The Smashing Pumpkins have had a checkered past swirling with drug addiction, depression, lineup changes, and death. Yet the band has soldiered on -- remarkably, the band is set to release its seventh album, Oceania, on June 19. Billy Corgan is the only remaining member in a band that oscillated between shoegaze, grunge, alternative, electronica, heavy metal, and everything in between, now supposedly flirting with psychedelia.
Yet through all of the weirdness and animosity, Smashing Pumpkins are one of the greatest bands of the '90s, the band that charmed us with "1979," when Corgan still had hair and pushed the boundaries of rock radio with electronica-tinged goth pop and industrial machinery.
There were problems from the start. Jimmy Chamberlain replaced a drum machine so the band could play its first show at The Metro in Chicago. The tensions within the band rose during the recording of Siamese Dream, when James Iha and D'Arcy Wretzky broke up their relationship, Chamberlain developed a heroin addiction, and Corgan battled with depression. His suicidal thoughts inspired a seminal Smashing Pumpkins song:
Look out for great comments like: "i always thought when i was young everyone acted like a retard in this video. now 18 years later i know that everyone is on sooooo much drugs." YouTube, you're so smart!
But there's no arguing that the band was wacked out. The following album was supposed to be The Wall for Generation X, a hefty aspiration, for sure. But Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was indeed the band's greatest work. It may not be as trippy as Pink Floyd's material, but the album does contain hits like "1979," "Tonight, Tonight," "Zero," and "Bullet With Butterfly Wings."
This is also when Smashing Pumpkins began to get noticed for its music videos. The best example is probably "Tonight, Tonight", which includes a zeppelin, an octopus, and peppers in a few references to Georges Méliès' classic short, A Trip to the Moon.
The production ran into some difficulties because James Cameron had rented out most period costumes to film Titanic.
During the Mellon Collie tour, Chamberlain and keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin both overdosed on heroin. Melvoin died and Chamberlain was kicked out of the band, once again being replaced by a drum machine.
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Mellon Collie was the last of the "classic" Pumpkins sound. Iha claimed electronic music was the future and Corgan was once again depressed thanks to a divorce and his mother's death. Things got pretty weird and heavy -- Corgan started dressing like Uncle Fester and songs like "Ava Adore" sounded like they were guest-produced by Trent Reznor.
D'Arcy left the band and the two Machina albums came next. The first produced some solid songs- "Stand Inside Your Love" and "The Everlasting Gaze," but did not do well with the fans. The Pumpkins called it quits and Zwan happened for a few years.
Corgan took out a couple of full-page ads in Chicago newspapers saying he wanted to get Smashing Pumpkins back together. Chamberlain (also in Zwan) was the only original member to return. The (half-)reunited Pumpkins went on a world tour and released Zeitgeist, which polarized fans.
I saw The Smashing Pumpkins for the first time on this tour. Though D'Arcy and James were absent, it was fun to dance in the Tucson rain to "Tonight, Tonight" and "Stand Inside Your Love."
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Corgan's life has continued to be interesting. He lived with ex-girlfriend Courtney Love for a bit in 2006, until she got pissed that he didn't attend Frances Bean Cobain's sweet 16, so the pair resolved their issues like any responsible adult dealing with a teenager's birthday would react -- an extensive Twitter argument. By the way, Corgan's username is just @billy -- he's old school. Oh, and he also has a Livejournal that includes a picture of him and a cat.
Oceania once again finds The Smashing Pumpkins going in a new direction. Whether or not it's good remains to be seen in a few weeks. Until then, here's the band's fantastic cover of "Landslide."