the songs "The Celestials" and "Panopticon". Post-metal band Isis' first albums, all from over a decade prior, were Celestial, Oceanic and Panopticon.
- Siamese Twin Songs: Several, though none of them are on Siamese Dream:
- "Medellia of the Gray Skies" and "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans" were intended as this, but only "Porcelina" made the final album cut.
- "Ugly" and "Beautiful" are thematic counterparts, but, as with the "Medellia"/"Porcelina" pairing, only the latter made the cut. Luckily, both of them made it to Rarities and B-Sides.
- "Tonight Tonight" and "Tonite Reprise."
- "Quasar" and "Panopticon."
- Spell My Name with a "The". 'Smashing' is an adjective in this case.
- Their name on their first album was in an arc, so they removed the "the" to make it more symmetrical. Confusion ensued.
- The reason why it was also lacking a "the" on Siamese Dream is a mystery though, especially since the "the" shows up in the CD edition's booklet.
- Step Up to the Microphone: D'arcy sings "Daydream" and most of "Dreaming" and adds additional vocals to "Beautiful", "Where Boys Fear to Tread," "We Only Come Out at Night", "Farewell and Goodnight" (which has lead vocals by all four band members) and "Dancing in the Moonlight". James did this occasionally on his own tunes and otherwise, but most of them got shunted to B-sides - "Take Me Down" was the only one that made it to Mellon Collie, "Blew Away" got relegated to Pisces Iscariot, "...said sadly" (with additional vocals by Nina Gordon) and the cover of "Terrapin" were released on the Rarities & B-sides compilation, and so on.
- D'arcy had actually recorded numerous backing vocals for Mellon Collie, but in a Jerkassy move, Billy erased most of them.
- Stop and Go: "Quasar."
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: After D'arcy Wretzky and James Iha declined to participate in the second incarnation of the band, Billy replaced them with...another female bassist and an Asian-American guitarist.
- Paz Lenchantin and David Pajo played these roles in Zwan.
- Title by Number: "1979", "Zero", "Thirty-Three", and "17" (more if you count songs that were never officially released).
- Title Drop: Too many straight examples and aversions to list here. Examples of near-title drops, however, include "Where Boys Fear to Tread" (which contains the line "to tread lightning/and ink the lavender skies" but the full title is never said) and "Jellybelly" (which contains the line "down in the belly of the beast").
- Uncommon Time: Perhaps most notably in "Untitled", which switches meter signatures literally every couple of measures for most of the song (being mostly comprised of patterns like 3+3+4/4 and 3+3+4+4/4) and has several bars of 5/4, but present in other songs as well. "Quiet" throws in some bars of 7/4 in between bars of 3/4 and 4/4; "Set the Ray to Jerry" has verses in 10/4; "Innosense" ends with several measures of 5/4; and that's undoubtedly not all. It's also worth pointing out that, in a borderline example of this trope, "Let Me Give the World to You" uses seven-measure patterns in its verses.
- Unusual Euphemism: "I took a Virgin Mary axe to his sweet baby jane... coiled my tongue 'round her bumblebee mouth."
- Verbing Nouny
- Word Salad Lyrics: "X.Y.U." combines this vocals that alternate between perishing and screaming to bizarre and terrifying effect.
- Word Salad Titles: Billy has frequently given songs seemingly nonsensical titles, like "Geek U.S.A.", "Silverfuck", "Whir", "Galapogos", "Muzzle", "Stumbleine", "X.Y.U.", "Slunk", "Bye June", "Plume", "Pissant", "Purr Snickety", "Honeyspider", "Set the Ray to Jerry", "Meladori Magpie" and "Pulseczar", to name a few. Typically, these titles do mean something or relate to the song somehow, but in a roundabout way.
- Xtreme Kool Letterz: Some of Corgan's song titles are based on misspellings, like "Mayonaise", "Siva" and "Appels + Oranjes".
IN THE EYES OF THE JACKAL I SAY KAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAABOOM