Smashing Pumpkins Overview:
The Smashing Pumpkins were the odd man out during the 1990s’ rock scene. A big, powerful, emotionally direct rock band in an era that favored punk nihilism and a suspiciousness toward fame, Smashing Pumpkins wrote demonstrative guitar songs meant to fill arenas. Because they were so different than their contemporaries, the Pumpkins, led by frontman Billy Corgan, weren’t always fashionable and have failed to have much influence on contemporary rock, but they were enormously popular during their career.
Smashing Pumpkins' Origins:
The Smashing Pumpkins came together when Billy Corgan met guitarist James Iha in Chicago at the end of the 1980s. Soon after, bassist D’arcy Wretzky and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin were recruited to join the lineup. After recording demos and releasing a few singles, the band signed to the independent label Caroline to begin working on their debut full-length.
A Shimmering, Dreamlike Debut:
The band’s first album, 1991’s Gish
, announced the Smashing Pumpkins’ disinterest in the gloomy despair of their peers. Released a few months before the breakthrough albums from Pearl Jam
) and Nirvana
was filled with lovely, shimmering guitar songs that had a dreamlike quality to them, even when the tunes pursued more aggressive moods. And Billy Corgan’s ghostly, almost androgynous vocals added to the music’s otherworldly beauty. As a calling card for what the band was about sonically, Gish
was a fine coming-out party. Mainstream success would happen on their next album.
Smashing Pumpkins Go Mainstream:
Siamese Dream, which hit record shelves in ’93, is almost as famous for its behind-the-scenes drama as for the indelible songs contained within the album. Plagued by production delays, budget overruns and band tension, Siamese Dream nevertheless exploded on both the mainstream and modern rock charts, landing the Pumpkins onto the main stage of Lollapalooza in 1994. Still standing in stark contrast to the dark angst of grunge, Corgan wrote both gorgeous guitar ballads and arena anthems that evoked ‘70s glam rock. This was a group that wanted to be the biggest band in the world. And for a brief while, they were.
An Epic Double Album:
If Siamese Dream’s sprawling beauty seemed ambitious, Corgan was just getting started. 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was a double album that clocked in at over two hours, encompassing everything from electronica to metal to orchestral pop. Its overstuffed nature inevitably left the band open to charges of egotism and pretentiousness – what’s with that album title? – but the epic scope of Mellon Collie is stunning, even if individual moments can get bogged down in self-indulgence. Certified nine-times platinum, the album continued Smashing Pumpkins’ commercial dominance as grunge began its slow fade.
During the Mellon Collie tour, tragedy struck. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and the band’s road keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin were shooting heroin in July 1996 when Melvoin overdosed and died. Chamberlin was arrested and sent to rehab, spurring the Pumpkins to kick him out of the band. Though the Smashing Pumpkins continued their world tour, Chamberlin’s absence would have a profound effect on the group’s follow-up to Mellon Collie.
A Moody Return:
In 1998, the band returned with Adore
, a moody, electronica-heavy record that lacked the full-throttled rock of earlier Pumpkins efforts. Chamberlin’s forceful pounding was replaced with spooky drum machines, and the songs took on a more sinister, desperate edge that felt indebted to the self-loathing lyrics and inhuman industrial tones of Nine Inch Nails
. It was a conscious stylistic break from the Pumpkins’ past, as if Corgan was signaling that the group was moving in a new direction without Chamberlin. Adore
still sold relatively well, but it was clear that the band’s popularity was on the downturn.
The End Is Near:
Smashing Pumpkins released Machina/The Machines of God
in 2000. Chamberlin had returned to the band, but longtime bassist D’arcy Wretzky left after the completion of the record, replaced by Melissa Auf der Maur. But while Machina
was an uncertain melding of Adore
’s experimentation and Mellon Collie
’s hard rock, the album is somewhat unfairly overlooked in the band’s catalog. Still, the alternative-rock movement of the 1990s was officially over, and the Pumpkins felt like anachronisms in a musical climate dominated by rap-rock
and boy bands. The Smashing Pumpkins broke up at the end of 2000.
After the fall of the Pumpkins, Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin went on to form Zwan, a band that was similar to the sound of Corgan’s old group. James Iha collaborated on other artists’ albums, and Melissa Auf der Maur released a solo record in 2004.
The Smashing Pumpkins Reunion:
When Zwan failed to garner much attention, Corgan decided to reform Smashing Pumpkins. In 2007, the band - essentially Corgan and Chamberlin - put out Zeitgeist
. With none of the other former Pumpkins members wanting to join in on the reunion, Corgan hired musicians to tour with him and Chamberlin to support Zeitgeist
. Corgan released a reunion DVD, If All Goes Wrong
, on November 11, 2008. The two-disc set included a behind-the-scenes documentary and a concert film.
Current Smashing Pumpkins Members:
On March 20, 2009, Billy Corgan announced
that Jimmy Chamberlin had left the band and that he would be recording the next Smashing Pumpkins album by himself. On August 17, 2009, Mike Byrne
was picked to be Chamberlin's replacement on drums. With a new drummer in tow, Corgan announced that their next album would be called Teargarden by Kaleidyscope
, a 44-song opus which would be released a track at a time for free.
Current Smashing Pumpkins Members:
Mike Byrne - drums
Billy Corgan - vocals, guitar
Nicole Fiorentino - bass
Jeff Schroeder - guitar
Jimmy Chamberlin - drums (1988-1996, 1998-2009)
James Iha - guitar (1988-2000)
D'arcy Wretzky - bass (1988-1999)
Melissa Auf der Maur - bass (1999-2000)
Essential Smashing Pumpkins Album:Siamese Dream
Billy Corgan has said that he wanted Siamese Dream
to "set the world on fire." Mission accomplished: Siamese Dream
is the sound of a band determined to conquer the planet through the most beautiful, articulate guitar rock they can manage. Standout singles like "Today" and "Disarm" were inescapable radio hits, but even the deep album cuts are utterly dazzling - if you've never heard "Hummer" or "Mayonaise," do so immediately.
Smashing Pumpkins Discography:Gish
(outtakes collection) (1994)
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Machina/The Machines of God