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Dissected: Smashing Pumpkins

Eight various members, eight studio albums, and one constant Corgan

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dissected logo Dissected: Smashing PumpkinsWelcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we sort through the best and worst of Billy Corgan’s favorite outfit.

Thank god St. Petersburg, FL, has forever been a shitty place for music. Otherwise, a young and very straggly Billy Corgan might not have returned home to Chicago to form The Smashing Pumpkins. Equal thanks goes to Metro Cabaret owner Joe Shanahan, whose insistence that the band find a drummer led to the discovery and recruitment of jazz percussionist Jimmy Chamberlin. Without him, it’s very likely Corgan would have spent years attempting to recreate Seventeen Seconds, Faith, or Pornography in lieu of the rock ‘n’ roll masterpieces that framed most of the ’90s.

What separates the Pumpkins from most of their contemporaries, however, is their mired past. Controversy, chaos, conflict, and corruption strangled the band’s foundation for years: from the hellish recording sessions behind 1993’s Siamese Dream, to the bitter spats with an indie Rolodex of Pavement, Steve Albini, and Bob Mould, and eventually to the tragedies surrounding Chamberlin’s dark, druggy days amidst 1998’s Adore. It’s a difficult task being a Pumpkin, and heavy is the head who wears the crown, aka the Pumpkin King himself. Shuffles in the lineup, the loud and unforgiving media, and a fractured fanbase haven’t been kind to Corgan over the years — and yet, he continues to wave the moniker around.

Next week, EMI will continue its elaborate reissues with the re-release of their 1996 box set, The Aeroplane Flies High. In response, we finally buckled under the pressure and decided to dissect the Pumpkins’ catalogue with our bratty ears, our snarky fingers, and a case of Pabst. We’ve heard these songs and albums so many times that they’ve become go-to artifacts to remember our youth. Because of this, there’s always a warm bowl of angst waiting for us upon our return to songs like “Perfect”, “Soma”, or “Crush”.

Then again, if you’re new to the band — thanks to last year’s excellent Oceania — odds are you’ll have no fucking clue as to what we’re babbling about. Just remember, Billy once had hair (!), and it was OK to discuss people like D’arcy, James, and Jimmy.

Christ, here we go.

Gish (1991)

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Tracks/Length: 10 (11 with bonus track “I’m Going Crazy”), 45:45

Who’s smashing pumpkins? Jimmy Chamberlin (drums), Billy Corgan (lead vocals, and apparently most of the guitar/bass on the record), James Iha (guitar), D’arcy Wretzky (bass)

The Everlasting Gaze (Longest Track): “Rhinoceros”, 6:32

Grunge record? No: There is very little “grunge” in the Pumpkins’ debut. Corgan’s unique musicianship kicks down the doors in “I Am One”, pulsating to Chamberlin’s unmatchable beats. This aggressive tone sets the mood for much of Gish, although Corgan wasn’t afraid to pretty things up (see: “Crush” or “Daydream”). There are more guitar solos featured on this record than there are on many grunge bands’ complete discographies. It’s just a rock record, with a smidgen of shoegaze.

Butch Vig had a great fucking year in 1991: Vig produced a handful of records in ’91, but two stand out like classic vinyl atop an eight-track. The spectacled man produced both Gish and Nirvana’s Nevermind. While he’s gone on to work with some other notable acts (Foo Fighters, Green Day, and Sonic Youth to name a few), he’ll forever be known as the man responsible for these two albums. That’s not an insult.

The last 100 seconds of “Snail” is why we put up with Corgan’s wrestling affections: There’s that repeated guitar line that manages to bat down swirling electric guitars, even Chamberlin’s trademark drums, and remains the last piece standing come track’s end. Slow and steady wins the race, after all.

Rotten Apples (Worst Songs): Perhaps Corgan realized “I’m Going Crazy” wasn’t up to par with the other 10 tracks, thus he threw it on as a secret track. It doesn’t damage the record; if anything, it illuminates how great the rest of Gish is.

Music Video Rankings: 5th. Just not a lot happening thematically or visually. “Siva” and “I Am One” are “let’s film the band playing the song with strobe lights and quick cuts,” while “Rhinoceros” is the band sitting around for most of the video, although they all get major bonus points for reminding everyone that, yes, Billy Corgan once had a full head of hair. Long hair, at that.

Farewell and Goodnight (Analysis): The band could do no wrong for most of the decade (on record, at least), and rarely has a band this inexperienced seem as assured as the Pumpkins do on Gish. It may not be the band’s best effort, but it’s an essential piece of the 1990’s puzzle. To dismiss it would be to toss aside the beginning of an era not just for Corgan and company, but for the alternative music movement that swept through the decade. I’m going to try to learn whatever the hell Billy’s playing at the end of “Bury Me”. See you in 20.

–Justin Gerber

Siamese Dream (1993)

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Tracks/Length: 13, 62:17

Who’s smashing pumpkins? Jimmy Chamberlin, Billy Corgan, James Iha, D’arcy Wretzky

The Everlasting Gaze: “Silverfuck”, 8:43

Breakdown? Breakthrough: I think it was when the “Today” video hit MTV that everyone started to take notice of the Smashing Pumpkins. And why not? It was made for the 120 Minutes/Alternative Nation crowd, with its guttural guitar entwined with Corgan’s airy lyrics and delivery. A fine song to say the least, but only a fraction of what Siamese Dream is. By the way, MTV used to be this great channel that played music videos and launched many independent and/or little-known bands from 1981 all the way through somewhere near the end of the 20th century. Now it’s garbage. Screw you, current MTV execs. Sleep well off of the money you make exploiting teenage mothers. Whoa! Sorry. Where was I?

Moment of Pure Elation: The three-minute, two-second mark in “Rocket”. The music falls away for a moment, as Corgan is left alone with the song’s main guitar line just before the rest of the band (instruments) reappear to finish it all off. “I shall be free!” becomes a mantra for Generation X, Y, Z, etc.

“Mayonaise”: Siamese Dream is nearly 20 years old. You can argue that some tracks don’t hold up as well as they may have in 1993, but you wouldn’t be able to include “Mayonaise” in your argument. Mid-tempo alternative, grunge, rock, whatever, at its zenith. Bathed in sludge guitars, blessed with a soft opening and softer close, the track seemed destined to close out the album, but Dream actually continues on for four more tracks (“Luna” does just fine as the album’s send-off)! However, “Mayonaise” is undoubtedly the beginning of its climax.

Rotten Apples: Sorry. Fresh all around.

Music Video Rankings: 4th. It’s not as low as you think. The band just happened to have some of the best videos of the late ’90s/early ’00s on other records. There’s Iha in a dress and Corgan selling ice cream in “Today” (paint fight!) and the classic B&W of “Disarm”. They were one of the last bands to make great music videos on MTV… Hey, MTV! You guys suck now! Get it together! I haven’t forgotten!

Farewell and Goodnight: And we’re off! On Siamese Dream, the Pumpkins continued the eardrum assault of Gish but with a key addition. The use of strings on the still-haunting “Disarm” and closer “Luna” proved orchestrations could work within the genre without falling into the trappings of the maudlin (something “Daydream” narrowly avoided on Gish). In this way, Dream is a gateway record, but that’s where that label ends. For every radio-friendly single, there is an epic track like “Soma” or “Silverfuck” a few spins away. For every piece of rage, there are simple lines akin to “I’m in love with you” in “Luna”. How would they attempt to top it? Oh, right…

–Justin Gerber

Pisces Iscariot (1994)

 Dissected: Smashing Pumpkins

Tracks/Length: 14, 57:21

Who’s smashing pumpkins? Jimmy Chamberlin, Billy Corgan, James Iha, D’arcy Wretzky

The Everlasting Gaze: Epic fan favorite “Starla”, 11:01. Everlasting indeed.

Covers: “Landslide” (Fleetwood Mac cover), “Girl Named Sandoz” (Animals cover)

Rotten Apples: A nauseatingly saccharine take on “Landslide” that finds Corgan’s voice cracking in ill-fitting tribute to Nicks.

Moment of Pure Elation: The dreamy, little-known ballad “Obscured”.

Song That Most Should Have Appeared on Siamese Dream: “Frail and Bedazzled”, a thick, droning rocker that gives “Silverfuck” a run for its money.

What’s Missing: “Apathy’s Last Kiss”, “My Dahlia”, “Glynis”, and a number of the band’s other early non-album tracks.

Farewell and Goodnight: The first real hint of Corgan’s prolific nature pre-Mellon Collie and The Aeroplane Flies High, Pisces Iscariot is an old-fashioned B-sides-and-rarities compilation issued despite the band only having two studio LPs to their name. Ranging from driving alt-rock (“Frail and Bedazzled”) to acoustic balladry (“Whir”) to an uncharacteristically lighthearted garage rock cover (“Girl Named Sandoz”), Pisces was also a subtle hint to the eclecticism that would reign in full force on Mellon Collie.

–Zach Schonfeld

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995)

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Tracks/Length: (gulp) 28 songs, 2:01:40 minutes

Who’s smashing pumpkins? Jimmy Chamberlin, Billy Corgan, James Iha, D’arcy Wretzky (with assistance from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on “Tonight, Tonight”).

The Everlasting Gaze: “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans”, 9:21. (Though “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” and “X.Y.U.” both clock in past the seven-minute mark.)

Rotten Apples: “Beautiful”, an ill-advised electro-pop number. (Though I quite like “We Only Come Out at Night” and “Lily (My One and Only)”, the similarly minded tracks that bookend it.)

Singles: “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, “1979”, “Zero”, “Tonight, Tonight”, “Muzzle”, and — less ubiquitously — “Thirty-Three”

Breakdown? Breakthrough: Corgan claims to have avoided the brutal tensions of recording Siamese Dream by using two recording rooms instead of one, allowing his bandmates to be productive while Corgan played masterminding genius. Indeed, Iha and Wretzsky took on much greater songwriting and recording roles this time around. But band tensions still stemmed from Chamberlin’s increasing drug use; he was fired on the subsequent tour after an overdose that claimed the life of a touring keyboardist.

Songs Not Written or Sung by Corgan: The two CD-closers, “Take Me Down” and “Farewell and Goodnight” – the latter an obvious White Album tribute — are both acoustic numbers by Iha.

Music Video Rankings: Number 1, particularly on the strength of the suburban teen clip for “1979” and — especially — the surreal Georges Méliès homage within “Tonight, “Tonight”.

Classic Rock Double Albums That Critics Will Never Stop Comparing It To: The White Album (duh), Sign o’ the Times, London Calling, Physical Graffiti. Corgan, though, envisioned it as “The Wall for Generation X.”

Moment of Pure Elation: Too many to list. But on the under-appreciated side of things: the vulnerable, blushing “Stumbleine”; the eerie “To Forgive”; the roaring “Love is suicide!” refrain on “Bodies”; and the oddly loose-minded electronica preview “We Only Come Out at Night”.

Secret Weapon: Co-producer Flood, who reportedly pushed the band to change up its recording practices and even try jamming.

Corgan’s Hair: Short but not yet bald. Let’s just say he was going through a glam period.

Best Scream: “And into the eyes of the jackal/ I say kaboom!”

Farewell and Goodnight: Billy’s Big Statement, humbling in its scope, breadth, and length. Depending on who you talk to, Mellon Collie is either the defining magnum opus of the Pumpkins’ career or an overblown, overlong, overambitious mess. I lean towards the former category, and if you came of age in the mid-to-late ‘90s, you probably do, too.

–Zach Schonfeld

The Aeroplane Flies High (1996)

pumpkinsaeroplane Dissected: Smashing Pumpkins

Tracks/Length: 33 (Is it a cheeky reference to their Mellon Collie track, a Jesus thing, or just coincidence?), 1:38:53

Who’s smashing pumpkins? Jimmy Chamberlin, Billy Corgan, James Iha, D’arcy Wretzky

The Everlasting Gaze: “Pastichio Medley”, 23:02

Track that fully captures Jonas Ã…kerlund’s Spun: You guessed it: “Pastichio Medley” for the win again. The 23-minute ballbuster, which closes out the “Zero” single, collects all the riffs recorded after Siamese and prior to Mellon Collie, and the end result sounds like your 20-year-old neighbor with a new guitar on a Thursday night. If you can sit through it all once, consider yourself a fan. If you go for a second round, you’re officially Billy Corgan.

So fucking grunge: When Corgan snarls, “I’m disconnected by your smile” on the title track, over swirls of LSD guitars waxing existential. It’s gnarly stuff.

“Hey, they have this at my local record store.” Probably. Only 200,000 were supposed to be made, but the demand swelled so high that they ended up moving over 300,00 units. Five discs x 300,000 = over 1.5 million units = platinum success. Shiiiit.

Rotten Apples: That Cure cover of “A Night Like This” doesn’t do anybody favors now, does it?

Music Video Rankings: This does not compute.

Farewell and Goodnight: For a collection of B-sides, rarities, and what-have-yous, The Aeroplane Flies High works substantially. In hindsight, it’s a literal and metaphorical time capsule of a band at its most creative peak, even despite the eccentric flare-ups during 1998’s Adore. Between the jaunty bar room ballad “My Blue Heaven”, the midnight lullaby “Jupiter’s Lament”, and the adrenalized cover of The Cars’ “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”, the set’s an agreeable and enjoyable bridge that explains the jump from Siamese to Mellon Collie. And we all love explanations these days.

–Michael Roffman

Adore (1998)

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Tracks/Length: 16, 73:25

Who’s smashing pumpkins? Billy Corgan, James Iha, D’arcy Wretzky

The Everlasting Track: “For Martha”, 8:18

The End Is the Beginning Is the End: The first band makeover took place before the recording of Adore, with the seemingly irreplaceable Jimmy Chamberlin shown the exit. After the death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin (both OD’d on the same night, but only Chamberlin survived), enough was enough. When Jimmy Chamberlin is no longer in your band, dynamics change to say the least. Plenty of electronica seeped into Adore, but this is no dance record (can you imagine?). This record is Corgan at his quietest, and you can include anything from Zwan or The Future Embrace for comparison, as well.

You make me…real: The band’s best ballad is the album opener, “To Sheila”. Corgan’s vocals wade over acoustic guitar (“A summer storm graces all of me/ Highway warm sing silent poetry/ I could bring you the light/ And take you home into the night”), with a hint of percussion buried in the mix. You can strip away the psych/alternative rock that the band excelled in and you still have these skeletons of songs that work, but none as much as “To Sheila”.

The Fabulous Flemion Brothers and Friends! Brothers Dennis and Jimmy Flemion of The Frogs contribute vocals on two tracks: the aforementioned “To Sheila” in addition to nice Beach Boy vox on “Behold! The Night Mare”. The album also features not one, not two, but three dummers, including Soundgarden/Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron (best rock resume of the past two decades, anyone?), future touring drummer Matt Walker, and Joey Waronker, who filled in for another departed drummer that same year on R.E.M.’s Up.

Rotten Apples: Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-shame. Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-shame. Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-shame. Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-shame. Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-shame. Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-shame. Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-shame. Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-shame. Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-shame. Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-shame. Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-shame. Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-shame.

Music Video Rankings: 3rd. Although there are only two to speak of, they hit their mark. “Ava Adore” is a one-long-take introduction to Corey-Feldman-at-the-end-of-Friday-the-13th-The-Final-Chapter-era Billy Corgan. “Perfect” acts as a sequel of sorts to the “1979” video and is the last time the band worked with the team of Dayton-Faris. They would be fine (Little Miss Sunshine).

Farewell and Goodnight: Although looked back on with some reverence from the music community, this was the band’s first outright commercial failure. It’s not a bad record, but even now it doesn’t fire from beginning to end. The slow pace compared to earlier work doesn’t negatively affect the record on its own, but the fact that it goes on for nearly 75 minutes does. The band couldn’t keep on this path if they wanted to last much longer, and Chamberlin was back in the fold before too long. They didn’t last much longer, anyway (at least Version 1.0).

–Justin Gerber

Machina/The Machines of God (2000)

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Tracks/Length: 15, 73:23

Who’s smashing pumpkins? Jimmy Chamberlin, Billy Corgan, James Iha, D’arcy Wretzky (select tracks)

The Everlasting Gaze: “Glass and the Ghost Children”, 9:56

If All Goes Wrong: Pretty much everything did. Wretzky bailed on the band mid-recording, Virgin turned their backs on Corgan’s proposed double album, and the project itself evolved from being a theatrical concept to a condensed mess. The loose storyline follows Corgan’s alter ego, Zero, a rock star who renames himself Glass following an experience with God. It’s confusing (here’s a loose explanation), but it was just ambitious enough to stir up a cult of fans, which tipped off an online viral marketing that was quite revolutionary for its time. Followers were asked to source websites and clips, the likes of which included a scrapped animated series based on the album’s original concept. Now do you understand why Corgan frowns a lot?

So, Corgan wanted to create the Gorillaz? You gotta give the guy credit. While Damon Albarn was out supporting 1999’s 13, Corgan was busy drawing up theatrical characters for the band, even insisting on donning costumes and assuming these identities onstage. Sound familiar? It should. He just couldn’t get the plan off the ground. Still, an idea’s an idea.

Flood Watch: With Adore, the UK producer managed to direct the Chicago outfit into a new sound post-Mellon Collie: something glossy, a little nostalgic, but with a modern edge. By Machina, they sounded like a rock band should have sounded in the late ’90s. Strange times haunted the genre, from being manhandled by the likes of Korn and Limp Bizkit to surfing towards the stars via electronic behemoth Moby, who had just turned in his commercial gorilla, Play. Flood’s mixing — which resulted in translucent synths, spectral guitars, and milky vocals — expanded on this era and attempted to do rock right. Judging from the dismal sales (their second-lowest-selling effort to date), nobody cared. Did they not hear “Stand Inside Your Love”, “I of the Mourning”, or “Try, Try, Try”?

That coda at the end of “I of the Mourning”… just crushes the heart every goddamn time. WHAT IS IT YOU WANT?

Rotten Apples: Maybe it’s the sequencing, but “With Every Light” has always tripped the album’s admittedly weak finale. Corgan spends most of his time trying to polish off hooks from stuffy rhythms cribbed from an unreleased new age-y Burt Bacharach record. The album’s initial surge of power is all but destroyed by the weepy stroll of “Blue Skies Bring Tears”.

Music Video Rankings: Two. W.I.Z.’s Salomé-inspired piece of art for “Stand Inside Your Love” captures the song’s lovestruck majesty to surreal heights second only to Mellon Collie‘s videography, while Jonas Ã…kerlund’s aggressive performance video for “The Everlasting Gaze” entertains the eyes and his druggy nightmare behind “Try Try Try” haunts the soul 13 years later. [Full admission: I didn’t realize Ã…kerlund directed either of these videos until later in my research. The “Pistachio” write-up came before and is merely a coincidence — and a slightly creepy one at that.]

Farewell and Goodnight: Misunderstood and maliciously maligned, Machina remains a cult favorite in small circles. It’s the last effort of the original lineup, and in some ways, it sounds like it. On “This Time”, Corgan foreshadows their inevitable future as he pines, “This time I need to know/ I really must be told/ If it’s over,” and the answer’s a resounding yes. While the nine-minute opus “Glass and the Ghost Children” hinted at what this lineup could have done, it’s short-lived, glossed over by five confused tracks that seem forgettable in the long run, especially when pitted alongside its follow-up, Machina II.

–Michael Roffman

Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music (2000)

machina2 Dissected: Smashing Pumpkins

Tracks/Length: 14 (25 with the three bonus EPs of B-sides and alternate versions), 46:51

Who’s smashing pumpkins? Jimmy Chamberlin, Billy Corgan, James Iha, D’arcy Wretzky (select tracks)

The Everlasting Track: “In My Body”, 6:50

Somewhere Before In Rainbows: I’d probably foam at the mouth if I was Corgan. When Radiohead offered up their pay-what-you-want model for 2007’s In Rainbows, or when Trent Reznor dropped NIN’s The Slip or Ghosts for free in the late aughts, everyone championed them as renegades. But Corgan was ahead of the curve some six to seven years beforehand. When Virgin continued to ignore Machina‘s second half, especially following the first half’s lukewarm reception, Corgan finished up some of the songs, pressed them to vinyl (only 25 copies!), and sent them out to fans and radio stations with the notion to “get it out there.” The album’s still available for free to this day — and in plenty of formats (ironically, go with the Virgin format).

Anyway to get one of those vinyls? Nope. A year or two back, someone tried selling their copy on eBay, which drummed up plenty of interest on all the Pumpkins forums. The price skyrocketed; that is, until Corgan himself pulled down the auction, insisting that these were never intended for sale. Don’t worry, it’ll get reissued sometime this year or next.

James Iha, ladies and gentlemen: Despite being a co-founder, Corgan’s “patsy” spent most of his time outside the spotlight (save for his comedic additions in the band’s videos), but before the curtain came down, he eked out a winner: “Go”. In a little under four minutes, Iha floats low — taking a page from Corgan, excising the snarl — throughout circular harmonies that ease the itch typically satiated by the likes of Sunny Day Real Estate. It’s pretty stuff.

Who’s gonna save my soul? Corgan doesn’t let up on covers — see: his rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” — and through distorted, pummeling roughage he turns James Brown into something evil for his take on “Soul Power”. It’s the sort of left field nonsense one might expect from a high school band, which speaks volumes about Corgan’s sense of humor.

Let’s pick out the singles: “Real Love”, “Let Me Give the World to You”, “Home”, and “Cash Car Star” all would have been solid and very likely choices. “Real Love” appeared on their 2001 greatest hits package, Rotten Apples, “Let Me Give the World to You” circulated on the radio, “Home” has all the melody and melancholy of a classic Pumpkins ballad, and “Cash Car Star” was even played on The Tonight Show.

Rotten Apples: Not many. Some might point to “Go”, but only because it’s Iha and, therefore, the odd man out. The only real victim here is “In My Body”, which could have benefited from some slight editing, namely a minute or two shaved off. Or “If There Is a God”, which gets a little too Bowie for the album’s sake.

Music Video Rankings: Nada. Could you imagine something for “Real Love”?

Farewell and Goodnight: As usual, something misunderstood and alienated by the higher-ups turned out to be a diamond in the rough. Where Machina II succeeded was its sense of fulfillment and its aggression. Not since the darker corners of Mellon Collie had Corgan sounded so carnal. This is some of the darkest material the band’s ever conjured up, starting with the dystopian disco of “Glass’ Theme”, the doom nu-metal of “Dross”, the metallic power pop of “Blue Skies Bring Tears”, and the post-hardcore whimsy of “White Spider”. It’s so raw and human and animalistic and adventurous, something Corgan and Flood shied away from during the rock ‘n’ gloss of Adore and Machina. This was the Pumpkins everyone should have heard in 2000 and beyond.

–Michael Roffman

Zeitgeist (2007)

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Tracks/Length: 12 (13 with the respective bonus track, depending on which store you bought it from), 52:22

Who’s smashing pumpkins? Jimmy Chamberlin, Billy Corgan, (Ginger Reyes and Jeff Schroeder for touring)

The Everlasting Track: “United States”, 9:52

Too Many Corgans in the Kitchen: He plays every guitar riff, he plays every bass line, he’s behind all the keyboards, he’s at the controls (which, admittedly, he does share with Chamberlin and Roy Thomas Baker), and every harmony belongs to him. If this album feels too insular, that’s because it is.

Which color was the best? There wasn’t a definitive choice, which was sort of the problem. Most of the B-sides trumped a healthy chunk of the album. While “Death from Above”, off the yellow version, sticks out as the worst Pumpkin track to date (right next to “Starz”), “Stellar”, “Ma Belle”, and “Zeitgeist” were all worthy songs in the catalogue and yet relegated as exclusives to chain stores. Pretty lousy. It basically became a jigsaw puzzle; how can you salvage the album?

How can you salvage this album? Easy, though it would require a return to the master tracks, some re-recording alongside Nicole Fiorentino, and a star wipe of all the excessive Baker-fied production techniques. But, because that won’t ever happen, here’s what you do, instead:

1. “Zeitgeist”, 2. “Doomsday Clock”, 3. “7 Shades of Black”, 4. “United States”, 5. “Tarantula”, 6. “That’s the Way (My Love Is)”, 7. “Stellar”, 8. “Ma Belle”, 9. “Superchrist”, 10. “For God and Country” (acoustic)

But, what about “Bring the Light”? A wonderful B-side that never found a proper chorus.

What’s in a name? This album officially marked the beginning of Corgan’s exhausting argument with the media, his skeptical fans, and his pugnacious critics about “Who is the Smashing Pumpkins?”, forever changing the face of the former Chicago banner with explanations that more or less said, “I’ve always been.”

Rotten Apples: A whole orchard’s worth. This album was plagued with excess, probably due to a lack of a curator like Flood or Butch Vig or anyone willing to talk down Corgan. As a result, we got his clone army in “Starz”, the vagaries of “Bleeding the Orchid”, the RHCP-leaning “Neverlost”, the confused and bored “[Come On] Let’s Go!”, and more “Pomp and Circumstance”. As aforementioned, B-side “Death from Above” is unlistenable and just all around bad.

Music Video Rankings: Dead last. The ridiculous green screen chaos of “Tarantula” and the uninspired spacey nonsense of “That’s the Way (My Love Is)” couldn’t come close to the band’s previous work. This was a chance to give some identity to this new lineup, something Corgan didn’t want to do until Oceania.

Farewell and Goodnight: As Corgan stated, “We kept it pretty close to the chest, and we didn’t branch out too deep into art zone while we were writing the record.” This likely contributed to the album’s impromptu sensibilities, where it’s so steadfast on getting to the next idea that there’s little reflection. The end result is an album full of would-be hits and awe-inspiring misfires. Despite an attempt to revisit the past — fun fact: this was even recorded on the same 24-track tape recorder that captured Mellon Collie — little nostalgia was scuffed up. And any of the humanity exhibited towards the end of Machina was pasteurized by Baker’s rabid enthusiasm to ape Queen’s theatricality and pastiche. In short, the Corgan clones butchered this album, and the insular lineup sounded less and less like a band the deeper it got into the LP.

–Michael Roffman

Teargarden by Kaleidyscope (2009–present)

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Tracks/Length: 10, 40:01. This isn’t counting the vinyl-only tracks “Teargarden Theme” and “Cottonwood Symphony”. We’re also going by MP3 track lengths, for that’s how they were originally released. Also not counting the “album-within-the-album”, Oceania. Dammit, Corgan, why did you have to make this dissection so difficult?

Who’s smashing pumpkins?: Mike Byrne (drummer), Billy Corgan, Nicole Fiorentino (bass), Jeff Schroeder (guitar). But for most of it (so far), there’s just Corgan on everything and Byrne behind the kit.

The Everlasting Track: “A Song for a Son”, 6:03

The Curyious Casey of Kaleidyscope: Corgan originally intended to deliver the “album” track-by-track until hitting the number 44, based on the concept of tarot cards (bear with me). After getting 22.5% of the way there, the recording and release of Oceania happened. You could cheat and toss it into the Teargarden running order, but we won’t do that here. As for the songs themselves, the only one still in heavy live rotation is the first track, “A Song for a Son”. It will be interesting to see where these songs end up in future tours, although we’re talking Pumpkins here so who knows how many legs this particular group has left.

How’s the kid? Mike Byrne is a capable drummer. He’s a good drummer. He has the misfortune of having to replace Jimmy Chamberlin. For instance, the drum fill in “A Song for a Son” suffers when compared to what Chamberlin would likely have done with it, but here in lies my point. If you separate these songs from the moniker “Smashing Pumpkins”, can they stand on their own? If you avoid the trappings of constant comparisons, and whens, whats, and woulds, does Mike Byrne do his job? To answer the first question, kind of. To answer the second, yes.

Has anyone seen the bridge? “A Stitch in Time” and “Owata” connect Zeitgeist to Oceania, with varying results. The former emits a mystical, late ‘60s vibe, with its high keyboard and quick-draw acoustic guitar. It’s the best song here, though I do have a soft spot for the dirtier “Astral Planes” and “Freak U.S.A”. Of course, there are 34 more songs left to hear, so no final song rankings just yet. At this rate, we’ll have them all before century’s end. The 22nd century (rimshot)!

Rotten Apples: I neglected to mention how “Owata” acts as a bridge or dock to Oceania. Before making my point, let me describe the song: it’s awash with tinkling keyboards and “Oh what a” becomes “Owata” (get it?). Corgan doesn’t get it right with this song, but he would on the Pumpkins’ most recent work (see: “The Celestials” for well-utilized keyboards).

Music Video Rankings: Screw rankings. Ladies and gentlemen, the “Owata” short film! Let’s get ready to rum-bullllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll!

Farewell and Goodnight: How do you rate an unfinished work? If I based my opinion of Sexy Beast on the first half hour, I never would have recommended it (seriously, if you haven’t done so, go watch Sexy Beast). If I only saw the bits of Man of Steel before he destroyed his hometown and future place of employment, I would strongly suggest you go see it. Teargarden by Kaleidyscope is ongoing, as far as we know, and with Oceania being as surprisingly strong as it is, perhaps the final 34 tracks will measure up to Sexy Beast status.

–Justin Gerber

Oceania (2012)

oceaniahires e1339995983113 Dissected: Smashing Pumpkins

Tracks/Length: 13, 60:02

Who’s smashing pumpkins? Billy Corgan, Jeff Schroeder, Mike Byrne, Nicole Fiorentino, and an unnamed studio keyboardist. Who indeed.

The Everlasting Gaze: “Oceania”, 9:05

Corgan’s Hair: Still bald. What’d you expect?

Moment of Pure Elation: “The Celestials”, an acoustic number that updates “Disarm”‘s acoustic-guitar-and-strings for the indie set. A close second goes to “Pale Horse”, a near-country alternative ballad with an embalming atmosphere and Corgan at his most humbling moment.

Zwan: Part Deux? You’d think so on “The Chimera”, one of the poppiest tracks that Corgan’s written since, well, “Lyric” or “Honestly”. C’mon, who isn’t singing along to that chorus, though? “I’m never gonna lose you…”

Coldest punch: A minute and 27 seconds into “Violet Rays”, or when Corgan warns, “I’ll kiss anyone tonight,” and later as he haunts, “Am I the only one you’ll ever see?” Okay, the whole song.

Dumbest Lyric: The opening lines of the entire album, of course: “God, right on! Krishna, right on! Mark, right on!”

Most Un-Grunge-Like Keyboard Riff Ever To Appear on a Pumpkins Record: “My Love Is Winter”, 1:15

Rotten Apples: Much of Oceania is too inoffensive to be bad, though one could argue that openers “Quasar” and “Panopticon” feel like Siamese Dream retreads in areas. That chorus to “My Love Is Winter” could have used to tweaking, too.

Farewell and Goodnight: A comfortable and promising enough new beginning. As Corgan assessed with surprising insight, “[Oceania] is the first time where you actually hear me escape the old band.” Indeed, Corgan’s ’90s bandmates are gone, and with them much of the rat-in-a-cage angst and gloom that characterized the band in the first place. Oceania dips confidently into synthpop (“One Diamond, One Heart”), sunny balladry (“Pinwheels”), and midtempo pop-rock (“Inkless”) without too much nostalgia for what’s past.

–Zach Schonfeld

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