Friday, February 9, 2007

Smashing Pumpkins - 'Gish'
1991

Rating - 7/B

OK, let me get this out of the way right at the beginning - I can't listen to the song 'Crush' on this album without cringing. It has this recurring bass lick on it that sounds like a bloody scale exercise. It's not that different from the guitar melody it usually accompanies, but at least on the guitar there's watery flange/chorus effects and non-obvious phrasing touches to dress it up - every damn time D'Arcy plays that damn bass line (some one million times in the song) it reminds me of someone doing scale practise on the bass guitar and makes the whole song sound retarded. Sorry.

Apart from that, the Smashing Pumpkin's first album is a rather good debut. Released just before the big alt/grunge jamboree took off, it's a good collection of artsy, quirky but still hard-rocking songs. Billy Corgan's voice is already distinctive, but isn't quite as all-out debatable as it would later become, so if that's your big qualm with the band, this album may be your best Smashing Pumpkins gateway drug.

The music here is mostly bombastic, if idiosyncratic rock, with big riffs and strident single-note melodies, but also goes soft and tenderly melodic when it needs to. The album openers, 'I Am One' and 'Siva' stomp and strut with great big groovy riffs that could have been re-jigged a bit and fit smoothly onto an 80s hard rock album. 'Rhinoceros' and 'Suffer' among others tap into a more mellow, dreamy sound, but the sheer guitar presence never drops out. The Smashing Pumpkins always struck me as guitar rock, 90s style, above and beyond any transitory generic labels affixed to them at the time, and this album certainly supports my theory. Their penultimate album, Adore, sort of demolishes my theory, but it also sort of demolished their career.

Billy Corgan is clearly the man in charge here, but that druggie drummer of theirs, Jimmy Chamberlin, clearly demonstrates why he was considered one of the hottest drumifying people of the alternative era. He's way more powerful and dexterous than the ridiculously overrated Dave Grohl, that's for sure.

Lyrically, the album seems to be about whatever most Smashing Pumpkins albums seem to be about, which is largely random romantic sentiments and the contents of Billy Corgan's psyche at the moment. I never listened to these guys for the lyrics,can you tell?

My only real complaints about this album? Aside from that damn bass line on 'Crush', there's also the issue of a very sappy song sung by D'Arcy right at the end of this whole affair, which rather negates the concepts of ending on a strong note. Were they trying to be like Pixies or something with the girl bassist singing too? Was that the plan, Mr. Corgan Man? Oh, one last complaint. Although most of the songs are of a very even quality, apart from a handful of songs, mostly in the first half of the album, they don't really stand out as individual tracks. Still, can't blame a band for frontloading that all-important debut album.

The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline: Smashing Pumpkins really broke through creatively on their next two albums, but this is a strong enough beginning to their rather rapid rise-and-fall story. Guitar-heavy alternative rock, the way it sounded just before it took over the world. For a while.

3 comments:

forgottenmachine said...

I'm so glad to hear someone else giving props to the 'real' genius behind the Pumpkins sound, Mr Chamberlin. And yes, I did use the phrase 'props'. I'm not taking it back.

I'd rate him even higher than Soundgarden's Matt Cameron, who is no slouch himself.

Will have to disagree with your Grohl comment, though. Have you heard his drumming for QOTSA on Songs for the Deaf? The man has skills.....

JP said...

OK, fine he does - my contention is that he's not a 90s Bonham/Moon like people make out. I'd give that distinction to Chamberlin or Cameron, for sure!

BTW, long time. I need to update my blogroll to my new criminalegnlish blog and stop neglecting my bloggyverse buddies. Cheers!

forgottenmachine said...

Okay, well in that sense I totally agree.

And yeah, good to chat again.

And while we're on the subject, a few mentions for you to sample:
Gojira, Katatonia, Made of Babies, Dagoba