Article written by Mike Nunn
About one and a half years ago I got word that Smashing Pumpkins were going to be touring and playing a show in my hometown. A friend of mine seemed overjoyed at this news and was eager for us both to get tickets. The Pumpkins were a band I had heard of, but my knowledge of their music stretched no further than the two songs they had on the game Guitar Hero, that I loved. So as a lover of music and the live experience, I took it upon myself to get a ticket and maybe listen to a track or two before the show. It was only then I reached a place I can only imagine everyone approaching this band in this day and age comes to. This place had me staring at a 20-year-long, extensive, complex, and at times, very obscure back catalogue of music that was frankly daunting to say the least. I sat there and asked myself, “Where do I start?” When faced with a band with a legacy like the Pumpkins have, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed; but the thing to remember is to take it at your own pace. There are many sides to the band that do take time to fully appreciate, but it is definitely worth making that effort, as they are a band that I know from experience can allow you to unlock parts of yourself you didn’t know were there.
My venture into the band started, as I used to do with most bands that were new to me, by getting a copy of their greatest hits. I listened through these tracks and the only thing I really digested was an air of great musicianship and songwriting, but I was simply hearing what seemed to be fairly basic grunge. In light of this initial generalization, I gravitated towards the more experimental tracks toward the end of the album, which I would soon come to know as Adore and Machina era material. These new approaches to music intrigued me and convinced me to stick with the band. The next day I bought Adore. For those of you new to The Pumpkins, Adore is a dark album which is very piano based with some very intense themes running through it. This was not the vibe I got on my first play of the album. I was hearing music that, although intriguing, was not something I was necessarily enjoying. I didn’t seem to be able to tap into what the band was trying to put across to me, but I did as I was told by a friend and I stuck with it. I listened through the album about three or four times before I had a moment of clarity. I found myself standing still, eyes shut in the middle of the pavement, actually listening to this dark, but somehow warm album, and having a connection with it. The deep sadness from Billy’s voice was no longer a grinding irritant, but now a familiar channel of pure emotion, provoked by the recent passing of his mother. I took this opportunity to look at what had just happened; the transition from hearing an album passively to listening to an album you love. It was a surreal thing for me, but the only notable and transferable difference I could find was that I was “listening” to the music.
Hearing and listening are very different things, yet they seem so similar. Smashing Pumpkins are a band you have to completely immerse yourself in and allow the music to surround you. You have to make sure you are really listening to what the band are putting across. Billy writes very emotive music that can resonate within you, provided you let it. Each release brings across a different artistic style. Albums such as Siamese Dream, portray a warm tone that is easy to access and the electronic, futuristic Machina / The Machines of God, which even I haven’t grown to fully appreciate. It is such a work of art with so many layers to it, yet is an astounding release. There is then the matter of the extensive amount of demos available through the community and reissues and downloads alike, that can allow you to see a different perspective of a song that means a great deal to you; or discover a track that never made it on to an album that captures a similar vibe to tracks you’re familiar with.
To summarize, this band really is what you make of them. They have done their part and if you choose to let their material into your life and appreciate it for what it’s worth, the value of it will speak for itself. So to any lover of music and art, I ask you to listen to Smashing Pumpkins and see for yourself what a journey listening to their music can be and see what you can discover within yourself as you let the emotion surround and occupy you.
The two albums that started it all off for me: Rotten Apples – The Greatest Hits and Adore