If I were to pick a definitive Smashing Pumpkins song, it would be the overlooked nugget “Hello Kitty Kat”, originally released as a b-side to the single “Today” in 1993, and later rounded up as part of the 1994 rarities compilation Pisces Iscariot. To me, the best Pumpkins songs always resembled huge swaths of color. The group was never afraid to be vulnerable or full-on rock monsters, and often did both in the same song, all while constructing walls of melodic guitar fuzz that built up to explosive finishes. “Hello Kitty Kat” is the Pumpkins at their best, incorporating all those factors while firing on all cylinders on a roller coaster of a song until the track practically collapses in on itself.
Speaking of melodic guitar fuzz, “Hello Kitty Kat” is sick with it. It’s no coincidence that frontman Billy Corgan’s best material was written between 1990 and 1996, a period when the man seemed inseparable from his Big Muff guitar pedal. Unlike lesser alt-rock guitarists, Corgan knew how to use the pedal in a way that the tone it generated enhanced his guitar parts instead of overwhelming them. The sounds Corgan coaxed out of his Fender Stratocaster thus served as the perfect missing link between psychedelia and grunge. That’s why I can never get hung up on Corgan’s nasally vocals like many of the band’s detractors do. At their artistic height the Pumpkins’ chief strengths were A) the guitars, and B) the arrangements. The more focus on both of those aspects, the better the song generally turned out. On “Hello Kitty Kat”, Corgan’s vocals are mixed unusually low, sounding insubstantial next to the architectural wonder he has constructed with his arsenal of guitar tracks.
The basic riff for the song is catchy enough that Corgan could’ve based the entire song around it. But he didn’t, instead writing a track that seems intent on progressively topping itself. “Hello Kitty Kat” really begins to kick in when the band hits the chorus. There, Corgan sings the lines “Yeah, yeah / You know I hate to say / Oh no, I always stay / I don’t want to be like the others please” with a swooping, winding delivery. It’s unbelievably hook-laden, to the point where I don’t understand why this song wasn’t released as a single, much less not included on the tracklist for the band’s second album, Siamese Dream (1993). Still, that’s just the first verse and chorus. Corgan drives the band into the second verse with a screeching psychedelic guitar fill, upping the angst factor with the lyrics “Slit my wrist and die a whore / Love to love to love what you adore”. After the second chorus’ cry of “Who’s sorry now?”, the song kicks into overdrive as Corgan unleashes a new pummeling riff and seethes “My love is sadness / My love is oh so wrong / My love is sadness / My love is oh so strong”.
After the barest of pauses, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin knocks out some tom fills and Corgan launches into quite possibly his greatest guitar solo ever. As the backing riff lurches back and forth, Corgan strangles his Strat to conjure a gradually ascending set of licks that threaten to turn into white noise at any moment. Then at the precipice of the section, Corgan’s solo dives up and down like a bomber, soaring back into the final chorus. Even after all that, the song’s not about to pull back. Corgan repeatedly screams “Who’s sorry now?” louder than he has any other line in the song, then lets loose every remaining guitar fill he’s been holding back before the song collapses in a heap. Amid the errant notes at the end, what else could Corgan do but shrug out the words “Song’s over”?
It’s because of songs like this I’m willing to put up with dreck like Zeitgeist.
// Notes from the Road
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