Smashing Pumpkins

Virgin, 1998

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


In an MTV interview prior to the release of this record, Billy Corgan claimed that it wouldn’t be like any Pumpkins release to that point. It wouldn’t be rock, it wouldn’t be electronic, it wouldn’t be describable.

He succeeded – and alienated a lot of fans in the process.

Music had changed by 1998. Alt-rock was falling out of favor, only being practiced by second-tier copycats like Creed; rap-rock, R&B, electronica, and boy bands ruled the charts. In addition, Corgan had taken the Pumpkins sound as far as it could go on Melon Collie And The Infinite Sadness; to repeat it would simply have been for commercial concerns, not artistic ones, and Corgan was desperate to prove he was an artist. Also, around the same time, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin was fired.

So it was inevitable that something would be different on the Pumpkins’ fourth studio album, and was it ever. Although Corgan hinted in other interviews that electronics would be embraced – a decision he would later regret – the band’s management leaked that it was an acoustic album, which is closer to reality.

The truth is that there is little in the Pumpkins oeuvre that set a precedent for the quiet, mature alt-rock on display here. Adore is one of those cliché albums that is easier to admire than it is to love. Unlike past heights, few of the songs really reach out and grab the listener, and there is really nothing in the way of a hit single or something that speaks to disaffected teenagers the way, say, “Today” or “Disarm” did. The album is more of a mood piece, meant for reflection.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Such a self-conscious move is inherently risky, especially if the songs don’t reveal the rewards expected, and Adore falls prey to this more often than not. Songs like “Once Upon A Time” and “Tear” just sort of float by, sounding more sculpted than organic, while the muted, dull “To Sheila” is the opening track, which threatens to derail the project from the outset.

Fortunately, this 74 minute trip is front-loaded with decent tunes. The melancholy yet efficient “Perfect” was a fine choice for second single, though “Daphne Descends” is better, the point where the new approach combines to create something more. The first single and second song here is “Ava Adore,” a rather creepy yet catchy song about obsessive love: “You’ll be a lover in my bed / And a gun to my head / We must never be apart / Lovely girl, you’re the murder in my world / Dressing coffins for the souls I’ve left to die.”

Other examples of the new approach working are “Appels + Oranjes” and the skittery “Pug,” a more straightforward love song. But things start to drag on the second half of the disc, Corgan’s voice rarely rising above a whisper, the music rarely rising above sophisticated electronic pop. Had cuts like “Annie-Dog,” “Blank Page,” and “Shame” been trimmed from the bloated run time, with “For Martha” made the closing cut, this would have been a bit closer to a classic.

“For Martha” is a minor masterpiece and the standard Pumpkins epic (every album’s gotta have one), a nearly nine minute elegy for Corgan’s mother written and played mostly on piano. The point where the tension builds to the electric guitar solo – about the only time that instrument appears – is spine-chilling, and Corgan’s lyrics are simple and heartfelt: “If you have to go, I will get by / Someday I’ll follow you and see you on the other side … Your picture out of time / Left aching in my mind.”

Adore is the Pumpkins and Corgan at their most vulnerable and open and stands alone in their catalog as an unsettling, flawed yet compelling piece of work. Those who enjoy Siamese Dream and MACHINA may have a difficult time finding something here they enjoy, but the handful of rewards is worth it if you have the patience.

Rating: B-

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