Album Review: Smashing Pumpkins – Gish [Reissue]




As hard as it may be to believe these days, there was a time when Billy Corgan made great music, had a full head of hair (weird, right?), and was generally viewed as one of the best musicians around. Siamese Dream, a great display of virtuosic talent, and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, in all its sprawling 28-track excess, stand without question as two of the 90’s finest albums.

Before those two, though, came Gish, the Pumpkins’ magnificent, oft-overlooked debut and the first in a string of very high points that occasionally hinted at masterpiece and defined Corgan’s status as a 90’s rock icon. Unlike other Pumpkins albums (and probably only for Corgan’s rookie timidness), Gish isn’t fraught with the obsessive megalomania that he quickly earned a rep for, and if for that alone, it’s an essential part of the band’s canon.

But it also happens that it’s a great record and one that captures one of the greatest musical minds of the past 20 years nearing the peak of his powers. From the twin-lead guitar attack of “Siva” to the tripped-out drone lead on “Suffer”, Gish was an album way ahead of its time, full of stylistic masterstrokes that would go on to influence others for years to come. (Bristol trip-hop luminary Tricky would later sample the latter for his own “Pumpkin”.) At a time when most of their contemporaries in alt-rock were grunging it up, demonstrating their hatred for hair metal and 80’s garishness by eschewing all things that could be construed as excessive, Corgan and his crew made no bones about their affinity for huge guitars and big choruses.

“Rhinoceros”, for one, is a hallmark of this attitude. It’s all swirling psychedelia and beefy riffage – informed equally by MBV’s dream-pop classic Isn’t Anything and vintage Sabbath – before it culminates with a blistering solo. Before Billy Corgan’s voice thinned out to a high nasal screech, it was a real dynamic force, at times even a thing of beauty. Starting at a low near-whisper, his surprisingly velvety croon carries the song all the way to its heady climax on the back of the wistful refrain of “she knows, she knows.” Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin’s creative fills, meticulous restraint and timing – the very antithesis of the pervading grunge aesthetic of the time – and, of course, his thunderous power behind the kit all make for some of Gish‘s most impressive moments. But make no mistake, this is Corgan’s band: He wrote and recorded just about every guitar and bass part on the album, along with all the lyrics. Even “Daydream”, the album’s slow-strummed, D’arcy Wretzky-sung closer, which marks one of the few times he ever relinquished the mic to one of his bandmates, is saddled with bizarre hidden track/Corgan freak-out “I’m Going Crazy”.

As with any reissue of a 20-year-old album, the only real reason to pay this repackaging any mind are the bonus features. And it’s pretty impossible to be disappointed with the result here: crisp remastering of the original 10 songs, plus 18 Gish-era tracks, demos and live versions, many of which are being released officially for the first time here. Highlights include an extended take on “Drown” and an 11-minute edit of “Starla”, two of the best tracks the Pumpkins ever recorded, the latter especially indispensable for fans on account of its extended guitar solos (there are at least four) that catch Corgan at the top of his game. Even the tracks that have been circulating for years (many of which are drowned in tape hiss and low bit rate crackle) are found here in pristine quality, completing a package that gives Gish a long overdue facelift.

Essential Tracks: “Rhinoceros”, “Drown (Alternative Guitar Solo)”, and “Starla”