By Socrate Kiabala.
What do you get when you combine early 90s alternative rock with a psychedelic attitude, layers upon layers of distorted guitar and jazz drumming? The result is Siamese Dream, the Smashing Pumpkins’ sophomore album. Having already established themselves in the underground scene with their 1991 debut, Gish, the Chicago quartet gradually embraced the grunge sound that came from Seattle and spiced it up with their own touches. This resulted in a rock album that sounded more ambitious and maybe more creative than its contemporaries.
After its 1993 release, the Pumpkins started crossing over into the mainstream. The young generation started looking up and noticing them, and for good reason. The album runs the gamut of rock dynamics and has some top songwriting that didn’t seem out of place back then and still resonates with many. Siamese Dream comes with hard rocking numbers like ‘Cherub Rock’, ‘Quiet’, and ‘Geek USA’ and more relaxed ballads like ‘Spaceboy’ and ‘Luna’. It even includes songs that fall in-between the dynamics like ‘Today’ and ‘Soma’.
The album is supplied with allegedly dated lyrics that eventually wound back to being timeless, courtesy of frontman Billy Corgan. Like the music, Corgan’s lyrics are rather appropriately varied in meaning, depth and structure. They tell tales of suicidal thoughts (Today), struggles with authenticity (Cherub Rock), and even true love (Luna). There are times in which he comes off sounding too honest for some listeners’ liking, but he still does so in stride. If anything, songs like Disarm, where he stands up to his abusive father, are rated highly because they sound like Corgan was waiting to release his inner demons. They resonate with listeners because they manage to sound relatable without sounding too angsty.
Throughout Siamese Dream, the band keeps pushing the boundaries of what was defined as an alternative rock back in 1993. Most of the heavy numbers highlight the intricate and complex drumming of the jazz-trained Jimmy Chamberlin, who serves as a key player to the album’s definitive sound. The psychedelic undertones drive the album one way or another, but they are stronger on dreamy tracks like ‘Rocket’, ‘Spaceboy’, and ‘Hummer’. Songs like ‘Cherub Rock’ and ‘Geek USA’ are seen by fans as the definitive Smashing Pumpkins songs, particularly the latter with its soft/loud dynamic.
Siamese Dream is not just a standard early 90s rock album. It is the sound of a band not afraid to cross as many boundaries of rock as they wished. It is the sound of a band with ambition and a seriously artistic vision. It is the sound of a band playing with a new style of rock and retaining the brand they had already played. Most importantly, it is the sound of a band well on their way to achieving mainstream success and becoming the biggest thing in the world for a while.