Smashing Pumpkins have a lot to live up to. The Chicago quartet's major-label debut, Siamese Dream, comes on the heels of their 1991 college-radio blockbuster, Gish — the indie release that made the Pumpkins one of the decade's most promising bands. But that's not all Now that the members of the transcendental grunge band are label mates with Janet Jackson, they'll have the scrutinizing eye of alter-natopia upon them, scouring for signs of sellout. All this has given the Pumpkins the nail-biting honor of having one of the most widely anticipated albums of 1993.
Siamese Dream kicks off with "Cherub Rock," singer-guitarist and head Pumpkin Billy Corgan's jab at alternative rock. "Let me out of your scene," he cries over sloshing waves of riff rock and buzzing guitar. From there, mantralike melodies and milkshake-thick rhythms groove, occasionally stopping for ultra-dreamy interludes. Corgan's vocals ebb and flow with the band's now richer tones, going from coarse and wicked too smooth and sad. He even emanates true teenage angst in Cheap Trick-influenced pop numbers like "Today." Kettle drums, violins and church bells render the celestial ballad "Disarm" dramatic, while strings leave the melancholic "Spaceboy" feeling simple and wonderfully empty.
While Gish was more subtle about its influences, Siamese Dream announces them. Guitar solos by Corgan and James Iha are the stuff suburban, '70s backyard parties were made of — Nugent and Hendrix all the way! But in the Pumpkins' mix, the bong-sucking stoner riffs prove intricate rather than wanky. Corgan and co-producer Butch Vig wrap the whole album in woolly production for that special garage appeal. But there's rarely a bum note in this tidy wash of styles, and even the most chaotic pileups of distortion are painstakingly orchestrated.
Siamese Dream is a strong, multidimensional extension of Gish that confirms that Smashing Pumpkins are neither sellouts nor one-offs. Now the band can get on with worrying about its third album.