SMASHING PUMPKINS – Adore
[Virgin Records // 1998]
Looking at Smashing Pumpkins’ discography in 2020, everything from their 2007 reunion album Zeitgeist onwards is patchy and awkward to navigate; but looking back at the proper Pumpkins of the ’90s, it was always Adore that stood out as the difficult album in their catalogue. For those who were following the Pumpkins at the time, brainchild Billy Corgan had set themselves a near impossible mountain to climb from the offset with Adore. Not only did they have the mammoth task of following up their critically acclaimed, two hour long, multi-genre spanning ’95 double album, Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness, but they also had to deal with firing drummer Jimmy Chamberlain as well as changing up the band’s sound.
In the years between the release of Mellon Collie and Adore, Billy Corgan was very vocal about electronic music becoming the future and taking rock music’s dominant crown. Perhaps a sentiment that was also brewing across the pond as Radiohead also began to look further outside of rock music’s guitar driven confines. But the build up to Adore‘s eventual release was also met with confusion, with the band themselves seemingly unable to coherently describe the album; “the people that say it’s acoustic will be wrong. The people that say it’s electronic will be wrong. The people that say it’s a Pumpkins record will be wrong. I will try to make something that is indescribable.” The promotional build up to Adore was botched further with ‘The End Is the Beginning Is the End’ and the cancelled Rick Rubin produced single ‘Let Me Give the World to You’ being taken off the final tracklist (the latter rightly so). In some interviews, Corgan even went as far to say the album was a “techno record”, yet described it as an acoustic record to other publications. The eventual release of Adore receiving mixed reviews from fans and critics and being quite misunderstood was merely a self-fulfilling prophecy. But looking back on it in hindsight, how does Adore hold up?
The first thing to address is what it actually sounds like… Is it a patchy mish-mash of sounds and ideas? Well no, Adore is surprisingly sonically consistent from start to finish, more so than the mammoth double album that preceded it. The biggest glaring omissions in sound on Adore are the shedding of the roaring guitars, manic screaming vocals and the shadow of Grunge and alternative metal that was ever present on their previous works is largely gone here. Pumpkins are still very much a rock band here, with all the tracks being composed and performed from the rock band point of view, only with a larger emphasis on acoustic guitars, piano, synthesizers and the occasional processed beats. Visually, the band members shifted gears, adopting a full on goth look, with Billy Corgan looking like a bad guy in one of The Matrix films. Yelena Yemchuk’s wonderful black and white photography that accompanies the physical release is a brilliant extension of the sound and vibe that this album captures. Adore is very much a nocturnal album and Smashing Pumpkins most sombre and mature lyrically, with Corgan directly paying tribute to the death of his mother on ‘For Martha’.
Adore isn’t a complete shock to the system for Pumpkins fans who enjoyed songs on Mellon Collie such as ’33’, ‘We Only Come Out At Night’ and ‘1979’, which act as precursors to the sound and style captured on Adore, with ‘Perfect’ being described by the band as a sequel to ‘1979’ (the music video even sees the band return to the Quick Stop convenience store). Adore starts off with the exceptional ‘To Sheila’, kicking off with a romantic ballad of sorts. The song acts as a brilliant overture that sets the tone for what is to come. ‘Ava Adore’ is the closest we get to the Pumpkins of old, hanging on a strong stop/start distorted guitar riff. Deeper cuts such as the bold and dramatic ‘Tear’ and the brilliant closing 1-2-3 punch of ‘Behold! The Night Mare’, ‘For Martha’ and ‘Blank Page’ is an incredibly satisfying conclusion, bursting with emotion and arguably even more melancholy than Mellon Collie.
Looking back at Adore, it’s downfalls lie not in its presentation and style shift, but merely in it’s 70 minute run time. It’s lack of variety in the wake of Mellon Collie shouldn’t be confused with a lack of ideas, because as a self-contained experience, Adore is remarkably bold and sure of itself, with some of the highlights being up there with the very best work the Pumpkins have ever made. However, listening in one sitting does reveal a middle section that drags on and could have been tightened up to a more solid 50 minute experience. Luckily it starts and finishes in a remarkably strong manor. If you are all about the wailing guitars and manic anger that defines songs such as ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’ and ‘Geek USA’, then Adore may understandably fall short of your expectations as a listener. But in the larger pantheon of the Pumpkins discography, it can easily stand as their most enigmatic album and their third best record, boasting more depth and songwriting confidence than debut album Gish. Smashing Pumpkins didn’t quite manage to influence rock music’s fusion with electronica in the same way that Radiohead’s Kid A would do two years later, but their vision for Adore should be praised. On a somewhat bittersweet note, quickly after the release of the album, Smashing Pumpkins couldn’t even see through with their own vision, and turned live renditions of these songs into guitar dominated rocked up versions a-la Mellon Collie and Siamese Dream. And although some of these performances are actually pretty awesome, it shows a lack of confidence in their own craft. Their follow up album Machina (with drummer Jimmy Chamberlain back on board) would cement this by retreading the angsty guitar-dominant sound that they were previously known for, resulting in a less original take on their former sound. Though Adore will undoubtedly have its naysayers, it should certainly not be overlooked as it is a truly great Smashing Pumpkins record.