One overdose, one near miss and a whole lot of tour dates
The Smashing Pumpkins have survived a personal tragedy and the loss of a founder member, while taking the risk of a radical new direction to come up with their stunning fourth album. Arriving three years after 1995's multi-platinum double album Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness, the 16-track Adore presents a more tender, ballad-heavy Pumpkins than the trademark riffing version that achieved global success. Even the upbeat tracks are more expansive: the new single Ave Adore (released May 18) is punchy and spacious, while Perfect and Appels And Oranges' fluid pulsations recall the likes of New Order.
Band leader Billy Corgan says, "It was tough to walk away from the band sound and approach that I loved so much and what I understood best, but rock as a framework was constricting my writing and I needed to walk away from it. It's always been our philosophy to embrace a good challenge, but we also felt, while making the last album, that the whole alternative rock movement was coming to an end, at least in America. We made Melon Collie the quintessential Smashing Pumpkins album because we knew we'd move away from that sound and approach. Adore isn't anti-rock, it's just a recognition of where the energy is." Corgan admits that Adore (released June 1) was also influenced by the firing of founding drummer Jimmy Chamberlin who, on the Melon Collie tour, survived a heroin overdose, while touring associate Jonathan Melvoin (keyboards) was not so lucky.
Three-quarters of Adore was subsequently completed with drum loops. Corgan says, "Jimmy was such an influential part of the band, we couldn't help but have to adapt. In a way, it's like we've taken one step forward and two steps back because we're not as good a band without him. It almost felt like we were back at stage one." Corgan, co-guitarist James Iha and bassist D'Arcy started recording the album with Liz Phair producer Brad Wood, although Corgan took the reins himself when he considered Wood was not asserting himself. Flood, who co-produced Melon Collie, lent a hand at the close. Corgan adds, "He helped focus us, and take the album to another place."
Adore was originally intended to be acoustic-based before it mutated into its current incarnation. With no A&R representative since Mark Williams left Virgin, and total artistic freedom since day one, Virgin didn't hear the record until it was almost finished. Corgan says, "If I was Virgin, I would have been worried." Nancy Berry, vice chairman of Virgin Music Group and of Virgin America, says, "It's true, we didn't know what kind of record we would get. But when we heard it, honestly, I was virtually in tears. It's such a magnificent record." Virgin UK head of A&R David Boyd, who will be releasing Adore through the band's Hut imprint, agrees. "It's a masterpiece and exactly the record that the Pumpkins should be making right now," he says. "It's beautifully crafted, and a much more personal, immediate record that Melon Collie, which took more time to work into your system."
The touring version of the Chicago band will be radically revised, too, with five musicians augmenting the core trio - a drummer, two percussionists, a pianist and violinist. Corgan says, "It's the only way we can recreate the feel of the album. We want to play as a unit, without tapes, which limit your ability to respond to a given situation live." Instead of committing to extensive touring as usual (their 1995 tour spanned five continents, 13 months and 165 dates), the band are to play a series of one-off shows and will be promoting the album further afield in places such as Moscow before starting a new Pumpkins album in September. Starting May 14, their agenda of events includes outdoor shows at Hamburg's red light district, Genoa's harbour, Cannes' beachfront during the 51st Film Festival, outside Bilbao's Guggenheim museum, Sydney's Luna Park theme park and on the back of a flatbed truck in Tokyo, with hopes to play an ancient amphitheatre in Athens.
There will be festival dates, too, and tie-ins with national TV and MTV. Berry says, "It's the first time an artist has taken on promotion to this extent, because this is comprehensively across-the-board. Virgin will be filming all the events, which gives us a tremendous amount to work with when the band are back in the studio and unavailable." The London show, at Shepherd's Bush Empire, is more conventional, but only because of what Boyd describes as hindrance by "local council attitudes". The council attitude only reinforces the band's ambivalent feelings about the UK.
While the UK press latched on to them before their American counterparts, and UK shows have consistently sold out, Corgan complains of "a negative atmosphere" surrounding the band in this country. Corgan says, "On the press side, we got treated as a post-Nirvana band even when we weren't and then, just as we were having our moment, British music exploded and American bands got criticised, just because the British press has to make something else look better. We've had very little radio support, too. When you know that songs that were hits everywhere in the world weren't hits in UK, it gets very frustrating." Boyd adds, "There was the odd bad egg in the press who stuck the knives in, but I don't think it's across the board, because the Pumpkins are well respected".
Radio has also been slow to pick up on the band, but Boyd remains optimistic. "One of my biggest regrets has been not getting Today (1993 single) on the radio," he says. "But then a lot of bands couldn't get arrested on radio until recently. Anyway, tracks like Adore and Perfect have all the hallmarks of a classic radio tune. The band are no longer in a niche market, they're an internationally successful band, and I think the media support will reflect that." The one thing Corgan isn't worried about is the attitude of fans, even towards the band's stylistic change. "All I know is, fans demand excellence. I have great faith in people's ability to recognise stuff that's really strong." With such a strong album behind them, Smashing Pumpkins' worries should be all behind them.
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