The Smashing Pumpkins – Reflecting on the 25th Anniversary of “Adore” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The Smashing Pumpkins – Reflecting on the 25th Anniversary of “Adore”

The Album First Came Out on June 2, 1998

Jun 20, 2023 By Austin Saalman
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In the hazy aftermath of 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness—The Smashing Pumpkins’ bestselling, era-defining magnum opus once dubbed “The Wall for Gen X”—public expectations for the group either to replicate or surpass its now-fabled maximalist masterpiece were high. For the Pumpkins, such expectations would prove challenging to meet, as Mellon Collie had been a tremendous commercial and critical success for the influential Chicago-based alt rock idols. Reaching #1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 albums chart, scoring four Top 40 singles, earning seven Grammy nominations—winning one—and remaining among the decade’s most popular releases, Mellon Collie represented the epic, culturally significant artistic statement the group had long sought. Though two years prior, the Pumpkins’ sophomore effort and mainstream breakthrough Siamese Dream had demonstrated their daringness and exceptional ability as a band, placing them deservedly alongside such contemporaries as Nirvana, the highly ambitious Mellon Collie elevated the group to a global status and set a new benchmark for rock in the 1990s.

By the following year, however, relations within the band had grown increasingly fractured as infighting and tragedy plagued its members, dampening the euphoric high brought by their recent successes. That summer, virtuoso Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin both overdosed on heroin while on the road, with only Chamberlin surviving. As a result, and despite his significant contributions to the Pumpkins’ output, Chamberlin was subsequently ousted from the group, rendering The Smashing Pumpkins a trio consisting of frontman Billy Corgan, bassist D’arcy Wretzky, and guitarist James Iha. Shortly thereafter, Corgan went through a divorce and experienced the death of his mother, Martha, from cancer. Inevitably, the string of misfortunes that befell Corgan and company cast a shadow across the group, tremendously influencing the Smashing Pumpkins’ fresh sonic direction as they entered the studio in mid-’97, only to emerge with their somber, ghostly, and still criminally underrated fourth studio album—an aching ode to romantic failure and familial mourning, as only Billy Corgan could express it.

Named among the most anticipated releases of 1998, Adore ultimately confounded many longtime Pumpkins listeners. Essentially an experimental goth-pop outing, minimalist and muted in comparison to the group’s typically bombastic style, the album showcased drastically evolving musical ambitions and, despite certain skepticism, managed to garner largely positive critical reception. At the time, Corgan described Adore’s sound as being at once “ancient” and “futuristic,” a sonic achievement accomplished with the pluck and twang of rustic, nearly folky, strings against a sleek, ultramodern wall of rich electronica-infused synth-pop. In a sense, Adore is to the Pumpkins what 1967’s Smiley Smile is to The Beach Boys—a perceivably “left-field” follow-up to a colossal, culturally significant musical masterwork, initially viewed by fans as underwhelming in comparison, only to appreciate in “cult” value over time. Both follow-ups are far darker than their predecessors, exploring loss and trauma in ways previously unrequired, and though still somewhat embodying their predecessors’ respective essences, both albums’ exact genres seem to be indeterminable. In Adore’s case, is it an acoustic effort or an exercise in electronica? Dream pop? Gothic rock? Avant-pop? A clever synthesis of each? Nocturnal, claustrophobic, jilted, and dejected, Adore’s murky sonic ambiguity, seemingly tailored to mourners, depressives, and insomniacs, lends it much of its appeal, allowing it to function as a distinct and worthwhile Pumpkins offering.

The hushed “To Sheila” opens the album with its readymade dreamscapes, as Corgan, accompanied by a weaving acoustic guitar, light drumbeat—provided by session musician Matt Walker in Chamberlin’s absence—and delicate piano melody, declares, “You make me real.” This modest yet nonetheless captivating opener serves to display Corgan’s maturity as a lyricist, with such lines as “Lately, I just can’t seem to believe/Discard my friends to change the scenery/It meant the world to hold a bruising faith/But now, it’s just a matter of grace” finding him readily abandoning the angsty and fragmented lyrics of Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie for lines resembling more serious poetry. A beautiful, remarkably forthcoming twilit ballad and among Adore’s key tracks, “To Sheila” captures Corgan in a state of affecting vulnerability. The lead single “Ava Adore,” which immediately follows, showcases Corgan’s growing electronica fixations, seeing him immerse himself in the classic gothic influences of his youth. Upon its release, the track’s stylish music video served to unveil the “new” Pumpkins, repositioning the trio as a pack of spectral, high-fashion goth rockers, with the Nosferatu-esque Corgan wailing, “Lovely girl, you’re the murder in my life/Dressing coffins for the souls I’ve left behind/In time.” “Ava Adore” introduces a much different group, whose previously wayward anguish has since blossomed into a myriad of sinister neuroses.

Sublime electropop anthem “Perfect,” something of a sequel to the Pumpkins’ 1995-released hit “1979,” finds Corgan reflecting on love lost as he promises a former flame, “Angel, you know it’s not the end/We’ll always be good friends/The letters have been sent on.” The track’s music video depicts the reckless adolescents of “1979” as disillusioned twentysomethings now mired in the mundanity of adulthood, attempting to cope with the responsibilities of day-to-day life. Where once its protagonists proclaimed, “And we don’t know/Just where our bones will rest/To dust I guess,” they now assure one another, “You’ll see, I promise we’ll be/Perfect strangers when we meet/Strangers on the street/Lovers while we sleep.” The track ranks among the album’s finest cuts, flawlessly embodying the transitional nature of Adore, seeing Corgan and the Pumpkins gradually evolve toward the new millennium. The crisp synths of the ambient gothic daydream “Daphne Descends” draw the listener from “Perfect’s” contemplative fantasy and “across the darkness in your room.” A delirious ode to romantic disappointment, “Daphne Descends” too stands as one of Adore’s most impressive tracks yet remains vastly underrated even among many fans. Corgan’s emotive lines are eloquently delivered here, dispelling previous criticisms of his earlier lyrics, the singer finding himself engulfed within a heavily textured confessional elegy, a shadowland melodrama among the “winding vines,” beneath the “pinhole stars,” and within the “shadow mind.”

One of several tracks on which Corgan addresses the loss of his mother, “Once Upon a Time” provides a certain “archaic” quality to its forlorn festivities, conveying a disorienting heartache as Corgan confesses, “Mother, I hope you know/That I miss you so/Time has ravaged on my soul/To wipe a mother’s tears grown cold.” In the liner notes of Adore’s 2014-released reissue, Corgan describes “Once Upon a Time” as “a message I suppose of things I would have liked to have said but didn’t have the courage for.” Even in its subtlety, the track is an important cornerstone of the record and reveals to the listener an unusually unguarded Corgan, who has traded his signature poetic ambiguities and theatrical symbolism for a more confessionally conversational approach. Elsewhere, the sweeping goth-pop number “Tear” and brooding nocturne “Crestfallen” maintain the album’s bleak tone, both smoothly polished and darkly enchanting. In contrast, the danceable “Appels + Oranjes” and gritty “Pug” pull the album in a more elaborate, electronic direction, while the phantasmagoric murder ballad “The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete” finds the group exploring fresh territory as Corgan spins a yarn of violence and poetic, otherworldly justice. Especially remarkable, “Dusty” stands as one of the Pumpkins’ greatest tracks, its mysterious flow rich with golden lines of top-notch rock poetry, such as, “Alone, he roams inside the ordinary catacombs of her waiting” and “Let the waste cross the ancient trails to you/Far out beneath the sorrow clouds.” Regarding the track’s artistic merit, Corgan seems to agree, as he once insisted that it be played “over the sound of [his] funeral pyre.”

The shadowy “Shame” sees the group returning to its grungy roots, with Corgan slurring out-of-tune, “Love is good and love is kind/Love is drunk and love is blind.” Another underrated classic Pumpkins gem, “Shame” stands among the band’s most intimate recordings, its wispy air of gothic melancholia a product of the group’s fragile vulnerability in that era, with Corgan later reflecting, “We try to be the super-fuzz rockstars, but that’s not who we really are. This song is who we really are.” On a tragic record of tragic songs, the dreamy neo-psychedelic ballad “Behold! The Night Mare” is among its most devastating, with an exhausted Corgan sighing, “I faced the fathoms in your deep/Withstood the suitors’ quiet siege/Pulled down the heavens just to please you.” An exemplary embodiment of Corgan’s “ancient” and “futuristic” concept—with 2:10-2:50 being, perhaps, the album’s most archaically folky sequence before the screeching feedback of modernity draws the listener back into the darkness—“Behold! The Night Mare” serves as a sweeping survey of Adore’s aesthetic intent, with the group fully resigning itself to the dark wonderland that emerged from the depths of its gradual implosion. A penetrating lullaby of swirling doom, the track serves as Corgan’s own resignation as he insists, “I can’t go on/Digging roses from your grave.”

One senses that the soul-bearing, piano-driven epic “For Martha” may be the very song Corgan had aspired to compose up to that point. Like much of the album, this heart-wrenching tribute to his late mother finds the singer offering up weary confessions and contemplations, such lines as “Your picture out of time/Left aching in my mind/Shadows kept alive” bearing far more emotional weight that the brunt of his previous lyrical output. It is important for Corgan to allow the listener to glimpse himself in such a light—or perhaps shadow—as these moments help to humanize the notoriously difficult and combative alt rock wunderkind, whose roster of public controversies remains as prolific as his immense creative output. For an enthralling eight minutes and 14 seconds, Billy Corgan is neither the mercurial titan of Gen X popular culture nor the notorious rock and roll antagonist, but a man—a son—whose soul has been laid bare as he laments the traumatic loss of a loved one. “If you have to go, don’t you cry,” he pleads. “If you have to go, I will get by/Someday, I’ll follow you and see you on the other side.” After the track erupts into a fiercely fuzzed-out guitar solo, all fades into a wash of stinging feedback, as though Corgan’s demons—some acquired over the past couple of years, others lifelong—are being exercised before the listener’s very ears. Subsequently, the divorce dirge “Blank Page” concludes Adore—this is excluding the album’s actual concluding track, the skippable, 20-second instrumental “17”—on a grim note, with a “half-dead” Corgan driving the state line and stalking the local five and dime. This eerie piano ballad captures the foreboding sense of utter hopelessness and alienation in the face of a painful romantic separation. “You haven’t changed, you’re still the same,” accuses Corgan. “May you rise as you fall.” The track is overwhelmingly atmospheric, its chilling poetry waterlogged with perpetual rainfall as Corgan concludes, “You are a ghost, of my indecision/No more, little girl.”

Referred to by popular culture publication The Ringer as “the worst Smashing Pumpkins album that still matters,” Adore proves divisive 25 years on. Indeed, the album’s sound marks a swift departure from those of Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie, whose blustering, guitar-centric, arena-sized grandiosities had endeared the Pumpkins to the public as the likely bearers of that coveted post-Nirvana generational rock torch, setting high expectations for the group to remain relevant to the era’s cultural soundtrack. However, Adore is by no means a “bad” album—it happens to be among the Pumpkins’ best—and boasts certain strengths that none of its predecessors were able to muster, namely its sense of timelessness, achieved through the group’s willingness to break with the decade’s prevalent post-grunge and alt rock herds to explore a more eclectic, pop-influenced style. As a result, little of Adore feels as dated as other Pumpkins records of the era and bears a striking resemblance to much of the current decade’s definitive hyperpop movement. Its obvious influences on the third-wave emo and gothic revival scenes of the ’00s and ’10s are also worth noting. Recorded in the twilight of the original Smashing Pumpkins, who would officially disband in 2000, Adore remains an intriguing pop-cultural artifact and satisfying musical offering worth celebrating as a serious artistic statement from one of rock’s most significant and capable bands.

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