Smashing Pumpkins

All posts tagged Smashing Pumpkins

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

220px-Monuments_to_an_Elegy_album_cover_from_Smashing_Pumpkins

Artist: The Smashing Pumpkins

Album: Monuments To An Elegy

Release Date: 12/9/14

Rating: 7/10

It’s almost rare to hear news of Billy Corgan and music in the same equation. However, when he’s not posing with cats, starting a wrestling franchise, taking stabs at Soundgarden and Dave Grohl, or just generally bashing every other musician from the heyday of the 90’s alternative scene, he’s still making music under the Smashing Pumpkins name.

This is all rather unfortunate, because since their semi-reunion in 2007, the Smashing Pumpkins have put out two really good records. 2007’s guitar-driven Zeitgeist and 2012’s post-punk/space rock-oriented Oceania both feature the two sonic elements that made the Pumpkins great. However, neither really hit their mark or struck a chord with the mass audience of their glory days. Corgan, the sole original member, has also come under heavy criticism for everything from his selection of lineup members to riding the wave of 90’s nostalgia for an easy cash grab.

Despite not seeing the same success enjoyed by former peers such as Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails, the Smashing Pumpkins have soldiered on and have released some good music over the years.

Monuments to An Elegy, the band’s latest offering, continues even further with the depth and exploration of who The Smashing Pumpkins are and what they could ultimately be. The album combines elements of the band’s past with ripping, fuzz-heavy guitars, and meets them with a more synthesizer-driven sound heard on newer releases. For the most part, the two components seem to find a pretty good balance, and sonically, Monuments to An Elegy flows rather well, making for a very interesting and natural progression in the band’s catalog.

Billy Corgan posing for the cover of "Paws Chicago" magazine in 2014.

Billy Corgan posing for the cover of “Paws Chicago” magazine in 2014.

Leading off with the track “Tiberius,” the album flashes hints of the band’s classic, dirty guitar-rock sound, with subtle synths that complement the riffage well. Tracks like “Being Beige” and “One and All,” featuring none other than Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, continue with an up-beat, hard rock feel that speaks to fans of Siamese Dream and Gish.

From there, more synthpop sounding tracks like “Run2me” and “Drum + Fife” take hold, veering away from the vibe and losing the listener somewhat. The standout “Monuments” boasts another hard rocker before descending into the ill-conceived, Depeche Mode-esque “Dorian,” and finally climaxing with the decent rocker, “Anti-Hero.”

As a whole, Monuments to An Elegy is a really interesting chapter in the Smashing Pumpkins’ history. The band began implementing synthesizers as early as 1995’s breakthrough hit, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, before completely embracing the late 90’s electronica phase with 1998’s Adore. Monuments sounds like a good fit between Mellon Collie and Adore, featuring both high-energy rockers and driving synth-rock.

Overall, Monuments to An Elegy is a very good and relevant release from a band that’s over a quarter-century into their career. The biggest issue however, is whether a not you can call the Smashing Pumpkins a band at this point. The music feels very similar to Corgan’s 2005 solo album, Walking Shades. And without the dynamic of the powerhouse drumming of Jimmy Chamberlin and guitar wizardry of James Iha from the band’s classic lineup, it feels very much like another solo Corgan record. If one can set that fact aside and take the music at face value, than Monuments is a pretty decent album.

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

It has been over two decades since the world last heard from Cleveland alternative rock pioneers, Death of Samanatha. The band became one of the key players of the 80’s college rock movement, craving out a unique niche in the scene. But by the later part of the decade, at what seemed as the height of the group’s success, they disbanded and have remained relatively quiet for more than 20 years. Now they’re poised for a comeback with a long-awaited reunion disc spanning their short-lived but highly influential career.

Formed in 1983 by singer and guitarist John Petkovic, guitarist Doug Gillard, bassist David James and drummer Steven Eierdam, Death of Samantha took the scene by storm, becoming one of the first notable alternative/indie rock frontrunners in Cleveland. The infamous first gig at a Ground Round family restaurant has become that of legend. With bizarre stage antics, puck rock ethos and sound primed and ready for college radio, the band quickly rose to recognition, and caught the eye of Homestead Records in 1986.

At the time, Homestead Records, based out of New York, was home to some the biggest names underground rock had to offer at the time, including Sonic Youth, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Dinosaur Jr. The full length debut for the label, Strungout on Jargon, brought the band on the national underground scene. They continued to tour the latter half of the 80’s alongside big names such as The Replacements, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins.

Death of Samantha supporting Sonic Youth in the mid-80's.

Death of Samantha supporting Sonic Youth in the mid-80’s.

Sadly, as their aforementioned touring partners caught major label deals and broke out onto the early 90’s MTV scene, they never stuck it out long enough to ee their break. Following the release of Where the Women Wear the Glory and the Men Wear the Pants in 1988 and Come All Ye Faithless in 1990, Death of Samantha called it quits. A small reunion was attempted in 92, but never got off the ground. The band, whose influence can still likely be heard on rock radio via post-grunge/post-alternative acts (think Bush, Everclear, and perhaps Green Day).

In recent years, the original lineup of Death of Samantha have remained active musically, playing a handful off one-off reunions such as at the Beachwood Ballroom in Cleveland and 4th and 4th Fest in Columbus, Ohio. As of late last year, the have recorded an 18-track double album titled If Memory Serves to be released on Feb. 11 via the band’s St. Valentine Records. It will be their first release in 24 years.

If Memory Serves is comprised of re-recordings of old material. In an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Petkovek said that the two-disc retrospective has gotten the band’s creative juices flowing, as they are planning more endeavors for the coming months.

“…a lead-in to a tour and a record of all-new material in 2015,” said Petkovek.

With a wealth of 80s indie rock acts such as My Bloody Valentine, The Replacements and the Pixies reuniting and releasing new music, there is no doubt that the time is right for Death of Samanatha to return to the scene and pick up where they have left off. Perhaps nostalgia for some, and a new chapter, new era or even a new beginning for many others.

No AlternativeBy Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

During the early 90’s, many music fans in both England and America felt at a for loss words for identifying what was coming out of their post-punk and/or underground rock music scenes. That music eventually became known as the Alternative genre. College Rock Radio seemed to gather the remnants of music that American kids liked, but it was not very cohesive scene-wise/sound-wise.

Inevitably, a movement was bound to take place. In England, the Northern movement, “Madchester,” developed due to the Joy Division-influenced aftermath with journalist Tony Wilson at the helm.

Similar mass communication mediums such as radio, TV and magazines started to again coin genre names in America shortly thereafter. What was going to be the new “thing?” During the very fevered formation of this new genre, the compilation album, No Alternative, was released in 1993 with a whole host of acts that before didn’t seem related, yet conceptually, they came together on this album and it made sense. Alternative, in the broadest sense, was born out of various sounds of rock and folk (song-writer) genres and on the whole seemed to encompass more thought-provoking lyrics than what was on the radio at the time; similar to their post-punk and folk-punk predecessors.

The most popular offshoot of the genre became Grunge (especially in Seattle), but Art Rock artists from other parts of the country were at first often overlooked in this more broad Alternative genre due to media and playlist regularity. Artists such as Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins and Pavement were on the peripheries in the early 90’s, probably due to their more obvious Classic Rock influences, but eventually they enjoyed a steady fan base growth which was more correlated to the aforementioned Northern English music movements such as the “Madchester” movement and of course the ever repeating Brit Rock revivals.

English music show host, Jools Holland, became more influential in a way of picking up where Tony Wilson left off and connected the dots between the American and English scenes throughout the 90’s and the 00’s, reminding us of what and how the term Alternative really came about. An alternative type of music to what was typically played on top 40 rock radio. This is how and when the term became full circle. And now fans expect such artists to almost transcend the induced sub-genres and be beyond a genre, to be something different yet each having THEIR OWN cohesive sounds. Ironically it is NOT about a scene.

Observe.

As well as the aforementioned artists and Picks of the Week leading to this article I know present some wonderful examples that have been often overlooked after the initial Alternative heyday was over. These artists have also really have gone beyond genre and in a way back to what “Alternative” meant, what rock and roll means and what songwriting is. And many of these are from their founding scene giants were from. (Northern England, Seattle.) Just goes to show.

England:

Ocean Colour Scene – The Day We Caught the Train

The Unbelievable Truth – Solved

America:

Jets to Brazil – Chinatown

Pedro the Lion – Live on KEXP

Shoegaze act Catherine Wheel circa 1993. Photo courtesy of MTV.com.

Shoegaze act Catherine Wheel circa 1993. Photo courtesy of MTV.com.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

The early development of the Shoegaze genre lies somewhere in the post-punk haze of the 80’s. Gothic/Ethereal artists such as Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain began to fuse elements from uncategorized and/or “art” rock acts like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur, Jr. The name itself evolved because artists, namely guitarists, where using a lot of effects on their guitars through the use of various pedals and stomp boxes and they seemed to be “gazing at their shoes” during performances.

Though many of the genre’s predecessors often used a lot of layering or effects in their music via multi-tracking, in live situations they were more sparse. Live performances from Shoegaze artists differed in many instances because they rarely changed the arrangement or the effects, although the layering was done in a more ethereal or blurred out way to begin with on the records, it was a bit easier to cope with live. Moreover, live versions were even more exaggerated because of this. Shoegaze greats Ride and Catherine Wheel are prime examples of this practice.

By the 90’s, a sister sub-genre called Dreampop surfaced with artists such as Slowdive and Lush. Their music featured the noise of Shoegaze, however was a bit more poppy and melodic. Even Brit Rock/Pop bands like The Stone Roses also experimented with many of the budding trademark sounds with their single, “I Wanna Be Adored” in 1991.

However, 1991 was the year that the first significant stride was made in Shoegaze. One of the first acts to be described as both Dreampop and Shoegaze, the influential My Bloody Valentine, combined airy female vocals and guitarist Kevin Shields’ distinctive sonic wall of guitar noise. In fact, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless had a great impact on many guitarists in the 90’s, not just in Shoegaze, but Alternative in its broadest sense. Billy Corgan and James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins are notable followers.

The torch was in a way, carried most authentically to British band, Catherine Wheel. Shoegaze became full circle and the trademark sound was “nailed” by them in 1993 with their second record, Chrome. This is arguably the cornerstone record in this genre with its dreamy and catchy melodies sung with Gilmour-esque soothing ethereal vocals and sonically lush (but often still aggressive) guitars and concepts which vary throughout. This record is also one of the most unsung and overlooked recordings of the 90’s in general due to the quick shift in focus to the rise (and fall) of Grunge.

However, not all was forgotten. Catherine Wheel went on throughout the 00’s, inspiring new fans of other genres to not only go back and listen to their old records, but discover My Bloody Valentine’s, Loveless too, and draw from a perhaps small collection of Shoegaze records. Even more so, the quality that spanned Smashing Pumpkins’ range of influences, as well as successful English Alternative/Rock acts such as Radiohead and Pulp, had therefore inspired yet another Brit Rock Revival.

In the Shoegaze lineage, little known but amazing American artists such as Starflyer 59 (often referred to as a Space Rock band) and Hum plugged away through the 90’s. In more recent years, the independent two-piece act, Have a Nice Life, emerged with one of the greatest Shoegaze mixtures ever, especially on their debut album, Deathconsciousness. The presence of Dreampop-y melodic hooks, spacey textures and even darker undertones, hark back to the beginning of this genre’s early Post-Punk/Goth influences. (Refer to some of the artists mentioned in last month’s Gothic Rock article).

In addition to the previous Picks of the Week, which I used introduce this origins of this genre I now include for your enjoyment:

Catherine Wheel – Black Metallic. From recommended album, Ferment. 1993

Starflyer 59 – Hazel Would. from recommended album, Silver. 1994

Hum – Stars. From recommended album, You’d Prefer an Astronaut. 1995

Have a Nice Life – Bloodhail. From recommended album, Deathconsciousness. 2008