When I finally managed to guilt-trip my parents into buying me an entry-level Fender Stratocaster in middle school, the first song fragments I got under my still-clumsy fingers were the twangy James Bond theme, the opening riff from Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love,” and the shimmering guitar part from Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today.” It was 1994 afterall, and even a year after its release, that song — from Smashing Pumpkins’ still-new-to-me instant classic Siamese Dream — was all over the Lawrence, Kan. college rock station I was obsessed with at 11 and 12.
I couldn’t wait to learn it.
Like a lot of kids, my parents spooned me a steady well-balanced diet of classic rock: The Beatles, the Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, and all the usual suspects. But ’90s alt-rock, Britpop, and grunge were the first music I truly embraced as my own. And Smashing Pumpkins, in particular, with its sneering club-filling guitars, thick mess of blissful distortion, and Billy Corgan’s bleak, pent-up emotions all spoke to my sullen adolescent angst.
Like Nirvana’s teeth-gnashing anger, Corgan could brood and mope and rage on “Cherub Rock” or “Geek U.S.A.” And yet, in songs like “Disarm” or “Luna,” the Pumpkins could also find beauty and melodic depth that make those swirling conflicted feelings seem romantic and majestic.
A majority of Siamese Dream‘s songs reflect on depression, isolation, disillusionment and violent impulses, which could all come off as a touch maudlin and melodramatic to younger ears now. Still, even 20 years later, the songs’ themes remain universal, and the record’s complex swell of sounds — aided by Butch Vig’s ornate production and Corgan’s endlessly overdubbed guitars — are as timeless and influential as ever.