TAFH Review - The Hartford Courant
"Tasty Pumpkins Fragments"
By Roger Catlin (Courant Rock Critic)
Group's five-disc set pulls together some Smashing pieces of the past
Let's say you released the bestselling double album of the decade last year. Then your tour for the album was interrupted this summer when your touring keyboardist died, and you kicked your drummer out of the band for drug abuse. How would you end the year?
How about with a five-disc boxed set of mostly new material? The Smashing Pumpkins have never been one of the most conventional bands. And this fall, in addition to a big tour that brings to the Hartford Civic Center Friday night, they will release "The Aeroplane Flies High," a monument to the band's prolific nature, on Nov. 26. Packaged in a kitschy box made to look like a 45 rpm carrying case, it's actually the song-filled CD singles from "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness," the 1995 double album that sold 7 million copies whose videos won seven MTV Music Video Awards in September.
"It's a neat way to bookend every-thing," Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, 28, says over the phone before a gig in Grand Rapids, Mich. "We did that with the B-sides album before," he says referring to the 1994 "Pieces Iscariot" collection that followed the band's commercial break-through, 1993's "Siamese Dream" album, which sold 4 million copies.
"But we wanted to do it a different way," Iha says "not every person who bought ['Mellon Collie'] will get into it. It's more fan-oriented. At the same time the songs are good, we put a lot of work into the songs. It's not just like a throwaway." Still, he agrees that fans who bought the CD singles of "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," "1979," "Zero," and "Tonight, Tonight" would have had a lot of the extra tracks already (the CD single for "Thirty-three" is being released concurently with the boxed set). The CD singles have been so loaded with material that some of them, such as "Zero," have appeared on the Billboard album charts because of thier sheer length. even so, "Most of the American singles didn't have all the B-sides," Iha says. "Most of them had three as opposed to five."
For all its festive packaging, there is a fire-sale feeling to the set, as if they felt they had to empty the vaults to break with the past. The longest cut, the 22-minute "Pastichio Medley," is a virtual scrapbook of discarded guitar hooks from dozens of unfinished songs, clumped and dumped in an "All riffs must go!" manner. "We probably wouldn't go back to them," Iha says of the riffs, which not only are interesting but are individually named ("The Demon," "Thunderbolt," "Dearth," "Knuckles," "Star Song," "Firepower," "New Waver," "Space Jam," "Zoom," "Phang," and on and on). Bandleader Billy Corgan "had this perverted idea of going back and recording all the riffs we done," Iha says. "It wasn't pristinely recorded." And the sheer numbers of the riffs and songs (more titles: "Speed," "77," "Me Rock You Snow," "Feelium," "Weeping Willowly," "Rings") simply reminds Iha of how exhausting the "Mellon Collie" recording was.
"Aeroplane" also represents the greatest collection of songs written and sung by Iha in a band so thoroughly dominated by Corgan that he dubbed in the guitars and the bass on the "Siamese Dream" over the work by members Iha and D'Arcy Wretzky. If any of this overly concerns Iha, he won't say. But there are five Iha songs on "Aeroplane"; only two made it onto the lengthy "Mellon Collie." "Billy chose most of the songs" for "Mellon Collie," Iha says, conceding band leadership to Corgan. But, he adds, "we talked a lot about sequencing of the album and the balance of the album. But Billy did choose most of it."
Iha's songs, as they emerge on "Aeroplane," are generally lighter in tone and outlook than Corgan's and make a good contrast to the gloom. "I write mostly from acoustic guitar," Iha says. "They're all recorded quickly, so I keep the songs close to their original form. "They're a little more upbeat," he says of his own songs. "But they have their own sadness."
A look back at new wave
Among the newest songs in the box, recorded just three months ago, are cover versions of the Cars' "You're All I Got Tonight," Missing Peoples "Destination Unknown," Blondie's "Dreaming," The Cure's "A Night Like This," and "Clone's (We're All)," from Alice Cooper's new wave period. There was no special point in recording the series of songs from a tight period of time-- late '70s and early '80s. "It was just more for fun" Iha says. "We all grew up in the '80s so we liked those new wave things."
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