Siamese Dream

#6: The Smashing Pumpkins - "Siamese Dream" (1993)

My stepbrother had a lot of posters in his teenage room. I was occasionally allowed in to watch his small TV, finding that my attention would often wander to the walls, landing on one poster in particular.  Floating on clouds, surrounded by stars in an indigo sky, were three figures that looked like marionettes. Front and centre stood a man with his arms outstretched, yearning, dressed in a white top hat and tails. This was the poster for Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by The Smashing Pumpkins. There was something vaguely mystical and Victorian about it that appealed to my 8-year-old self. Looking at it now, it’s simultaneously proto-emo and proto-steampunk. Depending on where your tastes land, perhaps that’s prophetic, but you can’t deny that it’s clearly influential.

Before this week, I hadn’t ever – consciously – listened to anything by The Smashing Pumpkins but starting from that Melon Collie poster onwards, I’ve always been aware of them as a stonking pop-culture reference. A by-word for troubled band relationships, addiction and a particular shade of angst-ridden adolescent lyricism. So I thought I should finally get myself acquainted with their work, as that impetus is pretty much the entire motivation of this entire project. I picked Siamese Dream as it’s been near-universally hailed as their breakthrough album.

What struck me about listening to it is that I had the same sensation of reading Charles Dickens, or how I feel watching the original Star Wars trilogy. I appreciate their importance in the canon, can see how they made a splash at the time and, more often than not, am a fan of artists who reference them as their major inspiration. But the thing itself? Well, I mildly enjoy it at the time but can’t get the same rush. Is that an issue with me not making enough of an effort or is it genuine indifference? I wish I could be a better critic to say something other than ‘meh’. However, this is the Internet and I am constantly learning so please bear with me.

Turns out that I had heard Today already. I couldn’t tell you when or where but it sounds like an indie film soundtrack stalwart. Beyond that, I couldn’t distinguish between one track and the other, which is not unheard of, and probably actively encouraged within the shoegazing genre, but it’s all just… whining to me. Speaking of shoegazing, I’m a big My Bloody Valentine fan. I know many people would be able to fairly levy the same criticism at Loveless as I am at Siamese Dream but there’s a vision and focus to Loveless that is sorely lacking in Siamese Dream. There’s a meandering quality to a piece like Loveless that slowly seduces your attention, whereas Siamese Dream is like the acquaintance who turns up to your house party, stealthily drinks all your booze then shouts about how awful everyone is to them before passing out on your bean bag.

Siamese Dream is a great time capsule but there’s a lack of editorial steer that could have made it a leaner, denser, punchier work. With so many tracks saying the same thing, you can’t help but feel droned at.