42 Random Thoughts on The Smashing Pumpkins

While I haven’t seen them in concert and only own a few albums physically, I do consider myself a big fan of the Smashing Pumpkins, even if frontman/primary songwriter Billy — sorry, William Patrick — Corgan’s massive, fragile ego makes it difficult sometimes. I’m too young to have followed the Pumpkins at the height of their popularity. I became aware of them around the time they broke up through The Simpsons, the made-for-TV documentary Smashing Pumpkins: Full Circle (Graceful Swans of Never is also worth a watch), Corgan shattering a guitar over Lou E. Dangerously’s head in ECW, and by hearing “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” on the radio. The song popped up again in the trailer for the 2003 remake of Willard, which, knowing me, is the reason I got into them. There might be some controversial opinions ahead, though I can’t say for sure since I don’t go out of my way to interact with fellow fans.

“Whoops… I started thinking about baby-man Billy Corgan being sad at Disney Land.”
Credit: Family Guy/Fox

1. Their first few albums are obviously their best — Gish, Siamese Dream, Pisces Iscariot, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and The Aeroplane Flies High. Over these five, their style evolves from psychedelic rock to a fuzzy wall of guitars to a more diverse one incorporating piano, strings, drum machines, and electronic beats. Pisces Iscariot and The Aeroplane Flies High are technically compilations of B-sides/outtakes, but they sound like studio albums because the band’s B-sides/outtakes are usually just as good if not better than the “official” songs. There are some real gems to be found in the “deluxe re-issues” of the five I named.

2. Their soundtrack appearances slap too:
Singles — “Drown”
No Alternative — “Glynis”
Lost Highway — “Eye”
Batman & Robin — “The End is the Beginning is the End”

3. In fact, the 2012 mix of “Glynis” is one of my all-time favorite songs by them. Mandolins make everything badass.

4. “Today” for me is their most iconic song. Many, I’m sure, would say “1979”.

5. Their 1988 demo “East” fucks hard. I want to be able to stream it in my car, but it’s only commercially available on the bonus cassette that comes with the physical re-issue of Pisces Iscariot. Corgan sings “normally” on it, having not yet adopted his signature sighs and nasally whines.

6. Corgan used to be kind of obsessed with the moon. The Pumpkins sold a cassette at their early shows titled Moon, the booklet that comes in the Siamese Dream CD has a picture of Corgan’s mother sitting on a moon prop, “Rocket” & “Luna” reference the celestial object, the video for “Tonight, Tonight” was inspired by the French silent film A Trip to the Moon, and “Pastichio [sic] Medley” contains a riff titled “Moonkids”.

7. He also liked the word “June”. “Bye June”, “Rhinoceros”, and “Mayonaise” [sic] all use it.

8. Another one of his trademarks is giving things female names: “Luna”, “Starla”, “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans”, “Medellia of the Gray Skies”, “Glissandra”, “Solara”, “Mandarynne”, “Adrennalynne”, etc.

9. Lastly, he overuses the word “lover” to an insane degree.

10. James Iha’s compositions are vastly underrated. He has a talent for writing simple, sweet love songs. Corgan’s attempts are usually marred by strange lyrics or overproduction. Iha wrote or co-wrote the following: “There it Goes”, “I Am One”, “Wave Song”, “Mayonaise”, “Soma”, “Blew Away”, “Plume”, “Why Am I So Tired?”, “Bugg Superstar”, “Farewell and Goodnight”, “Take Me Down”, “Lover (Arrangement 1 Demo)”, “One and Two”, “Believe”, “The Bells”, “The Boy”, “…Said Sadly”, “Tribute to Johnny”, “Summer”, “Go”, and “Innosense”. He should have written (or been allowed to write) more.

11. I also demand more songs where the other members sing. Iha sings on most of the songs he wrote, as well as “Terrapin” and “A Night Like This”. Wretzky sings on “Daydream” and “Dreaming”. Chamberlin sings on the “Slunk” demo “Chump”, which contains the hilarious lyric “you suck dick like a chump”. It sounds like all three sing backup on the “Barbershop Version” of “Jupiter’s Lament”, and all four sing on “Goodnight and Farewell”.

12. The woman in the star on the cover of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (who I’ve always assumed is named Mellon Collie) is fingering herself and I can’t unsee it.

13. “Cupid de Locke” should be called “Stupid de Locke” because it’s the worst song on Mellon Collie by far. I hate it. “Bodies” is the only other song that I skip.

14. “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” is just an epic version of “Cortez the Killer” by Neil Young.

15. In the Pumpkins’ episode of VH1 Storytellers, Corgan explains where he got the title for “Thirty-three”. He says at 27 he was given a Tarot reading that predicted his life would completely change at 33. The band of course broke up when he was 33. Is this an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy? I assumed the title came from the speed at which some vinyls play — 33 rpm. Others claim it’s a Jesus reference.

16. “We Only Come Out at Night” is about socially awkward geeks. GTFO with that vampire shit.

17. Adore is nowhere near as great as Mellon Collie, although it has some great songs. “To Sheila”, “Ava Adore”, “Perfect”, “Appels + Oranjes”, and “Blank Page” are my favorites. The demo versions of “Chewing Gum”, “Once in a While”, and “Do You Close Your Eyes When You Kiss Me?” are better than half the stuff on the album.

18. I have similar feelings about Machina. Machina II blows it out of the water. I’m not thrilled about the fact that Machina II will no longer be free when it finally gets the re-issue treatment.

19. I always thought it was cool how Corgan encouraged fans to freely distribute Machina II, live recordings, and bootlegs.

20. By the way, whoever told him he looked cool in cowboy hats was a bad friend.

21. “Rocket” and “Thirty-three” are missing from the greatest hits album Rotten Apples and that annoys me.

22. Corgan and Chamberlin’s post-Pumpkins band Zwan had a lighter, unremarkable sound, but their bootleg EP Spilled Milk — specifically “Eighteen”, “Riverview”, and the title track — is classic gloomy Pumpkins.

23. The first thing I bought by the Pumpkins was their 2007 return album Zeitgeist, featuring half the original members. It rocks ok, but has very little replay value. That whole era, including the album’s B-sides/store-exclusive bonus tracks, If All Goes Wrong, American Gothic, and the various odds and ends that trickled out after, was lacklustre. Corgan no longer had Wretzky/Butch Vig/Alan Moulder/Flood challenging/guiding him, meaning all his worst ideas went unchecked. He took greater control of production and released through his own label, Martha’s Music. As a result, nothing was mixed the same either. Furthermore, lyrics such as “c’mon, c’mon” and Paris Hilton posing for the cover of the “Tarantula” single made it feel like the band had sold out. “Doomsday Clock”, “Tarantula”, “G.L.O.W.” (which is guilty of c’mon, c’mon-ing), and the half-hour epic “Gossamer” are my favorites from the time. The irony is Chamberlin bailed because Corgan was dominating the songwriting, and it wasn’t even good.

24. It’s funny when title tracks don’t make the cut. There are two radically different versions of “Siamese Dream” the song. One appeared on the “Disarm” vinyl and digital-only compilation Rarities & B-sides. The other, subtitled “Broadway Rehearsals Demo”, can be found on the Siamese Dream re-issue and features hilarious improvisational vocals by Corgan at the end. There is also apparently a “Machina”. “Zeitgeist” appeared exclusively on the purple version of Zeitgeist sold at Target.

25. Why doesn’t anyone talk about the fact that Corgan replaced Asian-American male guitarist James Iha with Asian-American male guitarist Jeff Schroeder and female bassist D’arcy Wretzky with a string of female bassists? That’s no coincidence. Was he just pretending they never left? Lol.

26. Teargarden By Kaleidyscope was a step in the right direction. It has an enchanting, magical sound I enjoy. It was originally announced as a 44-song album to be released one song at a time, for free, via download, based on the Child, Fool, Skeptic, and Mystic cards from Tarot. Only twelve songs were released (ten plus two bonus songs) before Corgan abandoned the project. I burned a CD with “Teargarden Theme” as the intro, the main songs in chronological order, and “Cottonwood Symphony” as the closer, and consider that an official album.

27. Corgan stubbornly tried to claim the next two albums, Oceania and Monuments to an Elegy, were part of the project, calling them “albums within an album”, despite them costing money and having their own unique sounds. Fuck Wikipedia and anyone who tries to say they’re all the same album. That only adds up to 34 songs anyway.

28. I really like Oceania. The beginning of “Quasar” evokes “Cherub Rock”, letting us know that we’re in familiar territory. Spacey titles like “Quasar”, “The Celestials”, and “Violet Rays” boost the connection to Siamese Dream/Mellon Collie. However, it’s not as heavy or angsty as those albums. It’s grown-up, mellow, and pretty. Bassist Nicole Fiorentino’s backing vocals go a long way in making it feel like a full band again. It can be a little much when Corgan layers his own voice on top of itself. I’ve seen the effect referred to as “the million Billy choir” and that cracks me up.

29. “Pale Horse” is my favorite song on Oceania. The riff is actually recycled from an old Mellon Collie-era demo titled “Have Love, Will Travel”. I remember reading fan speculation that “Pale Horse” was about Wretzky, who reportedly lived on a horse farm at the time. I thought it could also be a reference to the seminal conspiracy book Behold, a Pale Horse by Milton William Cooper, who died in a shootout with police who were trying to bring him in for tax evasion. Corgan is friendly with conspiracy nut Alex Jones and once claimed to have seen someone shapeshift before his eyes. Turns out, he wrote the song about his mother.

30. The way Corgan fired Fiorentino and drummer Mike Byrne was kind of fucked up. He just decided one day the current incarnation of the band had run its course and he didn’t need them anymore. Was it just an excuse to work with Tommy Lee on Monuments to an Elegy?

31. Speaking of which, Monuments was a monumental step backward. Opening track “Tiberius” is the high point. It’s all downhill from there. “One and All” is decent. The rest is weak, repetitive garbage. “Being Beige” irritates the piss out of me. “Run2me” is pure torture. I can’t listen without cringing.

32. Monuments was announced at the same time as another album called Day For Night. Whatever happened to that one? Or Corgan’s Chicago Songs album, for that matter?

33. It’s disappointing that more of an effort wasn’t made to bring Wretzky back for the big 2018 reunion. She claims to be sober, in good health, and capable of playing at the level she used to. Give the people what they want.

34. I find the timing of the whole thing suspicious. It coincides with Corgan losing a ton of money in wrestling, which leaves me wondering what his true motive was — reconciling with old friends or recouping his losses. Maybe both?

35. This forum comment from 2016 by “zivotson” is hilarious:

I think if they reunite, they’ll just play the songs they made together. No need to focus on one album. They’ll just pretend it’s the 90s and Billy will wear his zero shirt. They’ll make a lot of money. Then D’arcy will quit again, Billy will claim she was fired, which will cause James to leave, then Jimmy will go back to jazz and Billy will say that reuniting was the worst thing he ever did and his band mates let him down again, then he’ll do a solo album which no one buys, so he will reunite the Oceania lineup again and say they never should have split up, but then the album won’t sell so he’ll fire them again, and then he’ll say that Jeff was actually one of the worst influences in his life and it took him a lot of down time with his cats to figure it out, but everything worked out in the end because he has time to spend with Augustus Jupiter or whatever the hell he named his kid, until his baby mama gets a restraining order against him because he did some wrestling move on her and he can’t see his kid, at which time he’ll say that being a dad has been the worst experience in his life . . . Then he’ll take out a full page ad in the Sun Times announcing that he is reuniting The Marked.

And we still won’t have the f-ing Machina reissue.

36. Seeing James Iha wash his hands in the fountain in the “Solara” music video was an incredible, unreal moment for me.

37. I’m convinced the “Solara” lyric “become the owl at midnight” is a reference to TNA Wrestling. Hear me out. In 2015, Corgan loaned the struggling company several million dollars to keep it afloat with the ulterior motive of taking over. It was first announced that he joined the creative team. He was then declared president. When he realized he wasn’t getting full ownership, lawsuits were filed. Anthem Sports ultimately bought the company, acquiring Corgan’s debt. They paid him off and he went away. TNA was rebranded “Impact” and given Anthem’s logo of a big blue owl. In other words, at the last possible moment before going out of business (midnight), it became an owl. Corgan went on to purchase another wrestling company, NWA.

38. The excessively wordy and oddly punctuated Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. is ok, but should have been more ambitious for a reunion album. I was disappointed that Iha didn’t write or co-write anything on it. Besides that, my only other complaint is the numbering. Given Corgan’s tendency to abandon things, I doubt there will be a Part 2.

39. I have mixed emotions on Cyr. I appreciate how cohesive the sound is, however, I dislike the pretentious, nonsensical, faux-literary vocabulary. It also strikes me as narcissistic and tone-deaf to make what’s basically a double album using nothing but synthesizers and drum machines (or heavily processed drums, whatever the case) when Corgan has two gifted guitarists and a beast of a drummer right there. It begs the question, why did he bother bringing them back? Again, Iha has no writing credit. “The Colour of Love”, the title track, “Anno Satana”, “Wyytch”, and “Tyger, Tyger” stand out to me.

40. How does Corgan decide what’s released as Smashing Pumpkins material and what’s released as solo material? Because “Cyr” the song sounds like “Mina Loy (M.O.H.)” from his solo debut, TheFutureEmbrace, and the strings on his second solo album, Ogilala, call to mind Mellon Collie. It would be one thing if his solo albums all had a particular sound, but they don’t. The less said about his third solo album the better.

41. Announcing their latest album will serve as a sequel to Mellon Collie and Machina is a shameless appeal to nostalgia. I guarantee it will sound totally different. What even links the first two? Having loose concepts?

42. You can look up any Smashing Pumpkins song on YouTube, especially the blah, nothing-happening stuff, and there will be at least one comment saying it’s the best song ever written followed by a bunch of emojis.