Review #341: Siamese Dream, The Smashing Pumpkins

Karla Clifton
3 min readJan 6, 2023

#341: Siamese Dream, The Smashing Pumpkins

Another Nineties band, another Simpsons cameo. This one might be my family’s favorite Simpsons joke: Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins. Homer Simpson, smiling politely.

Three years before this appearance, Billy Corgan & Co. shocked everyone with a game changing record. I say “shocked” because the recording sessions were apparently disastrous. Between the four of them they dealt with a drug addiction, a messy breakup, and a mental breakdown. And Billy Corgan was known for having David Byrne Syndrome, i.e. treating his band mates like dirt. He’s quoted in Spin saying, “I’m surrounded by these people who I care about very much, yet they continue to keep failing me.”

And believe it or not, that attitude did not keep his band members around. Bassist D’arcy Wretzky smashed with the Pumpkins for six records but ultimately left the group, with much acrimony. Corgan later said that the band would be reduced to a “shitty reality show” with her as a member, to which Wretzky said, “I honestly think he may have a brain tumor.” You could say they have bad blood.

Wretzky ended up being replaced several times over, mostly by women, including Melissa Auf der Maur from Hole! (Fun fact, Kurt Cobain stole Courtney Love from Billy Corgan. Perhaps this was payback.)

Can you tell that I LOVE the Smashing Pumpkins? It’s because they’re grunge. I mean, they weren’t *really* grunge, they had nothing to do with Seattle, but I consider them grunge adjacent. This record came out in 1993, and with all the distorted guitars and soft-loud dynamics, it might as well be. I know the production is a tiny bit slicker, but come on. They’re slotted in with Nirvana and Alice In Chains, and that’s just the way it’s gonna be.

Grunge guitar just speaks to me. The word I always think about when I think about grunge guitar is “magical.” It sounds like a vintage car caked in dirt and glitter, revving its engine. And Siamese Dream is coated in magical guitars, from the mesmerizing, repetitive “Cherub Rock” rift to the phone booth effect on “Hummer.” They even do the whole soft-loud vacillations that grunge is famous for, most on display on the aptly-named “Quiet.” (See “Rocket” and the unraveling “Geek U.S.A.” for some more grungey sounds.)

And even though Billy Corgan is (by all accounts) a dick, he writes sensitive, beautiful songs about his tormented interiority. “Today” is a perfect example — Billy can look you straight in the face and say that Today is the greatest day I’ve ever known, and you can just feel his misery. And he delivers every single line on “Disarm” with passionate significance. (See also “Spaceboy,” which is about his little brother with cerebral palsy.)

Siamese Dream ranges from viciously experimental (“Silverfuck,” “Pissant,” the disgusting & misspelled “Mayonaise”) to soft balladry (“Soma,” “Sweet Sweet,” the underwhelming closer “Luna”). But it’s magic all the way through. It’s so nice to visit the grunge soundscape again. I will say, I think Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness deserves a spot on the RS Top 500 list. I mean, isn’t the world a vampire?

Oh well, in the words of Billy Corgan on “Homerpalooza,” “All we have is our music, our legions of fans, our millions of dollars, and our youth.” (RIP Billy Corgan’s youth.) (And his hair.)

Something Else Delightful: Here’s a sweet interview with the two girls on the album cover!

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