Adore is, without a question, the single most misunderstood album in the Smashing Pumpkins’ entire discography, but not for the reasons you might expect.
The album arrived in 1998, right as rock bands like U2 began playing around with this increasingly-popular new brand of rock-friendly dance music known as “electronica”. For the Smashing Pumpkins specifically, this year followed the success of the Pumpkins’ synth-heavy Lost Highway contribution “Eye” and the subsequent firing of drummer Jimmy Chamberlain after a tragic drug episode. Because of this, the Pumpkins’ eternal figurehead Billy Corgan felt empowered enough to start playing around with drum machines aplenty. When coupled with the personal tragedies he was dealing with, this bold sonic move leaves Adore thought of as the Pumpkins’ “electronica” album: a dark, brooding affair that, to most outsiders, appeared to use programmed beats as a way to double-down on the gothic sounds and imagery that the band had so carefully doled out to mainstream America over the past several eyars. For an example of this, one need only look to the band’s theatrical tactics used during the epic promotional campaign for their calling card of a double-album Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness.
Yet despite the eyeliner-pulse of lead single “Ava Adore” pointing towards a new, electronically-augmented direction, a majority of Adore is actually rather quiet and understated, with Corgan’s piano work given prominent position in the mix. This thereby leaves guitarist James Iha and bassist D’arcy Wretzky sounding virtually absent from the recordings, leaving the impression that the whole affair is serving as a mask for what is essentially the first-ever Corgan solo album.
Even with stories of Corgan sometimes re-recording his own bandmates’ bass and guitar takes throughout the years, all of the original lineup’s records (yes, even 2000’s MACHINA/the machines of god) still felt like the work of a full-collaborative band, Chamberlain’s nuanced drum work serving as the glue that made everything sound as cohesive as it did. With Adore, Corgan wound up dealing with his demons all by his lonesome. Although he tried to probe deeper emotional territory on this album, his knack for the overindulgent and his surprising turn towards a more generic lyrical template left casual fans feeling a bit cold. Corgan shuttered the windows of his ego in order to mourn in private.
Thus, after 2012’s massive Mellon Collie deluxe edition was released into the world, with a staggering three whole discs of bonus material, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that for the Adore deluxe edition, it comes with four discs of unique ephemera coupled with a mono-remastered version of the album that no one asked for. Some people would lead you to believe that this much additional material borders on downright excessive, and those people would be absolutely right, because as on a purely sonic level, Adore just doesn’t hold a listener’s attention in the way that any of their previous albums did, and as such, the additional material doesn’t provide nearly enough revelations to warrant a full-bore multi-disc reissue campaign. The album lacks the variety of moods and styles that helped make Mellon Collie and Siamese Dream such satisfying listens after multiple spins. At times, the collectors-only tunes on this deluxe edition even wind up weakening the argument for Adore‘s status as an underappreciated gem.
The original Adore starts off unassuming enough with the hushed guitar ballad of “To Sheila”, a a beautiful number that fashions its emotional apex out of banjo strings. Corgan wraps up his rural imagery into a statement on sentimental identity that never gets too heady for itself. After that, the album lurches into the aforementioned “Ava Adore” (which goes a little overboard on the tragic-romance themes) and the rather succinct pop moment that is “Perfect”. As is typical for albums of this era, Corgan felt the need to fill every single minute of space that was available to him in a CD format, which is why Adore, much like MACHINA, really pads out its 73-minute runtime, veering from the wistful soft-psychedelia of “Once Upon a Time” to the descending minor-key lament of “Tear” without much regard for mood or consistency of tone.
From that point on, songs begin aesthetically lapping themselves in strange ways. “Appels + Oranjes”, for example, drenches itself in drum machines and, strangely, sounds like it’d be more at home on MACHINA. “Pug” comes off like the strange kid brother of “Ava Adore”. “Behold! The Night Mare!”, meanwhile, uses atypical rhythmic sounds to prop up some very dull melodies. Some of these moments work very well by themselves, but in the context of the full-bore album, these disparate elements end up distracting the listener from the album’s core themes instead of enhancing them.
Ultimately, these songs all range from pretty good to mild curiosities, but a fortunate few rank up there with Corgan’s best work. “Annie-Dog” is a hushed, simple piano ballad that works quiet wonders with its simple-yet-catchy melody. The deep E-string hit that opens “Shame” immediately calls to mind The Red House Painters, which, in truth, isn’t a bad comparative counterpart for the kind of attitude Corgan was going for with this set. “For Martha”, with its eight-minute runtime, is obviously intended to be the emotional anchor that grounds the entire album, and even with its incredibly drawn-out outro and (as proved to be typical for a majority of this album) surprisingly unadventurous lyrics, it still shows that following the encompassing success of Mellon Collie, Corgan wasn’t afraid to take his grim circumstances and use them to try and challenge himself anew.
Thus, while the scattered fragments of Adore never come together in a greatly satisfying way, the album still remains a fascinating turn for a band that would rather change course than simply aim to make Siamese Dream: Mach II. Yet given the slightly weaker batch of songs to found on Adore as a whole, the relentless amount of bonus material on this deluxe edition winds up doing surprisingly little to enhance the Smashing Pumpkins’ legacy. In fact, despite the appearance of some lesser-known tracks and a few genuine rarities, it’s hard to recommend Adore‘s deluxe incarnation to anyone but the most devout of Corgan acolytes.
Although the first bonus disc, In a State of Passage, houses the highest amount of Sadland/CRC demos to songs both familiar (album track “The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete”) and rare (the somewhat upbeat outtake “Do You Close Your Eyes When You Kiss Me?”), hearing things like the 10th take of “Annie-Dog” or the meandering “2014 Remix” of the instrumental “The Ethers Tragic” don’t offer much in the way of historical revelations or notable catharsis. Same goes for a track that’s just the isolated guitar solo that closes out “For Martha”, the 2014 remix of “Eye” that adds very little to the original, and an alternate vocal take on “Behold! The Night Mare”.
Not much is learned from these installations, and while the isolated band and string tracks on “Tonight, Tonight” from the deluxe Mellon Collie set drastically altered one’s perception of the song due to the fact that each standalone portion managed to hold on the song’s magic even when isolated from its counterpart, the “No Strings” (read: mostly synth-free) version of “Perfect” only goes to show how remarkably dry that track sounded without any notable studio embellishments. It’s moments like this where Adore‘s bonus ephemera is actually hindering the album’s legacy, showing the cracks in the facade that no one even noticed beforehand.
Yet out of a full four discs of material, there is at least one extremely good disc worth of treasures to be found here, a majority of them coming in the form of the official “Outtakes”, i.e. completed songs that for whatever reason just didn’t make the album’s final cut. “Let Me Give the World to You”, for example, is an absolute stunner, a simple mid-tempo pop number that, while it would have stood out like a sore thumb anywhere on Adore‘s moody tracklisting, offers a good bit of pre-Zwan optimism and anchors its melody with a lovely violin line, an immediate winner. “Cross”, with its yawning guitar-wah effects, again plays with the lightest of psychedelic touches to great effect, almost making you wish Corgan had pursued this fleeting muse a bit more with the original lineup.
A solo-acoustic take on “Perfect” aches in a way that the “No Strings” version didn’t, while the sparse-but-pounding acoustic San Paulo Session version of “Tear” completely reinvents the overcluttered original in a very favorable light. Best of all, a live cover of “Money (That’s What I Want)” at Dodgers Stadium, complete with boogie-woogie piano, shows that even with Adore‘s unyielding atmosphere of self-seriousness, Corgan, every once in awhile, wasn’t afraid to show off the band’s sense of humor, a facet that went vastly underutilized in their career but still made for some off-beat and memorable moments.
While few things will ever pass the unintentional joy to be found in Puff Daddy’s painfully dated 1998 remix of “Ava Adore”, hearing rare takes like “To Sheila” with a banjo as the lead instrument (and some very nuanced group vocals) or the James Iha-penned instrumental “Summer” sitting next to underrated gems like “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning” from the Batman & Robin soundtrack — itself arguably the best thing to come out of that whole movie — shows that even with Adore‘s somewhat confused legacy, there was still a lot of interesting work being done during this difficult era for the band. It’s a shame that these great discoveries are buried in an endless sea of bland demos, alternate versions, forgettable instrumentals, and downright pointless Matt Walker 2014 remixes. Despite being heralded by a small subset of Pumpkins fans, Adore‘s legacy is one that’s still in a state of flux, a pale shadow of the rock masterpieces that came before but a daring and welcome move by the band nonetheless.
“We can’t help but feel / That something has been lost,” Corgan croons in “Perfect”. After hearing the bloated, mostly-wasted opportunity that is Adore‘s exorbitant deluxe edition, it’s hard to disagree with him.