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Smashing Pumpkins – Gish

June 4, 2007

When I spontaneously created a Top Fifty Albums list on my RYM a couple of weeks ago, I had no reason for Gish being so close to the top except for the fact that it just seemed right at the time. I guess I was simply looking at all of the albums I had given five stars and this just stuck out. When I take a good look from the outside, I would probably say that Gish doesn’t have as strong a set as Siamese Dream. And maybe it doesn’t and my opinion has changed in the past few weeks, but there is no doubt that I adore this album. The question is, why? I don’t even think I could have answered this question until I gave it another spin the other day. I don’t think I have ever had this bizarre of a love for an album. I find myself constantly gravitated to it and have listened to it more times than my memory cares to recall, a number that can only be described as obscene. And yet I still have a bit of trouble recalling what the riffs or tunes in some songs are. And it really only had two songs that could ever be described as radio material, and maybe Siamese Dream’s unfathomable myriad of radio hits makes it pale, but at the same time Gish just feels more loveable and has no weak moments whenever I play through it. A lot of times I feel there is this kind of silent offward nod of approval from my tastes to this album. It’s not an album I rave over, not even comparable to how much I talk about albums I love marginally less. So why is it that I can only shrug and give it a thumbs up when I see it at number two on my list? I guess I just felt like there was some unseen, irresistible dynamic to it. It’s something that I didn’t feel good not knowing.

When I was rating all my albums, I got to Gish and immediately gave it five stars, along with Siamese Dream. I just felt like this was my favorite of the bunch. Siamese Dream probably has better songwriting in the end, but only to a certain extent considering both albums are totally tight. But I have always had a serious, undeniable problem with Siamese Dream that I am still having trouble getting over years after I first heard it. That is, I’m not quite sure I always like the sound of the guitars. The riffing is simply awesome, but the actual sound and production of the guitars is very fuzzy and jagged, and while it does act like the buzzsaw bayonet to the weapon that is the Smashing Pumpkins, I have just had a very hard time getting over it. This can only be alleviated by cranking the album to extremely high volumes. When Siamese dream floats gently into it’s more acoustic or organic sounds, the guitars sound wonderful, and the songwriting more than makes up for it anyway, but on Gish all the guitars immediately stick out and gloss over beautifully. And as far as strength of songs goes, Siamese Dream produced a myriad of wonderful radio hits and unforgettable hooks. Gish, on the other hand, took the route of very cool but ultimately less memorable riffs and hooks that don’t wear themselves out. The definition of this album is cool and chill, and perhaps the less distinctive and easy hooks are what makes this album feel new upon repeated listens. And it really does. Siamese Dream is an album I have listened and whored to my ears so much that I tired it out, but having listened to Gish just as many times, it still feels new.

For individual songs, Gish actually has a pretty big myriad of types of tunes on it. The album only repeats itself twice, and in good ways too. The trio of upbeat but ultimately chilled riff rockers, I Am One, Bury Me, and Tristessa, is staggeringly good. All three songs start up with a really muscular rhythm section and particularly good basslines, and develop themselves with shiny guitars and heavy riffs. The opening I Am One is the one of the bunch that stands out the most though, perhaps because it is the first song on the Pumpkins first album. But even then, it’s quality is undeniable. About halfway through the song, something unforgettable happens, and a crazy awesome guitar solo starts up only to be accompanied by another of equal quality, and both snake around one another for a long time. Then, the only the bassline remains, thumping along at a steady pace, when both guitars come in again and rekindle the mayhem with an explosion of sound. This is only one of the many memorable moments on the albums more upbeat rocking half. Another would be the entirety of the song that is Siva, a long, progressive foray that reels through numerous variations of the same riff. When the band quiets down and does a very subdued variation on the verse and then fades into silence. Which then angrily explodes back into the chorus. A monumental moment.

And interestingly enough, the album is almost cut in half between loud, fun rockers and quiet, completely unique dream pop. For some reason people regard this album as a chief in the genre of dream pop when in reality only half of it could really truly constitute as such. The most popular of these songs is the third song, Rhinoceros. Drifting along romantically at a slow beat, lullaby bass, and pretty textured guitar, the song is nothing short of a masterpiece. What might throw off some listeners though, is how long the song is, clocking in at about six and a half minutes, never really repeating itself either. There is no set verse, and when it revisits the chorus, it does it in different way. Every few bars the guitars change sound to reveal a brand new riff or nuance, and after building up to a glorious signature Pumpkins peak of wonder, the song ends with a sigh of love. This, however, is not a lonely song. The other that stands out to me is Crush, which I have finally decided that I love after not being sure about it for a long time. What threw me off was the fact that the song is built upon a simple major scale as a bassline, the most elementary thing I’ve ever heard. But that doesn’t stop the fact that this is a wonderful, dreamy gem and completely representative of it’s title in every sense. And the following Suffer is just as good. It is almost a bit eastern, but is one of the most gentle, lovely tunes I have ever heard. There is a missing link though. One of the bands best songs, Drown, was written around the same time and was included on the Singles soundtrack. It plays a lot like Rhinoceros, but is arguably better and it would have truly made the album perfect if included.

The two least immediate songs are Snail and Window Paine. I used to think that the album fizzled out after the fifth track, but the truth of it is that this album stays very consistent all the way through. And these two songs are truly vital to the spirit of Gish. Saying that this album is happy and positive would be an understatement, and these might be the two songs that define that mood. Snail is a personal favorite and a great optimistic rocker, and Window Paine might be the beginning of what would later be known as the signature Smashing Pumpkins epic. And the final song, Daydream, truly needs to be heard to be understood. This is the albums only melancholy moment, only song that teeters fragile on the edge. This is a rare moment where D’arcy sings, and she does a very good job. Her soft voice paired with sad strings makes for a great combo. And then the song quiets, and turns into something completely different. I used to think the second part of Daydream was Billy letting his ego get the best of him and refusing to let anyone else take the spotlight in the end, but to be sure it is essential and represents the album very well.

Maybe all things considered I really do like Siamese Dream more, or at least respect it more, but I still enjoy Gish just as much. Maybe it is simply a matter of consistency. Although Siamese Dream’s best moments are downright unbelievable, it has it’s weaknesses, and Gish honestly has none besides the fact that it only stands slightly less tall next to Siamese Dream. I can look for problems in this album and turn up empty handed every time. Another reason I love it so much is because I feel like it encompasses my personality with surprising accuracy. I love relaxing, dreamy music as well as rock solid riffs, and Gish has both, sometimes slamming them together with shocking accuracy. It just feels like the perfect soundtrack to a lazy summer day. Or maybe it is the perfect soundtrack to the nineties, spanning seemingly unrelated genres to make the ultimate tribute to the breed of people that shaped the 90s music scene. These people were eclectic, leftist, laid back and yet undeniably in-your-face. So why did the word “apathy” hold so much leverage to people who truly cared so much about everything? Gish just has a little bit of everything. It is chill, abrasive, catchy, solid, sexy, and full of love. I don’t think one could ask for more.

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