Why The Smashing Pumpkins Reunion Is A Huge Deal
Once upon a time (all the way back in 2017), I asked Billy Corgan a question. Mid-interview, I raised whether he ever felt like he was trying to escape some pervading memory people had of him and the Smashing Pumpkins – that image of him as an embittered, rage-fuelled youth howling at the world.
“Absolutely,” he replied. “The funny thing is I was never that person! They say, ‘You’re the ‘Rat in a cage guy!’’ Yeah, I was also the ‘1979 guy’, the ‘Tonight, Tonight guy’, and the ‘Disarm guy’ and the ‘To Shelia guy’. When did I become the ‘Rat in the cage guy’ only?”
This wasn’t necessarily surprising to hear. For one, he is a much older man now; why would he want to be associated only with the angst that defined his youth? For another, ever since the Pumpkins’ first reunion in 2005 – which principally wound up to be something of a reunion of Billy with the name Smashing Pumpkins – he had been defiantly focussing on playing newer music from Zeitgeist, Oceania and Monuments To An Elegy. At times Pumpkins shows seemed borderline antagonistic in their set lists; deliberately conceived as anti-nostalgia gigs that often relegated their glorious past to a footnote. It’s not hard to link this to the cooling of affections that recent years have seen.
But then towards the end of the interview Billy said something interesting: that he was done with the band as it currently existed, he no longer wanted to till the soil of this particular Pumpkin patch without the people he started the job with. And now, less than six months later, three quarters of the original line-up are reunited – that’s Billy, guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, with bassist D’arcy Wretzky still a question mark (more on that later). Equally exciting, however, is this: they are finally embracing their past. The Pumpkins’ impending Shiny And Oh So Bright tour is set to exclusively see them perform songs from their first five albums. And when you think about those records, it is entirely understandable why, for Billy at least, the past once became something of an inescapable prison. For what a brilliant prison this discography is.
The official Shiny And Oh So Bright tour announcement
When the Smashing Pumpkins announced themselves to the world at large in 1991 with Gish, they were already peddling an immaculate brand of fuzz; that a band could conceive of a screeching blowout like Siva on their first record remains remarkable, but not as remarkable as the leap they made with 1993’s Siamese Dream.
It is not only as perfect a rock record as could feasibly be expected to exist, it’s also the moment Billy’s tortured internal monologue became representative of an entire generation. (Footnote: it was also responsible for countless hours of me sitting on the end of my bed and butchering acoustic covers of Disarm and Spaceboy.)
Remembered as much for the spellbinding aesthetic of its artwork and videos as for the innate brilliance of the music, 1995’s Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness was a moment of grandstanding pomp and vision. Put another way, it was – and remains – one of the most adventurous rock records of all time, Billy saying, believing and proving they could do anything and everything. Is it too bloated for its own good? Well, it’s a moot point. The fact is it is impossible to think of ’90s alt.rock without songs like Bullet With Butterfly Wings, 1979, Tonight, Tonight and Zero. At this, the height of their influence, Pumpkins mattered in a way that few bands ever can – not just because they transcended music to permeate wider culture, but also because they are one of a small fraternity of rock bands who have met Homer Simpson.
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
And then things get interesting.
The older I get, the more I gravitate to 1998’s Adore more than any other of their releases. In many ways it’s the Pumpkins album that time has been kindest to, at least in seeing the critical derision it was initially met with fade away. At the time many were nonplussed – all of a sudden, gone were the big riffs and in came squelching beats and keyboards aplenty. That’s exactly why it’s so interesting. For a band who were always teetering on total internal combustion, that they even made an album is impressive, let alone an album with such moments of rarefied beauty. At certain points in my life I would have gone blue in the face arguing that Mayonaise from Siamese Dream was their best song. These days I would say Adore is home to their finest moment: the sound of a grief-stricken Billy Corgan mourning his mother on For Martha. It is perfect.
For Martha, live
Some would wager Pumpkins’ creativity had, by the release of 2000’s Machina/The Machines Of God, completely succumbed to the toxicity of their relationships. Presumably, those people never listened to Wound. Or The Everlasting Gaze. Or Stand Inside Your Love. Sadly, from this point on, they seemed destined to be misunderstood – a rot of perception that the glory days were over would, unfairly, linger on even after they reunited.
If, so far, news of the re-reunion has received mixed reactions, the major point of contention has been the absence of original bassist D’arcy Wretzky and conflicting stories from both sides as to why this is. But if the sense at the moment is that some people are eager to dismiss this re-reunion because it’s not the full original line-up, this is nothing new. This drama has been playing out ever since their 2005 reunion. At some point during this beguiling band’s tumultuous history, I realised I stopped being a Smashing Pumpkins fan and had started becoming a full-time Smashing Pumpkins apologist. On my death bed I will likely think of all the hours wasted trying to tell colleagues, friends and random people on the tube that post-reunion outings Oceania and Monuments To An Elegy are great albums. No, not Siamese Dream great, not Mellon Collie great, but compelling, mature works – the kind Faith No More and Soundgarden were allowed to make on their reunions without being chastised for failing to recapture the lightning-in-the-bottle magic of Angel Dust or Badmotorfinger. After a certain point, I would contend, the sport of smashing the Pumpkins rarely factored in the music they made – almost like the misstep of Zeitgeist tainted everything thereafter.
The Everlasting Gaze
It all brings into focus a simple question: do the Smashing Pumpkins still matter?
Of course they do. Even if you don’t buy into my assorted ramblings about the merits of Oceania and Monuments…, I defy anyone to listen to some songs from the post-reunion era and say the magic is completely gone. The much-maligned Zeitgeist spawned Bring The Light – and thus one of the most bombastic solos of the ’00s. Similarly, you could put The Celestials from Oceania on any Pumpkins album and those classic songs would not be embarrassed to be in its company.
As for their almighty fuzz? One And All from Monuments… delivered it in droves. Add this to Billy’s excellent solo album last year, Ogilala, and I think it’s clear the spark of genius still exists. When it is put back in the orbit of his partner in fuzz James Iha, we should have every reason to expect that something magical can and will happen – not just on tour, but also if they do follow through with their new album. Jimmy Chamberlin? You can only expect he will be determined to reassert his credentials as one of the best drummers ever both in the studio and in the flesh. As for D’arcy – should she be involved? Hell yes. Absolutely. This is her history, too, and she deserves to be celebrated. But does Jeff Schroeder – a longstanding member who has contributed a lot to preserve the flickering Pumpkins flame over the years – also deserve to be in the ranks somewhere, too? Hell yes. Absolutely.
In whatever form they finally settle on, The Smashing Pumpkins stand a chance of mattering more now than they have in years. You see, historically the biggest obstacle they have faced has always been themselves. Odd as it is to say, by embracing their past Smashing Pumpkins may finally be giving themselves the future they always deserved: to be celebrated not as just a memory, but as one of the greatest rock and roll bands in the world today.
WORDS: George Garner
Those Shiny And Oh So Bright tour dates in full:
July 12 Glendale, AZ, Gila River Arena
July 14 Oklahoma City, OK, Chesapeake Energy Arena
July 16 Austin, TX, Frank Erwin Center
July 17 Houston, TX, Toyota Center
July 18 Dallas, TX, American Airlines Center
July 20 Nashville, TN, Bridgestone Arena
July 21 Louisville, KY, KFC Yum! Center
July 22 Atlanta, GA, Infinite Energy Arena
July 24 Miami, FL, American Airlines Arena
July 25 Tampa, FL, Amalie Arena
July 27 Baltimore, MD, Royal Farms Arena
July 28 Philadelphia, PA, Wells Fargo Center
July 29 Uncasville, CT, Mohegan Sun Arena
July 31 Boston, MA, TD Garden
August 1 New York City, NY, Madison Square Garden
August 4 Pittsburgh, PA, PPG Paints Arena
August 5 Detroit, MI, Little Caesars Arena
August 7 Montreal, QC, Centre Bell
August 8 Toronto, ON, Air Canada Centre
August 11 Columbus, OH, Schottenstein Center
August 13 Chicago, IL, United Center
August 16 Kansas City, MO, Sprint Center
August 17 Indianapolis, IN, Bankers Life Fieldhouse
August 19 St. Paul, MN, Xcel Energy Center
August 20 Omaha, NE, CenturyLink Center
August 21 Sioux Falls, SD, Denny Sanford Premier Center
August 24 Seattle, WA, KeyArena
August 25 Portland, OR, Moda Center
August 27 Oakland, CA, Oracle Arena
August 28 Sacramento, CA, Golden 1 Center
August 30 Los Angeles, CA, The Forum
September 1 San Diego, CA, Viejas Arena
September 2 Las Vegas, NV, T‑Mobile Arena
September 4 Salt Lake City, UT, Vivint Smart Home Arena
September 5 Denver, CO, Pepsi Center
September 7 Boise, ID, Ford Idaho Center
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