Alt-rock radio, at its height of commercial trendsetting, enabled the Smashing Pumpkins to not merely survive but thrive. There, Corgan could have his cake and eat it too, daring people to get annoyed at his starlust and reacting in kind while further building up his ambitions. He got his band signed to a major label and used the fig leaf of a corporate indie release for Gish, scored a prime spot on the Seattle-focused Singles soundtrack with “Drown”, essentially went “Haters gonna hate” with Siamese Dream‘s first single “Cherub Rock”, and got petulant when any other acts or writers accused him of protesting too much. And not just Pavement, either: “You hurt me deeply in my heart,” he once infamously pouted to Kim Thayil before a 1994 Australian concert, following which the Pumpkins went on “to play the best set anybody has ever heard them play.”
All of which goes some distance toward explaining why both reissues of Gish and Siamese Dream— appropriately loaded with rarities, DVD bonuses, fancy packaging, and often-impressionistic song-for-song liner notes by Corgan– remain remarkable though unequal listens. Even in 1991, Gish felt like something that started off well with songs like “Siva” and “Rhinoceros” but meandered a bit toward the end. Corgan’s voice never sounded as lost in his music as it does here, and most of the emphasis is on the band’s collective performance: Chamberlin’s powerful, fluid drumming, Darcy Wretzky’s strong basslines, and that thick, chunky glaze of guitars.
In contrast to Gish‘s steady flow, Siamese Dream crashes out of the gate. “Cherub Rock” remains an absolutely stellar opener with a sense of pure sonic melodrama, thanks to Chamberlin’s circus-act drum introduction, a tight clip of guitars quickly matched by equally nimble bass, a volcanic blast of a guitar lead, and then a shift to a woozy, still-building sprawl. And all this before the first verse even starts. Throw in everything that followed– the overt MBV worship of “Hummer”, the country-rock-tinged wanderlust of “Mayonaise”, “Soma”‘s update of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones” for a new decade, and inevitably the MTV/radio hits “Today”, “Disarm”, and “Rocket”– and no matter your take on its mastermind or his divisive whining/sighing vocals, it’s an embarrassment of musical riches. – Pitchfork