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Why Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Siamese Dream’ Was A Wake-Up Call For Rock

A fearless quest for perfection, Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Siamese Dream’ album sent shockwaves through the music world and turned the group into alt.rock icons.

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Smashing Pumpkins’ dense, psychedelia-streaked debut, Gish, seemed to arrive from nowhere, but it moved around half a million copies. A dark horse of a disc, the record’s unexpected success placed the Chicago quartet in the slipstream of grunge frontrunners Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but it meant they were now expected to deliver great things with Gish’s follow-up, Siamese Dream.

Listen to Siamese Dream right now.

“What affected [Siamese Dream] was [the general feeling] that we’d better sell a lot of records,” Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan told Uncut in 2014. “Because you were facing a world with ‘indie’ bands selling 10 million copies. If you didn’t approximate those numbers, you were facing oblivion. I’ve never felt pressure like that in my life.”

Originally released through Hut/Virgin on 27 July 1993, Siamese Dream captured the alt.rock zeitgeist, sold over six million copies worldwide and is frequently cited as one of the decade’s key albums. Yet whether the Pumpkins would even complete the record was an issue that hung in the balance during the sessions.

Siamese Dream was a very difficult record to make,” producer Butch Vig told PSN Europe. “It was recorded in Atlanta – we went there to get away from the media in LA and New York.

“Also, Billy [Corgan] and I raised the bar really high. We wanted to make a very ambitious-sounding record. It was all done on analogue tape, so it was time-consuming. We were working 12 hours a day, six days a week for about three months, and for the last two months we worked seven days a week, 14 or 15 hours a day, because we were behind schedule.”

In addition to Vig and Corgan’s quest for perfection, inter-band tensions also simmered below the surface during the making of Siamese Dream. However, as Vig says, the Pumpkins eventually pulled together, “toughed it out and we made a pretty epic-sounding record”.

Clocking in at just over an hour, Siamese Dream remains a highly satisfying, multi-faceted opus which effortlessly defies the ravages of time. Rolling Stone’s insightful review noted that the record was “closer to progressive rock than to punk and grunge”, and its adventurous, 13-track menu took in everything from the Verve-esque existentialism of the seven-minute ‘Hummer’ to the multi-layered jazz-grunge hybrid ‘Soma’ and the sweeping, string-enhanced ballad ‘Spaceboy’.

Perhaps more pertinently, Siamese Dream’s inherent sense of fearlesnesss even spilled over into its quartet of spin-off singles, all of which still rank among Smashing Pumpkins’ most essential tracks. Corgan’s thinly-veiled attack on the state of the US music industry, ‘Cherub Rock’ (“Who wants honey as long as there’s some money?”), morphed from a sinewy, motorik groove to full-blown rawk heaviosity; ‘Rocket’ swerved from an R.E.M.-ish jangle to shoegazing bliss, and the emotive, suicide-related ‘Today’ hijacked Nirvana’s quiet-loud dynamic to devastating effect.

Arguably the record’s finest moment, however, was ‘Disarm’. A wracked, yet glorious ballad framed by acoustic guitar, timpani and bells, the song not only reflected the depth of Corgan and co’s ambition, but also provided Smashing Pumpkins with their major international breakthrough when it rose to No.11 on the British Top 40 in April 1994, despite only limited radio play.

The global rock press quickly got behind the band when Siamese Dream hit the racks. In the UK, Select declared the album to be “the most grand-scale, expansively-passionate blast of music you’ll hear this year”, while NME proclaimed it “a starting, deeply satisfying record”. The unanimous praise soon spread back across the Atlantic, where Siamese Dream debuted at No.10 on the Billboard 200, went on to move four million copies domestically and spurred its creators on to aim even higher with their courageous double-album Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness.

Siamese Dream can be bought here.

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