Sunday Retro Reviews: Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

We are starting a new feature today where we look back at classic, not so classic, and downright under appreciated albums from years past. Our friend Adam Hardwick has graciously decided to share some of his faves with us. Enjoy!

Smashing Pumpkins released Siamese Dream during a rebirth of rock in the early nineties. Competition during this time was intense; with artists trying to balance integrity and accessibility in a way that had not been explored before in mainstream rock. The album reminds me of a time in the band’s career when they could fit into both the indie rock and pop radio molds. The album contains several distinct pop songs (Cherub Rock, Today, Disarm); but they are written with an indie aesthetic that makes them just unique enough to not fit the standard pop form. Musically, the album is a masterpiece, but the lyrical quality does not rise to the same level.

Siamese Dream blends shoe-gaze, pop, and psychedelia in a way that is familiar, but new. Each track is memorable, and the individual songs also work well as a whole. Every song seems to have its own niche within the context of the album. No track feels the same, but is produced with the same rock aesthetic and tone, making the album feel coherent. The tone of the guitars is heavy, syrupy fuzz, but the mix does not sound like metal. The album is very well-produced, with each track having many layers of instruments, so that the listener can find something new each time. The sound quality is great, and the instruments that are meant to be distinguished from the rest can be heard clearly. There are a few stray moments – Spaceboy includes a clip from what sounds like therapy talk radio, Silverf… contains the line “this take, don’t give a f…” with some loose guitar noodling at the end, and Sweet Sweet does not seem to be a finished song. These examples would be fine on a lo-fi record, but Siamese Dream was written to be a masterpiece, and these moments seem silly in the context of a well-written, well-produced album. Vocally, as the main instrument for many of the songs, the singer’s voice is an asset. It fits well with the music, and the tone evokes emotion.

Lyrically, the album does not fare well. There are a select few songs where the lyrics come together (Cherub Rock, Disarm, Luna), but many of the songs seem to be random thoughts, not meant to be read outside the context of a single verse. Also, many of the lyrics contradict themselves within the song, making for mixed messages and confusing meaning, and are too abstract to make sense (“bleed in your own light, dream of your own life, I miss me, I miss everything I’ll never be” from Rocket; “faith lies in the ways of sin, I chased the charmed but I don’t want them anymore” from Hummer). I understand that many artists want to encourage personal interpretation, but the lyrics are so vague that it is difficult to relate or interpret them except for a few specific songs. The album lacks depth due to the lyricism.

Compared with other major albums of this era (Nevermind, Ten, Superunknown, Blood Sugar Sex Magik), Siamese Dream ranks as one of the best in Alternative Rock, if not the best (I am not including the cultural impact of Nevermind in this assessment). It is also an enormous step forward from its predecessor, Gish, which was released a mere two years earlier. In comparison, Siamese Dream has the same virtuoso performances, but with more memorable, emotional content. It was as if the band played high school varsity on Gish, skipped college, and went directly into the professional field on Siamese Dream.

If you do not care about lyrics, this is a five-star album. For me, lyrical quality must match musical quality to get five stars. On a musical level, Siamese Dream is a classic album, and one of the all-time best albums in Rock.

Adam Hardwick (Contributor) – grew up listening to the alt-rock of the early nineties. As a contributor, he hopes to recognize under-appreciated musicians and albums. He favors dense studio production and impressionistic lyrics. Some of his favorite albums are Siamese Dream by the Smashing Pumpkins, The iHeart Revolution by Hillsong United, and The Joshua Tree by U2. 

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