Days of Whine & Neuroses

Hit Parader - May 1996
by Brian Harper

(Transcribed by Karen Ang)

If you're part of the generation that grew up admiring the macho strut of heavy metal, or getting off on the cock-of-the-walk attitude of classic rock - and even if you're not - the smashing Pumpkins can occasionally be a little hard to take. Let's face it, Billy Corgan's outfit may be the single most pretentious, whining, introspective unit currently inhabiting rock universe - and that in itself is really saying something.

Yet, when all is said and done, there's also little denying that beneath all their self-absorbed pretension and their righteous indignation lurks the soul of a real rock and roll act - a band that can blow you away with both the power of their attack and the brilliance of their lyrical interplay.

And for those who still have trouble accepting the fact that vocalist/guitarist Corgan, guitarist James Iha, drummer Jimmy Chamberlain and bassist D'arcy have come to symbolize the spirit and tone of mid-'90s rock perhaps better than anyone else, consider this; their recent 28-track, two-hour-plus extravaganza, Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, not only made a Number One debut upon its release late last year - the two-disc set has already sold an outstanding two million copies! Perhaps this success shouldn't be that surprising in the wake of the triple platinum accomplishments of S.P.'s previous effort, Siamese Dreams, but considering the oft delicate nature of the band's condition, their chart-topping status has left some industry pundits shaking their heads in amazement. While it may sometimes appear as if a stiff summer breeze would be enough to knock over the tragically frail, eternally pale Corgan, apparently this guy's got a constitution comprised of industrial-strength iron.

"I don't know if we've ever been able to capture the rock band that the four of us really are prior to this," Corgan said. "I don't know if it was because of our immaturity, or because I held on to an idealized view of what this band is. On the Siamese Dreams album we sometimes got caught up in what became a stylized representation of music - creating a beautiful album that was more of a studio creation than the work of a four-piece rock and roll band. This time, I wanted to try and get on tape the way this band sounds when we play together live - a band that has a lot of power and a ragged, emotional edge."

Despite the critical and commercial success enjoyed by Mellon Collie (wasn't that the dog that played Lassie?), one must wonder if Corgan really needed more than two hours to prove his rock and roll point. It's a time-proven fact that seemingly every two-disc set in history (including Beatles' famous and infamous White Album, regarded by many as the most "essential" double-album of all-time) might have been better served if it had emerged as a single, concise slice of rock and roll energy.

Yet despite the cries he hears from those who insist that the Pumpkins' latest effort is his most self-indulgent effort yet, Corgan insists that he needed every one of the album's 28 tracks in order to communicate the wide range of thoughts and emotions he viewed as "essential" to expressing his latest musical dreams.

"I questioned doing that every day we were making the album," he said. "But I reached the point where my attitude just became, 'why not? Let's just go for it.' Maybe the people who were most concerned about it were some of the folks up at the record label who very politely reminded us that we were a very successful band, and that this wasn't a very smart thing to do from a commercial point of view. But that only reinforced my opinion. A young band with no track record is never going to get a chance to do something like this. We were at the perfect point in our career to take some chances, so we did."

Taking chances has always been one of the Pumpkins' main claims to fame. Even prior to the break-through success of Siamese Dreams in 1993, this was a band noted for risking it all on a nightly basis on stage and revealing too much of their inner soul in the studio. But with success has come change. Now, with their fan base well established and their long-term success virtually assured, Corgan has dropped his well-worn "underdog" guise in order to step out on Mellon Collie and give a good look at the world around him.

Less introspective than past efforts(though often just as whiney) on such songs as their recent smash single Bullet With Butterfly Wings, the disc reveals a stronger, more outgoing and more confident band - a group willing to take on any challenge placed before them, and look any problem square in the face. By blending harder-edged material with songs that reflect a growing interest in Nine Inch Nails-inspired technological rock, the Smashing Pumpkins have emerged with an album that is the right disc in the right place at the right time.

"We've gone in a more passionate direction this time," Corgan said. "And I think a lot of that has to do with the kind of songs I wrote. There were 50 songs that I liked when we first went into the studio. The trick was working on each of them and finding out what worked best within the more diverse context we wanted to present. We wanted to try some of the traditional four-piece rock songs, but we also wanted to try a lot of new things too; I'm beginning to realize that most of the things done with guitar, bass and drums are incredibly redundant. That's where some of the technological experimentation has come in. There's a new world opening up musically, and I want us to be part of it."

By bringing in an array of exciting new sounds to augment their already highly digestible musical menu, Smashing Pumpkins have managed the difficult task of taking the giant leap forward while steadfastly holding on to ground already conquered. Yes, their latest collection is one of the most overblown and complex demonstrations of the rock art to come our way in recent years. But it is also one of the most continually masterful collections to emerge this decade. Corgan and his band-mates have once again proven to be one of contemporary music's most gifted and creative forces, a band you either love or hate - but can never ignore.

"I don't react well to people who call me a visionary," Corgan said. "But I do think that I've seen the trends that have come along in music recently, and we've reacted to them. We've been a band for seven years now, and perhaps we've run our course as a band that wants to play intense music. I don't know where we're going next, and I don't really care. For now, this is a band that can just get on stage and blow everyone away."

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