“Siamese Dream” came at a time where Grunge was king. It was a victim of circumstance as any upcoming and promising band was dubbed “the Next Nirvana.” Major record labels did everything they could to milk out Grunge. Smashing Pumpkins were no exception to this due to the unprecedented success of their debut album, “Gish.” This was a big coincidence since “Gish” and Nirvana’s “Nevermind” were both released the same year and produced by Butch Vig.
To make matters worse, the band was in a volatile state. Frontman Billy Corgan was under pressure, which led him to suffer from depression. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlain hardly showed up for sessions due to a heroin addiction. And the relationship between guitarist James Iha and bassist Darcy Wretzky had ended.
From the looks of it, “Siamese Dream” was set to fail and become an example of what happens when a band receives too much pressure. But it didn’t. It became the opposite. The album sold four million copies and was met with critical acclaim.
The album clearly shows it doesn’t follow the Grunge scene. The musical genres range from Heavy Metal to Dream Pop, as if someone combined My Bloody Valentine, Pixies, Black Sabbath and Rush altogether.
The hit single “Today” shares the quiet verse-loud chorus the Pixies had but twisted with the wall of noise that My Bloody Valentine does. It’s one of the most timeless songs of the 1990s for its simple but effective instrumentation and sarcastic lyrics. It causes a paradox where you sing along to something catchy but lyrically it’s about having the worst day of your life.
The opening track “Cherub Rock” is a portrait of the music industry controlling the masses over what is cool and not cool. “Freak out and give in. Doesn’t matter what you believe in. Stay cool and be somebody’s fool this year. Cause they know who is righteous, what is bold. So I’m told.” Corgan’s sarcasm gives a venomous bite to the dynamic and complex instrumentation. I love the build to the first verse of the track with its drum roll and clean guitar riff before it mutates with distortion and the drums pound harder.
“Disarm” is a painful ballad that recalls back to Corgan’s childhood, a time period filled with abuse, that results in him pouring out his pain, confusion, anger and sadness. His vocals give this yelping that is spine-chilling to hear as he sings, “Disarm you with a smile and leave you like they left me here. To wither in denial. The bitterness of one who’s left alone. Ooh, the years burn.” The dramatic orchestra and lone acoustic guitar emphasize the pain the lyrics display.
Whenever you’re listening to “Siamese Dream,” you feel as if you’re going through a spectrum of human emotions. There are tracks that make you feel angry, sad, happy or determined all in one hour. They were anthems to a generation of latchkey kids who felt these and Smashing Pumpkins was the band who were just like them. A band who grew up listening to the same bands as them and understood where they were coming from.
I’m sure if you ask anyone in Generation X, there’s a good chance that they grew up listening to Smashing Pumpkins. They may tell stories of when they first saw them, the songs that helped them in difficult times and memories of that time period. It’s certainly not the first nor the last album to do this but it was personalized for that time period that is still felt 25 years later.
Listen to “Siamese Dream” Here:
Track Picks: “Cherub Rock”, “Quiet”, “Today”, “Disarm”, “Geek U.S.A.”, “Mayonaise”, Silverfuck”, and “Luna.”
Label: Virgin Records