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The Loud Psychedelia of “Siamese Dream”

Paul Elledge

To keep with the theme of grunge season, I’ll be talking about a record that is in heavy rotation for me at the moment: my hometown heroes, The Smashing Pumpkins. Specifically, I’ll be delving into what is considered their (shorter) magnum opus, Siamese Dream.

To be clear, I’m not trying to say that the Pumpkins are fully grunge. While you can clearly hear grunge influence, mostly the running theme of quiet-to-loud that is really brought to a ten on this record, there’s a lot more in the Pumpkins’ melting pot. Most notably, there is a clear shoegaze presence; while I don’t know how exactly a midwestern band got ahold of the sounds of My Bloody Valentine and Ride, we’re certainly better off for it. There are also sprinkles of post-punk and goth, which would later appear heavily on the Pumpkins’ fourth record, Adore. While it is undeniably hard to fit the Smashing Pumpkins into a single genre other than exceedingly broad “alt-rock,” this album certainly can be called a fall album, so it feels appropriate to talk about.

Siamese Dream is a mix of contemporary hard-rock and psychedelia that works really well together. For an album that gets really loud at times, it can also emanate a nostalgic dreaminess that would later really be seen on “1979” off of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. While definitely strange on first listen, Billy Corgan’s vocals lend perfectly to this genre and have a fantastic quiet-to-loud quality that goes with the album’s instrumentation. The guitar lines are an amazing blend of distorted but still on pitch, often reflective of the hypnotic, dreamy guitar line in the Stone Roses’ “I Wanna Be Adored.” This album has the great quality of knocking the listener out and then singing a lullaby as they pass out.

The songs that exemplify the dreamy noise of the Pumpkins include:

Cherub Rock: The album’s opener, also probably the closest song on the record to straight grunge (albeit with the Pumpkins’ shoegaze influence throughout). This opening track is a fantastic blend of the common themes that link this album together.

Today: Either this or the fourth track I talk about here are the album’s biggest hits. This is undeniably an angsty 90s song, with Corgan’s themes of enjoying the moment and “can’t wait for tomorrow” being sarcastic (Corgan had depression at the time of this album’s creation). The quieter verses turn into a heavy, angsty guitar riff that does not lose its psychedelic qualities. 

Rocket: This is nearly a straight shoegaze song, with a guitar wall of sound that definitely distinguishes this track from Cherub Rock. Corgan’s vocals trade between soft and loud over each line, and even if I’ve heard C major probably a billion times, this song still sounds so fresh and pretty.

Disarm: Speaking of pretty, this song has a beautiful melody. The lyrics, which touch on Corgan’s abuse as a child and flirtations with suicide, make one of the few tracks on this record without blaring guitars an incredible standout track.

Soma: This song probably exemplifies the Pumpkins’ formula of “first half quiet, second half hits like a truck.” The first half of this song starts even more muted than “Disarm,” until the inevitable moment at 3:30 when the guitar wall of sound comes in. Despite the heaviness, it is arguably more psychedelic than the first half.

Mayonaise: It’s a shame that the radio was (obviously) hesitant to play this six-minute epic on air because I would argue this is the best song on the album. The song plays the melody undistorted for a bit in the beginning before continuing the rest of the song with the same melody in shoegaze form. It’s difficult to describe the melodic magic of this track. I honestly just recommend listening to it for yourself and experiencing it.

Luna: The final track on the album, this song gives the vibe of end-credits music. The melody is really infectious, just like on any other track, and it’s a perfect quiet ending to a record full of ups and downs in volume.

So, does this record hold up? It definitely depends on the person. For me, it clearly does, evidenced by the sheer amount of positive adjectives used in this article. I can’t say this album will be for everyone, but if you are a shoegaze/grunge/post-punk/hard rock fan, I can say you will probably enjoy this record. While some songs represent motifs that died after the 90s, the album is still a great time capsule for anyone interested and undeniably influential on many artists today. 

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