“It’s you that I adore. You’ll always be my whore.”
Billy Corgan, the lead singer, songwriter, guitarist and creative force behind the Smashing Pumpkins has always been a bit of a wild card. He is often labeled “insufferable” or “difficult” by bandmates, peers, and managers (Sharon Osbourne famously ended her 4-month tenure as Smashing Pumpkins manager in 2000 due to health reasons. Billy Corgan “made her sick”). It is in his nature to press buttons, make people uncomfortable and above all else, brandish his enormous ego, at least for his public persona. All of this can be a bit too much for some fans to bear. Almost. If the music that is created by someone this arrogant and petulant isn’t up to par, there’s no way anyone would deal with it, be it fellow musicians, record company executives, or fans. Thankfully for Corgan and for us, he is also wildly talented. He is a multi-instrumentalist, engaging songwriter, and a flat-out brilliant guitar player. Yes, his nasal singing voice is one of those “love it or hate it” parts of the Pumpkins, as is the pretentious and sometimes groan inducing song titles. The Pumpkins previous effort, 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, was the first album to really straddle the line between artistic word play and a childish Mad Libs approach to titling songs. Adore would continue that tradition with song titles such as “Behold! The Night Mare,” “The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete,” and “Apples + Oranjes.” After your eyes have stopped rolling in their sockets, please continue reading.
By late 1997, the Smashing Pumpkins were one of the biggest bands in the world. 1993’s Siamese Dream put them on the map, both commercially and from a pop culture visibility standpoint thanks to heavy MTV rotation and grunge rock wave riding, even though the Pumpkins music isn’t considered grunge nor were they from the Pacific Northwest. At this point, any band that didn’t sport huge, teased hair and didn’t sing about cherry pies and girls, girls, girls were lumped into the “buzz bin” category. The Chicago based band’s third album, the double disc Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, was an even bigger commercial success than Siamese Dream. It helped the Pumpkins achieve additional MTV airplay (which was still a big deal in the 90s), won them awards, and supported a huge worldwide arena tour. It was on this tour that touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin (brother to Wendy Melvoin of the Revolution and her twin sister, Susannah, of The Family) tragically died of a drug overdose. Pumpkins drummer, Jimmy Chamberlain, had been struggling with addiction at this time as well and was with Jonathan when he passed. As a result of Jonathan’s death and Jimmy’s inability to stay clean and sober, the Pumpkins parted ways with their long-time drummer and made no effort to replace him. Jimmy’s aggressive yet melodic drum attack was an integral part of the Pumpkins sound, but the truth of the matter is that the Smashing Pumpkins earliest incarnations didn’t even feature a live drummer, but instead utilized a drum machine. Jimmy was on board for the release of their debut, 1991’s Gish, but the early Pumpkins demos from the late 80s were drummer-less.
Also, by 1997, it was time to create a follow up the 2-year-old Mellon Collie album and the first glimpses of what the drummer-less Smashing Pumpkins new sound might be like were the soundtrack songs they released earlier that year. “Eye,” a heavily electronic influenced song featured on David Lynch’s Lost Highway soundtrack and “The End Is the Beginning Is the End,” another electronic but more guitar-based song featured on the Batman and Robin soundtrack were the touchstones used when Pumpkins fans either decided this new sound wasn’t for them, or if they were completely on board for the next iteration.
To the surprise of very few who were familiar with these soundtrack songs, the Pumpkins would enter the studio with co-producers Flood and Brad Wood (Adore was primarily produced by Corgan), to create a much more electronic and drum machine-based set of songs for what would ultimately become Adore. Flood, along with frequent collaborator Alan Moulder, had previously worked with Corgan on production duties for Mellon Collie. Flood has been an engineer and producer for acts such as U2, PJ Harvey, Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails, and the sound that Corgan wanted to create for Adore would definitely fit into the mold of the albums created by those acts in the 90s. After long recording sessions that took up the second half of 1997 and even several months of 1998, Adore was released on June 2, 1998.
What maybe took fans by surprise with Adore would be the glaring lack of arena ready guitar riffs. There was absolutely nothing in the 16-song track listing that could compare to the glorious guitar attacks of “Cherub Rock,” “Today,” “Zero,” or “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.” There was nothing for fans of that style of alternative rock to really sink their teeth into. Despite Corgan’s guitar chops and history of crafting some of the most technically impressive guitar riffs of the 90s, Adore had no discernable guitar solos buried in its bloated 73-minute length. Does that matter though? Is it important for a band as successful as the Smashing Pumpkins to create an album that sounded like their previous effort? Of course, the answer is no, as left turns are an integral part of the lore of many musicians. Some of the most enduring artists such as Bob Dylan, David Bowie, U2, and Beck, have taken hard turns in their musical styles from one album to the next with no lack of focus or artistic achievements. Sure, there would be some fans that couldn’t stay on board the Pumpkins chariot post Adore but if Corgan wanted to take a new direction, there really wasn’t going to be anyone that could tell him otherwise.
“So far, I still know who you are. But now, I wonder who I was.”
Without the inherent goodwill of Adore being another rock-based Pumpkins album, the music needed to stand on its own. Thankfully, it does. The album kicks off with one the most subdued openers of the 90s alternative rock era. “To Sheila” is quiet, so quiet that you can barely hear what sounds like crickets chirping in the evening before giving way to acoustic guitar strings unless you have the volume cranked up or are listening with headphones. The song never really goes anywhere and beyond a loop of what sounds like the world’s quietest train chugging through the mountains on a cold winter’s evening, the instrumental is a simple acoustic guitar coupled with a plunking piano melody. The pace immediately picks up on the very next track, “Ava Adore,” which was also the lead single released in support of the album. “Ava Adore,” along with the ominous yet exciting “Pug,” found later on the album, are much more upbeat and have the same thumping electronic sound as “Eye.” One gets the impression, right or wrong, that this trio of songs could have all been recorded on the same day due to their similar sonic approach. “Ava Adore” does exactly what it needs to do in terms of introducing fans to the new Pumpkins sound while still including what appears to be one of the albums only guitar solos. The effects are so heavy over the guitar riff that it almost sounds like it could have made by a computer, which I imagine was by design. I don’t get the impression that Corgan is anything but a perfectionist in the studio and any sounds left on the final recording were exactly how he envisioned them.
“Mother I’ve tried. Wasting My Life. I haven’t given up, I lie.”
“Perfect,” the second single from the album attempts to recreate the magic of Mellon Collie’s “1979,” both sonically and visually via the music video, which was meant as a sort of sequel. “Perfect” is a perfectly bouncy and catchy song and deserved to have been a bigger hit than it was, but for my personal tastes, I tend to gravitate to Adore’s unreleased tracks, many of which are on the slower side of the tempo scale. I would be doing a disservice to the lyrical content and tone of this album if I didn’t mention the passing of Corgan’s mother in 1996. Consciously or not, Corgan’s mother’s passing appears to have framed what the album would transform into as a whole during recording, as two of the album’s strongest songs, “Once Upon a Time” and “For Martha” were written with her as direct inspiration. Simply stated, “Once Upon a Time” is one of the most beautiful Pumpkins songs ever recorded. It’s an acoustic guitar backed song with an affecting melody layered with a multitude of effects as well as actual live drums thanks to studio drummer Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.). “Once Upon a Time” is a sonic standout with lyrics addressing Corgan’s struggle to say goodbye, thus ensuring its heart string tugging effect on listeners.
“For Martha” is Adore’s 8 plus minute magnum opus of a near-closer. Only the subdued “Blank Page” and the 17 second piano track “17” come after “For Martha” and for good reason. “For Martha” screams out “IMPORTANT EMOTIONAL SONG” due to its slow, quiet piano balladry that crescendos into a bombastic display of guitar and effects. The song builds and builds while Corgan sweetly croons lines to his deceased mother, Martha, such as “If you have to go, don’t say goodbye. If you have to go, don’t you cry. If you have to go, I will get by”. During the song’s epic ending, the live drums are handled by Matt Cameron (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam) and at around the four-and-a-half-minute mark, the fuzzy guitar sound that Pumpkins fans had been looking for the entire album shows up. The guitar in this minute long section sounds so bright and high pitched that it’s a bit unnerving when paired with the piano melody that the song began and ultimately ends with. “For Martha” ends with a long fadeout that includes a reprise of a similar, yet slightly less abrasive guitar sound to close the final minute of the track. As a whole, I think it all works to create a cohesive tribute song that may not provide the same emotional punch as “Once Upon a Time” but is still effective.
If there was one track on Adore that conveyed a certain melancholy or isolated mood over anything else on an album filled with melancholy and isolated songs, it would be “Shame.” Lyrically, “Shame” is simple, with Corgan repeating lines about walking alone and far while expounding on what love is.
“Love is good and love is blind. Love is good and love is mine”.
Another lengthy slow burner, “Shame” is all emotion, with very little room for anything else. “Shame” needs nothing else to make its mark. You either feel something by hearing Corgan repeat the line “hello, goodbye, you know you made us cry” over a swell of strings and odd sounding guitar, or you don’t. Plain and simple. Whether the song was written about INXS front man Michael Hutchence, who had committed suicide (accidental or not) while the Pumpkins recorded Adore in 1997, just adds to the beautiful sadness that is “Shame.”
“Annie-Dog” is yet another song that utilizes little to create a lot. “Annie-Dog” immediately precedes “Shame” and is also a slow song, which happens to be a trend for my favorite Adore songs, based primarily on a basic piano melody and quiet drums, this time by Matt Walker (Filter, Morrissey). It includes cryptic lyrics about a woman named Annie-Dog who could be perceived as being a whore based on a few telling lines, but really, only Corgan can know exactly what “Annie-Dog” is about. I can tell you Corgan’s voice sounds raw and vulnerable in this track, cracking and breaking in a very effective way for what ends up as a raw and vulnerable song. For me, in songs like “Shame,” “Annie-Dog,” and “Crestfallen” is where Adore creates a somber mood and feeling of loss, which is what I believe Corgan intended to create with this album. Loss of a mother. Loss of a bandmate. Loss of a spouse. Insert your own personal loss while you listen to Adore and I’m certain you could find a lyric or a melody that not only applies to your experience but may even provide you with renewed appreciation for this underrated Smashing Pumpkins classic.
Memory Bank Withdrawal
Adore was released in early June of 1998, which also happened to be the year that I graduated college. Personally, and professionally, I was at time in my life filled with questions marks. I did not have a job lined up immediately after graduation and moving back in with my parents, who had no computer, and no internet was certainly not an option. Luckily, my friend Travis had a summer internship in a city only a few hours from where I went to school, and he offered for me stay with him and sleep on the couch for a few months while I hunted for jobs. He had a computer and internet, and I could stay rent free, since the company he was interning for was paying the bills for the apartment. This was an ideal set up for me, so I gratefully accepted.
Before I moved, I remember distinctly going to another nearby college town for a weekend of partying with friends and Adore had just come out so I convinced my friend Jim to go to Best Buy with me to pick it up. Jim was also a fan of Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie era Pumpkins but when I asked if he was thinking about buying a copy of the Adore CD himself, he shrugged it off. His reaction to the release of Adore was not unlike a lot of other music fans that bought copies of the Pumpkins previous albums but had heard the buzz that this was going to be an “electronic album”. As a result, many Pumpkin fans completely dismissed it before hearing it. If you were a huge fan of songs like “Rocket” or “Tonight, Tonight,” and all you heard was “Ava Adore” or “Eye,” as the lead up to what the Pumpkins 2.0 would sound like, this album might not be something you’d get too excited over.
Regardless, I was a huge Pumpkins fan, so I bought it, listened to it, and fell in love with it almost immediately. I listened to Adore on my drive to my new summer home at Travis’s apartment and listened to it a lot more when I spent daytimes alone in that apartment, using my 56K dial up connection to browse early internet job search engines. Adore was my own personal soundtrack to the “life is sort of scary now with no direction but also sort of exhilarating knowing I can go anywhere, do anything” summer of 1998. Twenty years later, this album still brings me back to that transitional period in a young adult’s life and the Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore will always be considered one of the great underrated albums of the decade.
“Who am I to need you now. To ask you why. To tell you no. To deserve your love and sympathy. You were never meant to belong to me.”
My personal order of preference of Adore tracks from most favorite to least favorite with my personal ratings next to them.
- Once Upon a Time 5/5
- Shame 5/5
- Pug 5/5
- Crestfallen 5/5
- For Martha 5/5
- Annie-Dog 5/5
- The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete 5/5
- Behold! The Night Mare 4.5/5
- Perfect 4.5/5
- Ava Adore 4.5/5
- Apples + Oranjes 4/5
- To Sheila 4/5
- Daphne Descends 4/5
- Blank Page 3.5/5
- Tear 3.5/5
- 17 N/A
Overall Score: 4.5/5