Smashing Pumpkins -- Getting their act together (Review of Gish!)
You'll be hard pressed to find a record as oceanic yet ardent; a haze heat miasma of pure sound that The Smashing Pumpkins evoke with Gish.
Caroline Records' first signing of 1991, Smashing Pumpkins have constructed a record of beautiful geometry. They hit upon a sound so singular that the influences from the 60's, 70's, and 80's are almost indistinguishable. It's a wonderous bit of aural alchemy turning lead into gold, noise into harmony.
Gish was a sublimely spiritual body of work. "Not in a God way, but in a personal way," asserts singer/guitarist Billy Corgan.
"It's got a lot to do with me exorcising old demons, getting my act together, overcoming a lot of my shortcomings. It's an extremely personal record."
Precisely the sad and beautiful zietgeist that permeates tracks like "Snail", the track Corgan refers to as "the most mentally demanding thing I've ever done in my life. The deepest into my guts I've ever reached." The Pumpkins' wash of guitars, unsettling vocals, and disquieting tempo changes reflect this, in-excelsis. "The song 'Snail' is about avoiding, not doing what's better for you, not facing up to the pain," he continues. "It's a theme that run throughout the album, ending up in the conclusion that it's better to push your self. Believe it or not, it is an optimistic record."
The son of a professional funk/jazz guitarist, weaned on the lessons of Bowie, Zeppelin, and The Stooges, Corgan began his musical career in the mid-80's, relocating from his native Chicago down to Florida with a group called The Marked. "Being in that band taught me everything I had gotten into music for was total garbage," he declares. "The whole sex, drugs, and rock and roll thing. It was shallow, everything the Pumpkins [sic] are not."
Corgan came to his senses and returned to the Windy City, forming Smashing Pumpkins in 1988. With bassist D'arcy, guitarist James, and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, they embarked on an instant buzz-generating series of gigs that included the opening slots for acts like Jane's Addiction, The Buzzcocks, and Caterqaul. An early demo and instant collector's item 7", "I Am One" b/w "Not Worth Asking" on Limited Potential Records, proved the band had a stronger musical head than any number of group with a rainbow of limited edition colored vinyl behind them.
Though they garnered pricey promises from a clutch of other labels, Smashing Pumpkins for a less ostentatious, but tenfold more enthusiastic contract with Caroline. "We're young, we're still growing," the singer concedes. A second limited edition 7" for "Tristessa" b/w "La Dolly Vita" on Sub-Pop's prestigious 'Single Of The Month' club won the band greater notice mere weeks before the band entered the studio with co-producer Butch Vig.
Gish is the result. Smashing Pumpkins is the band. A Listen will engulf you, but seeing them live at Louisville's Snagilwet's will give you first hand experience. And when you wake you'll still be dreaming.
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