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The first of the Pumpkins’ long-form epics, “Rhinoceros” was also the track where the group’s sound finally congealed into something unique and potent. The tune fades into view as if emerging from a sonic mist, revealing a beguiling dream pop lullaby as gentle as it is hushed. Then Corgan busts out the heavy riffage, and it becomes clear that the gap between the Creation Records catalog and Led Zeppelin wasn’t as insurmountable as the previous decade’s warring musical factions maintained. Even accounting for the formless introduction and outro, this is one impeccably-structured arrangement, with no one bit of excess hanging off it. After absorbing to “Rhinoceros” in all its glory, it becomes easier to understand why it was the band’s first charting single on the Billboard rock charts.
(Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
“Porcelina” takes the slowly unfurling opening fade-in first utilized in “Rhinoceros” and expands it to ludicrous lengths. Over two minutes, in fact. The band pushes the intro to the very edge of what listening tolerance will allow, then BAM! Corgan and James Iha’s lurching riffs explode out of the speakers. The sedate verses swoon with lovestruck affection, and the choruses (“Without a care in this whole world!”) are ecstatic exclamations that sweep aside any considerations aside from enraptured romance with the most passionate of gestures.
(Siamese Dream, 1993)
“Silverfuck” is longer, but “Soma” is the true epic centerpiece of Siamese Dream. The Pumpkins pull out all the stops for this outsized anthem about intoxicating love, including E-Bow, piano by R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, and a whopping 40 guitar overdubs. The momentary pause heralding the arrival of Corgan’s armada of distorted rhythm guitars is prime evidence that the group’s command of dynamics shifts should not be underrated.
(Singles soundtrack, 1992)
Some might consider this cheating as “Drown” is essentially a (damn good) verse/chorus/verse composition with several minutes of experimental feedback taking up the rest of the runtime (the version on the 2001 Rotten Apples compilation excises the latter portion completely). I would argue that those extra minutes function as a satisfying comedown coda to this soundtrack to the Seattle-set Cameron Crowe film. Corgan’s droning guitar riff is instantly memorable, and the final surge before entering Feedback City creates an unexpected yet totally welcome sense of invigoration. In a record packed with a murderer’s row of Seattle’s finest (including everyone from Jimi Hendrix and Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, to Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains), the Windy City’s prime alt-rockers get to steal the show at the last possible moment.
(Siamese Dream, 1993)
Sandwiched between the singles “Today” and “Rocket” on the album tracklist, “Hummer” can be easily taken for granted. But don’t skip over it, for it may very well be the ultimate single-song encapsulation of the best the Pumpkins have to offer. Moving from an Indian-flavored riff to a roar of detuned power chords, “Hummer” hits its apex when Corgan sings “It’s alright, honey / It’s alright, yeah!”, which is then answered by Jimmy Chamberlin’s jaw-dropping drum fill and a positively heroic guitar melody. Though Corgan didn’t bring his A-game to this song’s frankly trite lyrics, all is forgiven when his final line of “Do you believe love is real?” is followed by an astonishingly beautiful outro solo where he reinvents the Edge’s textural soundscapes for the grunge generation.
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