Like many vinyl enthusiasts, I spent this past Saturday celebrating Record Store Day. Record Store Day is a legitimate holiday celebrated internationally on the third Saturday in April, and I lined up outside my local record shop, eager to expand my humble record collection. Though I was unable to find Cliff Martinez’s “Drive” soundtrack, it was OK because I rediscovered a classic record — “Siamese Dream.”
This, the Smashing Pumpkins’ second studio album, is the stuff of legends. The album opens with the aptly named “Cherub Rock,” shoegazing bliss á la My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless,” with a hint of Led Zeppelin’s eponymous fourth album.
Followed by radio-friendly singles “Today” and “Disarm,” the record then plunges head first into Corgan’s troubled psyche with “Soma,” a seven-minute epic about isolation and melancholy. “I’m all by myself, as I’ve always felt,” he belts. While his vocals can be described as whiny at times, it’s the visceral emotion of it all that endears Corgan as the perfect narrator for this introspection of teenage angst.
Without pausing to breathe, Corgan propels forward with the bombastic “Geek U.S.A.” Typically favoring layered textures over virtuosity, Corgan offers a rare glimpse of his chops in one of the gnarliest solos of all time. The sheer ferocity of his performance deserves to be ranked up there with Page and Hendrix.
And there’s “Silverfuck.” Clocking in at nearly nine minutes, it’s the album’s longest track and the closest the Pumpkins get to straight-up prog. As ambitious as Pink Floyd’s “Echoes,” but without the atmospheric filler, this uptempo rocker packs a heavy punch and serves as a powerful album closer.
As with Roger Waters’ experience during the making of “The Wall,” recording “Siamese Dream” proved to be a grueling ordeal for the Pumpkins. Upon entering the studio, drummer Jimmy Chamberlain was addicted to heroin, and rhythm guitarist James Iha and bassist D’arcy Wretzky had ended their romantic relationship only weeks prior. Corgan himself was battling suicide and what he described as his worst ever bout of writer’s block. By the time they completed recording, they were four months and $250,000 over budget. Put bluntly, the Pumpkins did not have their shit together.
Yet it’s from these months of inner turmoil that the group emerged with an album that transcended their wildest dreams — a feat that makes “Siamese Dream” that much more remarkable. Sure, the distribution of labor wasn’t always equal (Corgan performed most of the guitar and bass parts himself to save time), but the Pumpkins ultimately pulled together and produced what has become a touchstone of ‘90s alternative rock.
Butch Vig, who helped produce “Siamese Dream,” said, “Billy wanted to make a record that people would put on and say, ‘What the fuck was that?’” Marked by feverishly ornate production, lush soundscapes, and awesome guitar licks, “Siamese Dream” is not quite a concept album, but it deserves to be heard and appreciated in its entirety. Sure, it lacks the repute of “Nevermind,” the mainstream appeal of “Ten,” or even the promiscuity of “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” but “Siamese Dream” is still any rock-and-roller’s dream come true.
Gould is a member of the class of 2014.