Smashing Pumpkins is one of those bands I kept hearing on the radio and in bars thinking: ‘This is great!’ Followed by: ‘What is it?’ But kept forgetting to actually look them up and check it out. When I finally did, I got Siamese Dream: the Smashing Pumpkins' album most raved about. And I couldn’t stop listening. Of course, I needed to have more, even if it were the last thing I did. Reading other reviews, I realized falling in love with Smashing Pumpkins but only having Siamese Dream and not Gish is a holy musical sin. Since I don’t really fancy going to hell and needed to refill my SP stash anyway: Gish is the word.
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Band members at the time:
Jimmy Chamberlin – drums
Billy Corgan – vocals, guitar, production
James Iha – guitar, vocals
D'arcy Wretzky – bass guitar, vocals, lead vocals on "Daydream", layouts
As Chamberlin opens by rapidly hitting the drums, the bass and guitar locking in only a bit later, I Am One makes a brilliant starter song. The only point of critique is that the lyrics take the backseat. They’re basically an endless repetition of the line: ‘See you, don’t you just want to see you?’ They don’t really seem to have any meaning. The writers could’ve put a little more effort into that, but it’s all forgiven since the rocking background it’s played out against is so incredibly endearing. The plodding guitarsolo at the end is absolute magic.
Smashing Pumpkins likes noise and brings that in by starting Siva off with a brooding distorted guitar riff. This second track is definitely remarkable and has quite the shudder atmosphere. It alternates between overflowing heaviness during the verses and pretty tedious interludes. Although Siva is probably intended to be as varied as it is, the complexity of it is exactly what confuses me. I am a fan of the mild-mannered bridge, though: the subtle guitar caressing Corgans sullen voice singing: ‘Tell me, tell me what you’re after.’ Then fading out for a few seconds and all the instruments crashing in again one last time.
Maybe I never really got over my teen angst, but I was awestruck by Rhinoceros. Translucent yet undoubtedly plugged in guitar picking forms the intro alongside a slow but steady drum beat. Still, it’s centered around Corgans soothing voice: ‘Planned a show, trees and balloons, ice cream snows, see you in June.’ Just after the second verse, guitars turn distorted which provides the song with the loud/soft-combination Smashing Pumpkins is famous for, only not as overdone as in Siva. Rhinoceros is what slow motion sounds like.
When you first hear the intro to Bury Me, you look out the window to see if there’s aliens landing. It consists of a single, long lasting electric tone that certainly supplies tension. Then drums come skittering about while Iha keeps cascading this song with his weighty guitar playing. As drums gets thicker and thicker, Bury Me grows more intense by the second. The vocal melody during the ‘bury me in love’-part slightly resembles that of Steppenwolfs Born To Be Wild. Despite that, this is one lush arrangement and I love it.
Crush is four minutes worth of bass heaven. While the whole song is quite plain (nevertheless great, but Smashing Pumpkins can do better), the bass lick is delicate and jazzy at the same time, it really makes this song. Overall, Crush is a gloomy lullaby. Lots of acoustic guitar and lovey-dovey lyrics (‘Love comes in colours I can’t deny.’) All together it doesn’t seem to have any ambition to climax at any point. It’s a lovely song, but except for the bass: nothing special.
So after Crush, you’re happy to get to the next track, which is Suffer. The atmosphere has a hint of Crush’s gloominess to it, but on the whole is much deeper. Very layered spectrum of instruments: there’s even flute in the background, which makes it a little psychedelic, even. When I close my eyes listening to Suffer I feel like I’m in the forest. The lyrics are so simple, you could have come up with them yourself: ‘Too late to discover, too late to recover.’ The bass again has a very prominent role, hovering over the calm but steady drum service.
Still, after two of those gentle, melancholic songs, I could go for some more rocking sounds. And so the corners of my lips curl upwards as Snail is next on the playlist: a song that for the first thirthy seconds pretends to be another ballad but then unfolds into an interstate of bent drumrolls and edgy guitar riffs, which thundering vocals are sprawled out over. Interesting about the mood to Snail is that I somehow can’t figure out whether it’s uplifting or tormenting. It’s heavy at least, and compared to the two songs before this one, I’d go with uplifting.
Oh, Tristessa, finally: music so loud it would wake the dead. The drums here are in-frickin’-sane. Iha poars out some amazing rambling guitar work here, and singing along to Tristessa is very easy (‘Tristessa, I love you too, surely I do,’) but Chamberlin is the backbone, as the drummer should be. His bracing drum pattern floods all over the place. This is the song that punches all the other ones out, rock wise. This makes Chamberlin even more impressive: originally a jazz musician and beating up his kit this hard. I have a thing for drums and he is one of my favourites beyond any doubt. Listen to the smashing way he hits the drums in Tristessa and you’ll have a great impression of why.
Window Paine is another exceptional track on this album. It opens with nothing but a delicate, slow two-note bass line and it’s strange how the first half of the song is not all that extraordinary. For two and a half minutes, you actually think it’s too plain. After that, there’s electric guitars slicing through Corgans lyrics and getting near the bridge everything gets much faster and Window Paine suddenly turns into a rocker. There’s also a really nice, well placed piece of a capella: ‘Do what you want to do, start today.’
Now, as for the last song, Daydream, this is completely off. Surely the weakest track on here, but that’s mainly because it isn’t really Smashing Pumpkins. First of all, let’s state the obvious: it’s sung by Wretzky, not Corgan. Corgan is actually playing acoustic guitar throughout the whole song and it’s pretty beautiful. There’s also some violins in this and since I love acoustics, violins and slow songs: I’d say this is a great song. It ends in the hidden track I’m Crazy, which is similar to Daydream. Although a lot of people will argue with me on this: both songs are good as the others, just in a different way.
To sum it up: Gish is smashing in slow motion. There’s a lot of the typical loud-soft Smashing Pumpkins signature sound, but seeing as this was their first album, they were probably still experimenting here and I think that’s why there are so many lullaby-like tracks on it. The Siamese Dream album is better because it’s louder and more consistent: the theme throughout the tracks on there are much more apparent on Siamese Dream than on Gish. Nonetheless, I recommend Gish to everyone who likes soft rock and distorted guitars. After you buy this – which you should – get the next album, you will love that as well.
Song list and rating:
1. I Am One 4:07 *****
2. Siva 4:20 ****
3. Rhinoceros 6:32 *****
4. Bury Me 4:48 ****
5. Crush 3:35 ****
6. Suffer 5:11 *****
7. Snail 5:11 *****
8. Tristessa 3:33 *****
9. Window Paine 5:51 *****
10. Daydream & I'm Going Crazy 3:08 ****
Total time: 46,27
Overall rating: 4,6
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