The Big Hit That Wasn't A Band takes Stock Expectations Betray Smashing Pumpkins
NY Times Article
By Neil Strauss
Thanks to Eve for the review.
Los Angeles, July 29 When the Smashing Pumpkins performed at the Universal Amphitheater here on July 1, Billy Corgan the band's bald singer and guitarist made a strange comment. He called the group's latest record Adore "the most misunderstood record since Gish." (Gish was the bands first record released in 1991) Coming from the mouth of the leader of one of the biggest alternative-rock bands of the decade, the singer of lines like I'm forever broken, the sentiment may have not been a huge surprise. But behind it was the frustration not just of the artist who feels his work has been misjudged, but of a man who feels the music world-his world-has willfully turned it's back on him as well.
"when the record came out and didn't explode right off the black, all those people that had been proven wrong by the band commercially in the past went ;oh well another one down the tubes', " Mr. Corgan said speaking from the set of a video shoot here. (Adore entered the Billboard chart at number 2 but has sold much more slowly than the bands previous effort Mellon Collie and the infinite sadness)
It sold 499,000 copies in its first six weeks compared with 839,000 for the double disc Mellon Collie. In the meantime reviews have ranged from scathing to respectful. Radio play of the first single has been modest and some snide people in the industry are calling the album a bore instead of ADORE.
"In all candor, I've really been surprised at how quick the world turns on you," he continued. "Its staggering. I can't get into the specific politics, but all I can tell you is the minute that your stuff isn't rolling the wind blows cold real fast. I'm not just talking about the media I'm talking about the inner workings of my world."
The expectation-a dangerous word- before Adore was released is that it would be a mythical great rock album Critics and fans alike have been patiently waiting for the great rock album, the new record that would make rock and roll matter again, would make it exciting again: the next Wall, or SGT. Pepper or the next Nevermind the Bollocks or Nevermind. (Notice the latter titles are denials as opposed to affirmations like Adore)
Why do we even need a great rock and roll album, a success commercially,critically or even viscerally? We didn't a few years ago. But now rock at least on music radio and the charts is on the whole boring again. Unfortunately the Smashing Pumpkins did not make the great rock and roll album. But take heart Adore a diverse record that replaces the bands big guitar driven sound with more subtle electronics and ballads was never intended to be the great rock and roll album. The band's previous album, the ambitious two Cd mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, was the band's shot at immortality. With alternative rock past it's creative summit but at it's peak of mass acceptance the timing was right. Mr. Corgan put everything he had into what he felt would be his crowning moment, if not the crowning moment of rock in the 90'sa. It resulted in a great rock and roll album (not the great one, but we didn't need that then because rock was doing just fine), which generated five singles still being played on the radio and helped the smashing pumpkins replace pearl jam as the biggest rock band in the world at that moment. The challenge of Adore was: what do you do after the party?
"I'm not the kind of person who can close my eyes and pretend it's still '93, " Mr. Corgan said of the year the band broke into the mainstream. "it's not."
The Question:Now What?
Speaking of what he feels is alternative rocks failed potential to define and motivate a generation the way 60's rock did, he continued:"It's all such a wash. This sounds very dreamy and hypothetical, but if kurt Cobain had lived and continued to make great albums as he would have, and if Alice in Chains and Soundgarden were still making music, there would have been a little more of the us verses them situation. I feel that artistically we all could have been in a stronger position, and certainly could have had a little bit more to say about how things were going. But now there's no us, and there's just all them. So you look around into the sea and go Now what?"
For Mr. Corgan the answer is to return to his roots."I do feel like I came from "alternative world", he said and I needed to understand as what I understand as my alternative world. If that's the music of The Cure and New Order, that's fine but I've gone back and started again and if that means rebuilding than it means rebuilding. Not every team wins the pennant every year."
The band's original plan for Adore was to release the record and then, instead of committing to the usual plan of two years touring and promoting the album worldwide, return to the studio in september and record a new record. Mr. Corgan said he was sticking to the plan and already has another album planned out, but he had not imagined the rules of the game would be so inflexible.
"I thought we had a grace period here, " he said. "I thought we could coast a little and I think we've been reminded that there will be no coasting. It's just not like that right now. I can't try to make another album with everyone thinking I got buried on the last one. So i'm going to prove everybody wrong before I go on. Or at least feel that I proved them wrong.'
Cliff Bernsteion, a manager of the Smashing Pumpkins, said he had many discussions with mr. Corgan about the records failure to live up to their commercial expectations. "I don't think he's really happy about having to go through this right now and truthfully neither am I," Mr. Bernstein said. "He wants people to have more of an open mind about the album. I said listen if you were David Bowie, Queen, or Bob Dylan, over the years you have had a lot of misinterpretation too. But the record has often been set straight in terms of rock history 20 years later though it hasn't helped at the time."
Perhaps what has made the experience even harder for Mr. Corgan is that in a period when the band is receiving much less attention, it is engaging in one of it's nobler pursuits. It is donating the money from each date on the concert tour to charity to youth oriented charities. not just the profits but the entire face value of each ticket. (except ion a few cities where a concert hall rental fee is being paid).
Mr. Corgan said that this would ensure that each charity organization received at least 100,00. Revenue from the band's performance this Saturday and Sunday nights at Radio City Music hall will go to Hale House in Harlem which takes care of neglected and abandoned children. By tour's end Mr. Bernstein estimates that the band will have paid 1.5 million dollars in concert production and travel expenses out of its own pocket. The band's previous tour was remembered for something much different. before a performance in Manhattan two years ago, a touring keyboardist with the group, Jonathan Melvoin lethally overdosed and the bands drummer jimmy Chamberlin, was arrested for drug possession. He was kicked out of the band afterward, which is one reason the band's sound has changed on the new record. It incorporates a variety of drummers and drum machines in 16 un characteristically life affirming songs and meditations on love.
An Album Dedicated To Living Life
"One person asked me, Wasn't this album all about death and your mother?" said Mr. Corgan, whose mother died last year/ "I said no this album is about somebody who decided rather than living in a hole to climb out of the hole.';
Mr. Corgan feels confident Adore is an album ahead of it';s time as he felt Gish was. But a lack of positive reinforcement can play havoc with self esteem. "It kicked us in the head, " Mr. Corgan said of the response to the album. "There's that sick thing where you feel you can reach out for that one last brass ring, but you've got to realize your not of that DNA and some people are. And do you really want it anyway?' And what is that brass ring? "we've had huge, huge alternative songs:we've made it onto the greatest hits of the grunge era, " he said.
"But if you look at us in a completely crass, objective way the one thing we have not achieved is that we have not had top ten songs. We've reached the fork in the road where your either going to go in that direction or your going to continue to build as a band like U2 and REm did." Of fame, Mr Corgan says "the only thing I fear is that it is like a missile or a satellite."
"if it slows down too much, you start to fall out of orbit," he said. "I don't want to really exist falling out of orbit. I either want to burn out or be a cult.'
"I either want to be one of the biggest rock stars in the world or I want to be Alex Chilton, " he said of the iconoclastic former singer in the power pop group Big Star. "I'm not interested in the middle at all, " Mr. Corgan added "Give me the glory or give me a packed club with people who appreciate the nuances.'
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