Smashing Pumpkins – Adore

December 23, 2006

For my fourteenth birthday, I recieved two gifts from one of my best friends. One was a specially ordered bag of my favorite flavors of jelly-bellys; peach, green apple, and blueberry. The other was this album. I have fond memories of sitting on the floor of my room, leaning against my dresser, gorging myself with jelly bellies, and staring at my stereo, trying to come to grips with Adore. It’s not an easy album, that’s for sure. There is a reason that this didn’t sell. Maybe not a good reason, but a reason nonetheless. And it’s true, the album sold very shitty, and yet when you ask a rabid Smashing Pumpkins fan which of the bands albums they hold most dear to them to this day, a good chunk of them will tell you that Adore is that album. Which is actually very strange when you think about it, considering the grandiose of the bands previous albums. The truth of the matter is, no fans or even casual listeners were expecting anything remotely close to this. So it caught them off guard, and they flipped a shit. They called it gothic techno bullshit and then that was over, the Pumpkins were “going downhill.” And yet now so many years later you would be hard pressed to find a fan that doesn’t, well, adore this record.

The album even starts out with a song that fans would probably be a bit jarred by. It’s quiet guitars and steady non-intrusive beat build a sweet melody up into a pretty tune, and consequently disassemble it progressively. While this is not a strong structure that fans could really be THAT disturbed by, by that point it was the most vulnerable song that the band had written, and it would have most likely made a listener who was expecting something in particular feel confused. And at that, they would feel even more confused when the pulsating sexual bass kicks in after the warped synth beats in Ava Adore. While this is a song that the openminded listener could understand, you have to understand how weird this was at first listen. Most fans found this a disturbing shift to electronica. After all, the band had started to use the instrument that had helped the band almost ten years prior to this, the drum machine. And because of this previous experience, they actually know how to use one. Ava Adore is something that fans of the earlier albums can understand but maybe not completely appreciate.

To appreciate this album, it helps to understand the circumstances under which it was crafted. The band had just gotten done harvesting the fruits of their third album, Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, and had secured their position in the rock history books. Their first album, Gish, showed an artier more dream-pop side, while Siamese Dream is a one two arena-rock anthem punch to the face, decidedly a crowd pleaser and a stray from pretentious art-rock, so says Billy Corgan. Mellon Collie is a massive two disk smorgesborg outlining pretty much every other aspect of the band that listeners were begging for. It delivered with flying colors after an anticipated wait, and although people may call Billy a dick for deeming it “The Wall of the nineties,” that’s exactly what it is as far as popularity goes. During the touring of Mellon Collie, the bands touring keyboardist died of a drug overdose while getting high with drummer Jimmy Chamberlain. Jimmy was promptly fired, and the tour was finished with replacements. Tensions rose between the remaining band members… D’arcy Wretsky and James Iha founded Scratchie Records (which is still around and kicking today) and Billy Corgan speaks of the bands stress and turmoil during this period. Billy’s mother also died, and his wife divorced him. Make no mistake, this was a very painful time for the band. Even though the record sold abysmally, the fans still ate it up, and the band finally proved that there was, in fact, no need to prove anything else. Playing the roles of rock troubadours, the band embarked on a massive world tour, dressed in gothic clothes and makeup, playing gigs in, as you will hear as legend by any commentator, extremely strange places. Namely, the back of a truck, an art museum, and other such small venues.

By this point in the bands history, it would have been absurd not to create a record of this stature. To be sure, this is the Pumpkins most open album yet. You can see D’arcy’s tits in the liner notes, for christs sake. You can hear the fighting, the grief, and the turmoil in the music. And yet most of the music is serene while it is painful and sad. This was really the first album where the Pumpkins did not care one bit about image or mainstream appeal, and it just happens to be the depressing one. Once again, there are great similarities to the bands previous work. The song Perfect would strike listeners as familiar, holding many similarities to 1979 in instrumentation and mood.

One thing I really feel that I must mention is what some people think of as an “ego problem” that Billy Corgan possesses. People seem to forget that frontmen have a duty to put themselves in the forefront and be the star of the show, and when there isn’t a party-crazy drummer or a wild guitarist, who else would you give the spotlight to but the main songwriter? Really, the man doesn’t have as big of an ego as some would like to think. It is a tad overinflated, but not dangerously or disturbingly so. For that reason, the music video for Ava Adore probably features more of the rest of the band than many of there other videos, even if it has Billy out in front for most of the entire thing. There was clearly an emphasis on the fact that a member of the band was gone. Many of the songs have a very light, airy atmosphere, but this is still the work of a band in any case. There is not so much an emphasis on the individual so much as there is on the songs, save maybe To Sheila and For Martha. If there is one album where stress does not get in the way, it’s Adore. The stress affects the music, and you can really feel it, but it doesn’t get in the way, at all.

To name highlights of this album is a bit silly, and choosing favorites is extremely difficult. The singles, Ava Adore and Perfect, will be the songs that fans of the previous albums will like. There are some quieter more story-based pieces as well, namely The Tale of Dusty And Pistol Pete and Once Upon A Time, both of which flutter with airy beauty. There are some fast more electronic based pieces too, Appels + Oranjes and Daphne Descends. The standout track to me, personally, is also the most distinct and individual on the album. Pug is the most seductive and sexual song the band ever (or “has ever,” if you will) made, and it oozes fantastic guitars and a killer beat. The album also has an epic that fans will love, For Martha, near the end of the album. The end of the album. It’s fantastic, and it will even knock the most prepared person off of their feet. The home stretch of the last three or four songs is something that really needs to be heard to understood, and Adore leaves on a better (albeit sadder) note than any of the bands other albums. Weak songs are few and far between… In my opinion, there is only one, and it’s not even really bad enough to be worth mentioning or anything. Don’t worry about it.

This is not an easy album. You probably will not like it at first. But the more you try to wrap your head around it, the more it opens up and presents itself as being just as beautiful as any of the bands prior work. If you won’t take anything less than a Mellon Collie killer or an album full of anthems, you may be a tad disappointed, but please do not let this one slip though your fingers. In short, it is the album you hate to love. No matter how much you will try to stray yourself away from it, you will surely come back to it. Unfortunately, Billy Corgan says it like it is in Daphne Descends when he whispers “You can’t resist.” The more you put into this album, the more you will get out of it and the more great it will be, just as great as many of the Smashing Pumpkins other essentials, even if it takes a fuck of a lot of jelly-bellies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: