The Smashing Pumpkins are Back, A Band that Never Went Away

Let us dispel with this fiction that the infamous 1990’s survivors The Smashing Pumpkins are reuniting, because this band never actually disappeared in the first place.  Chris Cornell once falsely claimed “I’ve been away for too long”, in Soundgarden’s comeback single “Been Away for Too Long”, and another person who fits this sort of fake news descriptor is Mr. William Patrick Billy “Bi Corg” Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins.  Like Cornell, he’s never actually gone away and has been out there releasing music whether we like it or not, under whatever moniker he sees fit.  Most recently, it was when he adamantly insisted he be called William Patrick Corgan instead of Billy Corgan, and that will be reflected from referring to him in this article from here on out as “Bi Corg”, since it fits his “Man baby at Disney Land” meme status in 2018.  But despite all my rage, let it be known that I actually do enjoy Smashing Pumpkins’ timeless classics of their heyday.  Especially Siamese Dream, it really is one of the perfect albums out there and an always flooring experience to listen to in full, they really nailed it in flawlessly on that one.

So herein lies the question, when did the Smashing Pumpkins cease to exist?  Well, to answer that, you have to keep in mind that the Smashing Pumpkins unfortunately and solely relies on Bi Corg, the brand and the band lives and dies by the Bi Corg, and that means while he’s still alive, Smashing Pumpkins exists.  That’s the sad but true truth, and it’s why we need to embrace that both Jimmy Chamberlin and James Iha are back on the roster while they still are, because with someone like Bi Corg at the helm, we all know it’ll inevitably fall apart again or flop like a fish tied to a brick in a wind tunnel.  The man has a horrible track record in the entirety of the 2000’s on the record, and regularly relegates some of his best new material under the Smashing Pumpkins and other names to unreleased projects and live performances only.  Gone are the days where he can release a box set of B-sides like The Aeroplane Flies High (the last true great Smashing Pumpkins release in my opinion), so he’ll toss off a song better than anything on the last album live a few times and never play it again.

Let’s ask another fun question: When exactly did The Smashing Pumpkins commit career suicide?  And when exactly did they fall flat into oblivion after releasing a very consistently strong discography including their b-sides and throwaways?  Well, that was 1996.  1996 was a game changer for all the worse for this band if you ask me.  The very obvious one here is the first lineup change when Jimmy decided to do a bunch of heroin with Jonathan Melvoin in a hotel in New York.  Jonathan died and Jimmy was kicked to the curb (and jail and rehab) just as Bi Corg went with Iha and Darcy in tow on to collect every Grammy Award and MTV Music Video Award they were nominated for, for the poppy hit singles “1979” and “Tonight, Tonight”.  I think “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” might have won a metal Grammy or MTV Award too, whatever, I don’t care about these but they won a fuck-ton of them right after the Jimmy shit went down.  It left the band in a weird place when they had guys like Kenny Aronoff or Matt Walker in there to fill in, and they put out some heavily electronic, straight out of 1997 shit with “Eye” and that Batman song.  Adore was a weird time for this band, I really don’t like that album though I’ll admit there’s some decent songs on there like “Behold the Nightmare!”, “Blank Page” and “For Martha” is a really long and depressing one about Bi Corg’s mom dying with Matt Cameron on the drums.  Some of the worst parts of Adore are actually the singles “Ava Adore” and “Perfect”, the latter is a cheap rehashed version of “1979” and the former is a misleading industrial mall-goth 90’s electrified junk heap with weirdly obsessive lyrics.  Overall, this sums up the album pretty well, minus “Ava Adore” being supposedly awesome. Adore commercially flopped when it only sold one million copies in the US compared to the RIAA diamond certified Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and I unfortunately reflect what popular demand says about this album.  Bi Corg, with whatever little bit James and Darcy contributed to this album, along with whatever drummers he feels like inviting, was not a winning combination.

In 1999 the Smashing Pumpkins played their first reunion tour and last tour of the original lineup at the same exact time.  This was a very short tour called Smashing Pumpkins Arising, and it featured the last time ever that Darcy, James, Jimmy and Bi Corg would be in a band together ever. That was probably an awesome tour to see, especially because their opening act was a young hungry band out of the Palm Desert called Queens of the Stone Age.  There aren’t many recordings of this tour out there, but what’s available is pretty damn awesome. They even performed songs that would end up being rejected from the MACHINA: The Machines of God album and ended up on the b-sides compilation turned forgotten, obscurely released but supposedly official final album ever MACHINA 2: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music on this tour.  More on that album shortly, because that’s an especially ridiculous installment of the hilarious latter-career Smashing Pumpkins discography.

So after that, Darcy left to do whatever Darcy does these days.  I’ll cut out the drama that’s erupted in the final moments leading up to this reunion tour announcement, but she’s finally decided after 20 years to throw her two cents into the public discourse and it’s as predictably bitter, ugly and confusing as you could imagine.  Darcy has lived out of the public for nearly two decades since this tour, she was replaced by the bass player of Hole, Melissa Auf Der Maur.  Now I really have to take a weird stance here and say that I don’t exactly enjoy the bass tone she used while touring with the Smashing Pumpkins.  Her bass tone is very thick, chunky, rhythmic and metal.  Things I typically fucking love in a bass guitar tone and playing style.  But that just doesn’t work with Smashing Pumpkins’ material all the time, and even worse with their early material that I enjoy the most.  She came in at the turn of the millennium and her bass playing sounds like turn of the millennium nu-metal bass work if I have to describe it.  Speaking of the turn of the millennium, it was time for the supposed last Smashing Pumpkins album, MACHINA: The Machines of God.  What an awful album.  “Stand Inside Your Love” is great, but the rest really sucks and while “The Everlasting Gaze” tries to bring that groove metal sound, the song falls flat on it’s fucking face when Bi Corg unleashes the worst and most nasal acapella vocal section ever.  MACHINA ended up being even worse than Adore.

The Smashing Pumpkins supposedly disbanded after this concert at the Chicago Metro in December 2000, but you could have fooled me.  Just before this, the band released what has been called one of the first online free album giveaways ever with MACHINA 2: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music.  The release of this was ultimately a huge troll if you had to ask me now, it was given away online for free alright.  As a vinyl record, that consisted of 4 different vinyl records of different sizes compiling a 90+ minute album, with several remixes of MACHINA 1 songs, that was instructed to be given away online.  A vinyl record box set, to give away online, in the year 2000 before the vinyl comeback led to people caring about the stupid technology to turn a vinyl record into an MP3, that also only had 25 copies ever made.  What the fuck.  And the album isn’t even good enough to be worth that sort of inconvenience in the first place.  MACHINA 2 isn’t even worth pursuing these days for free, since the “official” versions consist of 4 heavily pirated conversions with differing sound quality that all really suck, and the Smashing Pumpkins box set reissue series (which was actually an amazing series of re-releases, credit is due) stalled out after the 6 disc remastered Adore box set that actually exists. But by far the weirdest thing to come out of the MACHINA series after the Smashing Pumpkins broke up was this bizarre 15 minute short film based around the absolutely horrible song “Try Try Try” (sample lyric, “Pop Tart what’s our mission?”) directed by black metal and edgy music video director Jonas Akerlund.

It wasn’t so much that weird moment that Smashing Pumpkins disappeared so much as they morphed into Zwan.  The less you know about Zwan, the better.  They were a band that featured both a “triple guitar attack” like Bi Corg says about 2018 Smashing Pumpkins with Jeff and James, and also the Bi Corg/Jimmy unit that ended up being the first Smashing Pumpkins reunion tour.  So Zwan was also The Smashing Pumpkins with David Pajo of Slint and Matt Sweeny of Chavez on guitar with Paz Lenchantin on bass.  She was from A Perfect Circle, who James Iha has been a member of since 2003, and also have both a bald egotist singer and a penchant to not be exactly sure when they are and aren’t a band.  They’re also coming back with a new album in 2018, way to go James Iha. Zwan released a horrible album and broke up shortly afterward in 2003, with many fans saying their best material existed only in the live setting before that album came out.  This is also a defining feature of new millennium Smashing Pumpkins.  Bi Corg tried to release a solo album in 2005 but the day it came out, he also placed a massive ad in the Chicago newspaper saying Smashing Pumpkins were reuniting.  2 years later, Smashing Pumpkins announced their return with the album Zeitgeist, but they also never mentioned just who would be performing in this reunion lineup.  This was revealed when they played a show in France: Asian correspondent Jeff Schroeder on guitar (who?), Ginger Pooley on bass (who?), and a keyboardist Lisa Harrison (who?).  Now, if that didn’t already spell underwhelming and lackluster out for you, just wait until you listen to Zeitgeist (actually, do yourself a favor and don’t listen to it ever).

Before Zeitgeist was released on the date 7/7/2007, there were two fairly decent and promising singles released, “Tarantula” and “Doomsday Clock”.  Both of these songs went for a fuzzy, guitar heavy attack not unlike “The Everlasting Gaze”, but in typical tradition at this point, those two singles would be the only things worth listening to on the entire album.  I was a sucker who paid money with my meager teenage dishwasher job for a copy of Zeitgeist on day one and I really wish I would have just pirated the damn thing, like I did with 98% of what I was listening to at the time.  Zeitgeist had by far the worst vocal delivery choices and lyrics from Bi Corg ever, up to that point, drowning song choruses in 10+ layers of Billy going “na-na-na” and “oh oh” and “yeah” and shit, and the choruses themselves often consisted of repeating song titles or cringe inducing chants like “We are starz!” or “That’s the way my love is!”.  It’s a horrible album, by far worse than Adore and MACHINA.  Don’t listen to it.  In 2008, Smashing Pumpkins embarked on the most ill advised 20th anniversary tour of all time, wherein the setlists consisted of unreleased songs, Zeitgeist throwaways, songs from the upcoming ill-fated Teargarden By Kaleidoscope (the worst Bi Corg album title ever), oddly tweaked renditions of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and “1979”, and an encore of the timeless Smashing Pumpkins classic song from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness… “We Only Come Out At Night”.  Seriously. That’s the song they closed most dates with, possibly the worst song on Mellon Collie, and a song no one ever wanted to hear voluntarily. For all the tours I kick myself for missing that came through Cleveland in my high school years, I certainly applaud myself for not buying a ticket to this crap fest. (I lash myself with a cat-o-ninetails daily for missing Type O Negative’s final US tour and Stone Temple Pilots’ reunion tour though, R.I.P.)

In 2009, Jimmy Chamberlin left Smashing Pumpkins again.  The end.  Well I fucking wish, because then Bi Corg began working with whatever bass player happened to be willing to subject themselves to failure that week and a 19 year old drummer named Mike Byrne and started releasing what is probably still the most unequivocally awful stretch of material to bear the Smashing Pumpkins name, the Teargarden By Kaleidoscope series, which will here on out be referred to as “that free crap”.  He said he’d release a new song for free every month, which lasted about 4 months before time began increasing between each increment of release of “that free crap”, and all of it was very much panned by anyone with the slightest hint of taste in music.  It was dire, dire times.  Eventually, things lead to yet another album release in 2012.  Oceania was released, and it was yet another non-event of boring, soulless, unpalatable songs (I’ll admit I kind of like that “Pale Horse” song but that is the only one on here with any staying power).  The best thing to come out of this era is this awkward video where Bi Corg’s hired lackeys talk about the album, while he confusingly pops pill after pill after pill of unspecified drugs down his fat bald throat. It’s hilarious.

If there was ever an album in the Smashing Pumpkins discography worth only devoting one short paragraph to, it’s 2014’s Monuments to An Elegy.  With Mike Byrne fired, Bi Corg decided that the man to pound the drums here was a man more famous for his large, hepatitis infected penis and his domestic violence issues.  Tommy Lee was actually a member of Smashing Pumpkins for this album’s release, and once again you had a single that barely sufficed as listenable in “One and All (We Are)”, a slice of post-grunge straight out of 1998.  The rest of the album consists of a half hour of synth-driven drivel, featuring the most inane and meaningless lyrics to come flying out of Bi Corg’s bald, pill stuffed mouth yet.  This album was the commercial flop of a lifetime Bi Corg was always deserving of (Oceania peaked at #4 and sold 59,000 copies in it’s first week in the US, Monuments peaked at #33 on the same chart and only sold 20,000 copies making it their worst selling album ever), so what else was there to do but make amends with Jimmy Chamberlin shortly after its release.  2015 saw The End Times Tour happen, wherein Smashing Pumpkins co-headlined with possibly the only person who could make 2010’s Smashing Pumpkins sound like gods on stage in comparison, Marilyn Manson.  My beef with Marilyn Manson’s live show is beyond well documented on this site, so I’ll just make the obvious observation that Bi Corg, Jimmy and whoever the hell else was in the band blew Manson off the stage every night.  With BC/JC back in full effect, when they announced the 2016 In Plainsong tour featuring stripped down and acoustic based performances, it seemed a bit of a 180 from The End Times Tour.  What nobody saw coming was that this tour featured the long awaited return of James Iha as a guest at shows in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

There was one more hilarious release that has to go with mentioning, and it’s not the other shelved Smashing Pumpkins album Day For Night, which was supposed to be a companion album to Monuments to an Elegy, because someone out there was asking for that… No, this is the release Siddhartha.  This was an 8 hour long, 5 disc box set Bi Corg recorded live in his tea shop in the suburbs of Chicago one day, him fucking around with old school wired noise instruments and synthesizers.  The actual performance predated that last album to bear the Smashing Pumpkins name, but this came afterward, and to imagine someone would want to listen to this in full is an impossible feat.  Here’s a live recap from Vice of Bi Corg shredding it up on antique analog electronic music machines live from Zuzu’s cafe to relive it yourselves.

This basically brings us to 2018, the 30th anniversary of Smashing Pumpkins, and a tour announcement that brings James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlin and Bi Corg back together for a massive stadium and arena tour.  This tour is also featuring Asian correspondent Jeff Schroeder still, for whatever reason, and possibly Peter Hook of New Order and Joy Division’s son Jack Bates on bass guitar in lieu of Darcy. To answer those long ago asked questions; The Smashing Pumpkins never truly went away as long as William Patrick Billy “Bi Corg” Corgan was pumping out whatever he could unload on the public, and the Smashing Pumpkins have committed career suicide timeless times, and still have fans coming back to them to this day.  This band will live and die by the Bi Corg and in 2018 he’s throwing in the towel for the 30th anniversary, so here’s 10 songs they absolutely have to play live and 3 they never should go within a 93 million mile radius of ever again.

Songs the Smashing Pumpkins Need to Play on their 30th Anniversary Tour:

10. Bodies
9. Where Boys Fear to Tread
8. Hummer
7. Geek U.S.A.
6. X.Y.U.
5. Soma
4. Mayonaise
3. Starla
2. Silverfuck
1. Porcelina of the Vast Oceans

Songs the Smashing Pumpkins Need to Forget Ever Happened, Not Including the Years 2007 – 2014 Where Everything Needs to Be Forgotten:

3. Anything with James Iha singing (except for “Blew Away”)
2. Anything from MACHINA: The Machines of God and MACHINA II: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music
1. We Only Come Out at Night

Bi Corg and his Busted Bananas are on tour in 2018, tickets go on sale the same day as Radiohead.

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