Smashing Pumpkins’ Albums Ranked From Worst To Best
Today, the Smashing Pumpkins release Shiny And Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun, their first album created by (most of) their original line-up since 2000. So what better time than now to take a look back at their discography? Excluding, of course, their seminal work in the ’90s, it’s not always a catalogue that gets the respect it deserves – there are Pumpkins albums that have either been massively slept on, dismissed or even loathed at the time of their release. While this has often been a source of ire for Billy Corgan in the past, he recently told K! that, in the long run, he believes their full body of work will get the credit its due.
“I’m confident over time we’ll be just fine,” he said. “Because the work, accomplishment and influence is there, even if we don’t have the critics following us around, waiting for the next morsel to drop out of my ass.”
He’s right, too, theirs is a legacy that’s built to last. So, tonight, tonight, (or morning, morning/afternoon, afternoon, depending on when you’re reading), let’s take a look back in time and rank their albums in order of greatness…
10. Zeitgeist (2007)
The Smashing Pumpkins reunion of 2006 – after years of bitter recrimination – did not go to plan. Their highly-anticipated comeback album Zeitgeist was arguably harpooned before a single note of it was ever heard. The problem here was not so much songcraft as it was a sense of branding: the record suffered more from a common sense of disappointment that it was not made by all four original members (Billy, Jimmy Chamberlin, D’arcy Wretzky and James Iha), rather than its own inherent quality. True, the manner in which the album was mixed is perplexing and it is certainly bloated in places, but give Zeitgeist a spin in 2018 – and you’ll have to, it’s not on streaming services – and you’ll also hear no shortage of gems. We present to you, the jury, the impossibly brilliant Bring The Light, which features an interstellar guitar solo of the highest order.
9. Monuments To An Elegy (2014)
By the time of its release in December 2014, Smashing Pumpkins were in a tricky spot. For one, the initial disillusionment that had greeted their reunion had metastasised into something even worse: indifference. Moreover, their reunion’s ranks had diminished to just Billy Corgan and guitarist Jeff Schroeder. Monuments To An Elegy marked a concerted effort on Billy’s part to wake people up, which included roping in Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee on drums and making storming entries like One And All (what a tune!) and Tiberius (again, what a tune!). Sadly, it was received with yet more indifference. Its planned second installment never materialised and Billy opted next to make a solo album instead, saying he was done with the Pumpkins unless the original band got back together. While we can be grateful that, in doing so, today we now have three-quarters of the classic line-up back together, in other regards it’s a shame this album bypassed so many people. The Billy and Jeff-centric era of Pumpkins produced a host of brilliant songs. Maybe that will be recognised in the future.
8. Machina/The Machines of God (2000)
There is not space here to go into great depth about the grandiose thematic vision at the heart of Machina. It would take up a large chunk of the internet to do so. Suffice to say that it was conceived as something of a hyper-self-aware swansong for a band who had long teetered on the brink of implosion. The result was an album that covered a hell of a lot of ground and was, much to its commercial detriment, the absolute antithesis of the nu-metal bands that were dominating at the time. True, Heavy Metal Machine is a bit of a clunker, but elsewhere you have an album that veers from the jagged, overdriven bliss of The Everlasting Gaze to the gorgeous Stand Inside Your Love. But the real standout? That goes to the utterly spectacular Wound.
7. Shiny And Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. (2018)
If one thing can be gleaned from applying 20/20 hindsight to the Smashing Pumpkins’ extensive discography it’s this: from 1998 onwards their music rarely gets the recognition it deserves. With that in mind, let’s correct that injustice by starting in the present day, shall we? The 2018 re-reunion of the Smashing Pumpkins has produced a stellar album in the form of Shiny And Oh So Bright, Vol. 1. It’s a mature work, and as such, it likely won’t sate the people still clinging desperately to their Zero T-shirts who want just want rat-in-the-cage-isms forever more; but then those people will seemingly never be happy with anything less than a time machine and a free ticket to Lollapalooza ’94. Release Pumpkins from the amber of nostalgia and bask in the gorgeous songs they’re making in the present day, like Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts) and Knights Of Malta, and you’ll hear a band who not only have a bright future, but a brilliant one.
6. Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music (2000)
You can’t listen to Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music on Spotify. Or Apple. Or Amazon Music. Or Deezer. Basically you need to own one of the hyper-mega-rare CD versions or listen via YouTube rips. It’s worth seeking out. When Pumpkins’ label didn’t want to release Machina II after the muted responses to its predecessor, Billy Corgan took steps to ensure it got out into the world by giving it directly to fans, urging them to distribute it via the net. Said fans were treated to head-down noisestorms like Glass and Dross and the heart-swelling strains of Let Me Give The World To You. A special mention must go to James Iha for his solo entry Go, too, which is dream pop par excellence.
5. Oceania (2012)
The Smashing Pumpkins’ eighth album is frustrating, and that’s nothing to do with the music but rather its reception. It remains terminally misunderstood. After the muted response to Zeitgeist the onus was on them to restore the Pumpkins name to its former glory. Oceania was that record, an utterly glorious album full of colossal riffs like Quasar, Panopticon and Inkless, plus moments of aching resplendence. Had the ‘Never let the summer catch you down / Never let your thoughts run free’ chorus of The Celestials been set upon the ears of Generation X in the ’90s it would have been met with tears in eyes and lighters held aloft. This was the record Pumpkins 2.0 needed to make; it remains baffling that it doesn’t get the love it deserves.
4. Gish (1991)
Gish isn’t just the inception of one of rock’s most impressive discographies, it’s also the official start of a four-album run that could rival any band you might care to name. Even after all these years it, quite frankly, takes the piss that a fledgling group could come out of the gate with songs like this. From the veritable landslide of riffs that comprise Siva to the fuzz-drenched haze of Rhinoceros, Gish is four people with nothing to lose playing as if their lives depended on it.
3. Adore (1998)
At the time of recording Adore, the Smashing Pumpkins were being subjected to a maelstrom of converging forces, including band turmoil, marital strife and grief. When it came to making their next album, wonder drummer Jimmy Chamberlin was out and so, too, were loud guitars. Enter: deeply rich synth-rock. Divisive at the time for being too radical a departure in their sound, it has in recent years started to be rightly recognised as a work of tormented genius. Indeed, a very strong argument can be made that the elegiac For Martha, which sees Billy contending with life after losing his mother to cancer, is the most powerful song he has ever made.
2. Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (1995)
Beautiful. Elegant. Majestic. Bombastic. Huge. Inspirational. Iconic. And that’s just the fucking artwork. For some, maybe even the majority out there, Pumpkins’ double-disc, 28-track, 121-minute odyssey is viewed as their finest moment. Here, Billy Corgan took the part of his brain labelled ‘Creative Restraint’ and incinerated it. In doing so, Smashing Pumpkins pushed alt.rock to audacious new levels of pomp, grandeur and, yes, even pageantry. Perhaps understandably given their breath-taking quality – not to mention their videos leaving an indelible mark on pop culture – singles like Tonight, Tonight, Zero, 1979 and Bullet With Butterfly Wings typically hog the discussion, so let’s give a shout-out to the album’s real MVP: the rampaging despondency of Bodies. Mellon Collie is a masterpiece, one that forever crystallised Pumpkins in the popular consciousness. So much so, in fact, its dazzling creative and commercial success has arguably been something of an albatross around their necks: some people no doubt still want them to sound like this all the time. The simple truth, however, is that no band capable of making this record in the first place was ever going to stay in one place, musically, for long.
1. Siamese Dream (1993)
Smashing Pumpkins’ second album is not just a classic, nor is it simply just Smashing Pumpkins’ best record, or one of the defining releases of the 1990s. It is also that rarest of things: a perfect body of work. From the opening release of Cherub Rock, through the divine distortion of Today, the bruised confessions of Disarm and Mayonaise, the delicacy of Spaceboy all the way through to the becalming closer Luna, neither a single note, lyric or idea needs tampering with here. Even in its production alone, so much of this album has become part of the bedrock sound of what we consider alt.rock, there are bands out there in 2018 recycling the Pumpkins without even knowing it. True, it doesn’t have Mellon Collie’s grandeur, but it has something more precious: intimacy. Listening to Siamese Dream, it’s like you’ve been trusted to hear someone’s life story flooded with burning desires, painful memories, paralysing anxieties and unforgettable daydreams. Like we said, perfect.
Words: George Garner
Smashing Pumpkins’ new album Shiny And Oh So Bright Vol. 1, / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. is out now on Napalm. Check it out below.