SOMETIMES, great art comes at a price. For Billy Corgan, James Iha, D’Arcy Wretzky and Jimmy Chamberlain, AKA The Smashing Pumpkins, that price was the near disintegration of the band. Their debut album, Gish, had been released to positive reviews, and the band briefly toured with The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, but tension between band members made the album almost impossible to complete.
In many ways, Siamese Dream represents a point where Billy Corgan took absolute control over the writing and recording process. While Iha and Wretzky underwent a messy break up, Corgan would spend days upon days recording and recording vocals, guitar and bass. When they managed to pull him away from his serious drug addiction, drummer Jimmy Chamberlain was forced to play the drum parts until they met Corgan’s wants, once allegedly until his hands bled. While Corgan searched for perfection for the record, he was at the same time battling depression and anxiety. Much of this transferred to the lyrics of the album, notably the classic ‘Today’, a surprisingly upbeat song; the lyrics speak of self-harm and suicide.
Siamese Dream is notable for its crossing of genre boundaries. There are aspects of alternative (‘Cherub Rock’), heavy metal (‘Silverfuck’) and dream pop (‘Soma’). In a world still reeling from Nevermind and the world of grunge, Siamese Dream brought something new to the table. It is also the Pumpkins’ heaviest album, with the follow up, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness going down a more alternative and art rock road. While Siamese Dream is tainted with a background of drug abuse, suicidal thoughts and lost love, it leads to an outstanding record, with some amazing musical moments. The tender ‘Disarm’ shows a string section contrasting with Corgan’s brutal vocals and Jimmy Chamberlain’s drumming on ‘Geek U.S.A.’ has been acclaimed as some of the best of all time.
Eventually the album was completed. Butch Vig (who had recently produced Nevermind) along with Corgan had been producing the album, but the two eventually brought in Alan Moulder (who had worked with My Bloody Valentine on Loveless) to mix the album due to the pair being too exhausted by the recording process. After the madness of recording, the Pumpkins would regroup for their follow up, Mellon Collie…, with Iha and Wretzky contributing more to the album’s writing and production, working again with Alan Moulder, as well as Flood.
It wouldn’t be too far to call Siamese Dream the magnum opus of The Smashing Pumpkins. A lot of drugs, sweat and tears turned into 13 tracks of pure excellence. Without a doubt, Siamese Dream is a standout album of the 90s.
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