The Smashing Pumpkins 101: A Guide to One of Chicago and Alternative Rock’s Greatest Bands

After breaking up more than five years ago, The Smashing Pumpkins have remained a powerful band on the alternative rock scene. With six (or seven, depending how you look at it) studio albums plus one collection of b-sides and outtakes and one greatest hits album, Billy Corgan and Co. show that they outlived the grunge era that they were born into and emerged a polished – and yet still raw – act.

It all began with Gish in 1991. The 10 track album is obviously the baby of their discography. That’s seen in the sleeve design, the producing quality and the songs themselves. But at the same time, SP distinguished themselves as a quartet that was different from the Seattle-based bands of the time, which would be more clearly seen two years later, with the release of what many consider their “breakthrough” album.

Siamese Dream started with a bang – “Cherub Rock” – and got only bigger with its second song release, “Today.” Almost immediately, the catchy song, driven by a whaling guitar and Corgan’s classic whiny voice, received massive radio airplay. The video, featuring a desert, an ice cream truck and a cross-dressing guitarist, was also picked up by MTV. It was followed by several other releases of singles, including the softer “Disarm.” To this day, many fans feel this album epitomizes the “rock” nature of The Smashing Pumpkins.

After such far-reaching success, The Pumpkins and their label decided to release a collection of b-sides and rarities, titled “Pisces Iscariot.” As could be expected by the nature of the album, the disc included songs that ran the spectrum of the Pumpkins’ work – from an acoustic, Billy Corgan solo recorded in a bedroom (“Soothe”) to a long rock anthem (“Starla”) to songs sung by guitarist James Iha (“Blew Away”). But probably the most recognized song from this collection is The Pumpkins’ cover of the Fleetwood Mac song, “Landslide.”

Just one year after the release of Pisces, and two years after Siamese Dream, the foursome came back with another studio album – or should I say two. The double-disc set Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness quieted many critics’ skepticism that such a project would simply be self-indulgent. While the more than two-hour album does contain some less-appealing songs, for the most part, the set is solid, as evidenced by its 4 million+ copies sold in the U.S. and grammy nomination.

While on tour in support of Mellon Collie, a band keyboardist died due to a drug overdose. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlain was arrested for drug possession at the same time and subsequently fired from the band.

The Smashing Pumpkins persisted on as a trio. That band tragedy – along with personal issues in Billy Corgan’s life – contributed to the mood of Adore. It’s the band’s darkest, quietest, most emotional album. Instead of a backdrop of whaling guitars, several songs are acoustic. Mostly, drums are synthesized or a beat box is used.

After rehab, Chamberlain was welcomed back into the band for MACHINA. But after recording, bassist D’Arcy Wretzky quit herself. The Pumpkins were joined onstage for the tour by Melissa Auf der Maur of the band, Hole. While touring for the album, the band announced its break-up, which took place in December 2000 in the band – and really, the Venue – where The Pumpkins had their beginning years earlier.

In the interim between the announcement of the disbandment and the end, MACHINA II was released. Primarily, it was distributed on the internet, only receiving a very limited pressing. Fans were encouraged to download the album for free. The Pumpkins became the first big band to embrace technology in such a way.

A greatest hits album was also released, as a double-disc with another album of rarities and b-sides. Rotten Apples/Judas O contains the last song released by The Smashing Pumpkins as we know them (so far), fittingly titled “Untitled.”

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