In my teens, I was a huge fan of Nirvana, which introduced me to the larger grunge scene. As grunge began to fade, I explored alternative bands, including The Smashing Pumpkins. While they received some attention for their first album, Gish, their second album made them basically inescapable. Siamese Dream pulled heavily from 1980s influences, such as New Order and The Cure, and debuted at number 10 on the Billboard charts. A few critics thought Billy Corgan’s angsty lyrics were immature, and some other indie bands saw them as “sellouts” who were only in it for the fame. And it probably didn’t help that the band’s other members reported that Corgan was a relentless perfectionist who dominated the group’s songwriting and performing. In spite of these criticisms, Siamese Dream is one of my all-time favorite albums. I remember listening to it incessantly a couple of different times as a teenager, and it’s got a spot in my “perfect albums” list; when I listen today, I never skip a track.
Determined to prove his detractors wrong, Billy Corgan spent a year writing dozens of songs for the third Smashing Pumpkins album. The resulting double album debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and included five singles that are some of the band’s best songs: “1979,” “Zero,” “Thirty-Three,” “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” and “Tonight, Tonight.” Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness won seven nominations for Grammy Awards and was certified platinum ten times in the United States.
After Mellon Collie, The Smashing Pumpkins took a major turn in terms of sound and embraced electronica above traditional guitar, bass, and drums. The next album, Adore, did not receive a great deal of critical acclaim in the United States—maybe because of its very different electronic, dark feel. Nevertheless, it was a major success overseas. The group released two more albums before announcing that they were breaking up in 2000.
The Smashing Pumpkins reunited in 2005 and released Zeitgeist in 2007. While the album received mixed reviews, it reached number two on the Billboard charts and spawned the single “Tarantula.” Corgan admitted that the album was not the massive comeback that many fans expected, but Zeitgest was still fairly popular. Despite some trouble with the band lineup, Corgan next put out an online concept album, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, and then the album Oceania, which received tons of praise.
Recently, The Smashing Pumpkins announced that they will release two new albums in 2015: Monuments to an Elegy and Day for Night. The band has said that they hope to have the first single from these new projects out by the end of 2014. For these albums, Corgan has stated that the band is returning to a more traditional sound driven by guitars, but with an epic, melodic feel. The albums are being produced by Howard Willing, who has worked with The Smashing Pumpkins since Adore.
The Smashing Pumpkins remains one of the most influential American bands of the past two decades, and they’re particularly interesting because their sound has changed, but they’ve also stayed true to that particular moody, emotional feeling behind their music. Admittedly, they kind of lost me after Adore, but I’m interested to hear the new albums.