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Essential Records: The Smashing Pumpkins' 'Adore'

Posted by Billy Gil, September 26, 2014 11:33am | Post a Comment

 

We’re starting a new series where we talk about records that personally made a difference in our lives. Today we’ll talk about Smashing Pumpkins' cult favorite fourth album, Adore, which was just re-released on a seven-disc Deluxe Edition CD set and will be re-released on vinyl Oct. 7 (pre-order here).

 

When Smashing Pumpkins released their fourth album, Adore, I was about to turn 16. It was the summer of 1998 and I was all set to start band camp, complete with bleach-blonde hair and an injured toe. 

 

I was obsessed with the Smashing Pumpkins at that point. It may be hard to recall now, but the band occupied a unique space on the radio in those days. There weren’t any other bands on their scale releasing the kind of detailed and emotional but far-reaching rock ‘n’ roll that they were, so waking up to the roughed up chords and digital beat of “Ava Adore” on your radio alarm meant something. (The only other popular album you could compare it to at the time was Radiohead's OK Computerwhich was released a year prior.) 

 

Adore was the first album following 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the massive double-album that saw the Pumpkins reach their apex of fame (being nominated for the Album of the Year GRAMMY, sweeping the then-relevant MTV Video Music Awards and going more than 10 times platinum). That album had been a turning point for me and many others. I was used to buying tapes or CDs and playing the singles ad nauseum, pulling them out for mixtapes and only really listening to a few all the way through. But Mellon Collie, with its gorgeously decorated booklet, five massive singles, videos and endless B-sides, provided a treasure trove that would lead to musical obsession over the next three years and start young turning devotees into full-blown music geeks.

 

But Mellon Collie was also a huge rock album, despite its tender moments. Adore, on the other hand, was almost aggressively gentle by comparison. I remember at the time KROQ playing up to four songs before the album’s release: “Ava Adore,” “Perfect,” “To Sheila” (perhaps the simple pinnacle of Billy Corgan’s songwriting), and the teen-movie-ready “Daphne Descends.” But radio and MTV also seemed confounded by Adore, as did many fans. Outside of Corgan’s vampiric voice tearing through “Ava Adore” and the new-romantic capitalization on “1979’s” popularity with “Perfect,” there wasn’t much in the way of alt-rock to feast on, at a time when radio and MTV were heading steadfastly into the lucrative butt/armpit of nu-metal that would close out the ’90s on a thunderous drop-D fart.

 

I immediately took to AdoreMellon Collie’s second half of its second disc had already been occupying my stereo with increasing frequency, and Adore went full-force into the sepia-toned hues the Pumpkins’ lighter work explored. It captured a certain feeling of isolation and teenage loneliness better than Mellon Collie's more direct lyrics on the matter did. Something about that washy digital breakdown in "Tear," or the gorgeously hollow "Blank Page" felt like the aural equivalent of what I was feeling at the time. Listening back immediately transports me to specific moments of spacing out on family trips to the desert, or staying up late to finish Bless Me, Ultima for English class, or sitting in front of the TV for hours playing Final Fantasy Tactics on PlayStation 1 and switching between Adore and Madonna's Ray of Light. Even though Adore was ostensibly their mature album, for me it feels distinctly teenage, a little indecisive and in-between.

 

You might expect the album to have aged poorly, but aside from a few cruddy effects here and there, it hasn't. Side Two (of what is really a double album) especially sounds even better now, from "Appels + Oranjes'" sweeping atmospherics and "Pug's" post-industrial tones through sweet, disjointed epic "For Martha." And the songs lodged in between feel particularly special—Corgan, D'Arcy and James Iha going back to basics with a drum machine on the woozy "Shame" is easily an album highlight, and a bittersweet moment of the band trying to reclaim their chemistry following the death of keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin and the firing of drummer Jimmy Chamberlain. The fact that they never really did is beside the point.

 

It was easy to fall in love with Adore, but a lot harder for me to find music that had the same sentiment. The Pumpkins already were a gateway band for me--their covers on The Aeroplane Flies High's Bullet With Butterfly Wings EP already had me seeking out the catalogs of Blondie, The Cars and, especially, The Cure, but I wanted more music that would create the same feeling. I found The Cure's Seventeen Seconds easily, as Corgan heavily referenced the album on Adore, but reading through issues of Rolling Stone helped me find similar-sounding music like Belle & Sebastian, Trembling Blue Stars and Death Cab for Cutie, and I probably wouldn't have immediately bought the two Smiths Best Ofs I'd come to cherish without Adore. Part of that is just coming of age, perhaps, but Adore was definitely a catalyst.

 

If you haven't heard the B-sides from the deluxe edition of Adore yet, I highly suggest you do. They offer more in the way of Corgan's mellowed-out songwriting, like the offhandedly catchy "Chewing Gum" or wearily beautiful "Once in a While." The biggest shocker here is the Rick Rubin-produced version of "Let Me Give the World to You," a song they released in a different form on the Cocteau Twins-textured Machina II. Corgan himself at the time couldn't resist talking up a song that D'arcy thought he was a "fucking idiot" for leaving off the album. Here was the real follow-up to "1979" and "Today," a tasteful (by Corgan's standards) romantic power ballad that could've easily been another signature song in Corgan's career. Would it have changed Adore's fate as an underperforming cult album? Would it have taken some of the sting out of the reactionary overcompensating on the overblown Machina? And changed the fate of the Corgan's shaky post-2000 output? Who the hell knows. "What if what if what if," to quote another B-side here. I'm sure it would've made a difference. But Adore is great as is and nostalgic to listen to by design. As "Let Me Give the World to You" goes, "I wouldn't change a thing about the way you are."

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Smashing Pumpkins (17), Adore (3), Essential Records (35), Vinyl (200), Billy Corgan (0)