Trading Jimmy Chamberlain for several different drummers and drum machines, trading distorted electric guitar riffs for acoustic guitars and keyboards, this is darker, slower and more mature than any Smashing Pumpkins album before and after. A lot of people call this one underrated though I’m not really sure in relation to what. Yeah, mishandling of the band’s image (the music video of “Adore,” featuring perhaps the least sexy rockstar in full sexy vampire mode) and lack of clear singles ensured this one didn’t sell as much as Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, but it still sold several million copies worldwide, and it received positive reviews when it came out, and still received them almost two decades later when Corgan reissued it with five bonus discs (despite some of the electronics dating as expected). The narrative that the band suddenly went electronic and threw off fans is piss-weak, since they were already experimenting with that in the second disc of Mellon Collie and non-album singles leading up to Adore, and that every other rock band in the late 90s was doing similar stuff (Radiohead, R.E.M., Suede, PJ Harvey, Blur, Pulp) in a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” sort of deal. Truthfully, this is the hardest Smashing Pumpkins album to review because of how much baggage it carries. Not like Billy helped, apparently seething that no one picked up on the album’s double entendre. It’s not just “Adore”, it’s “A door.” Reminds me of that kid’s riddle.
I usually think of the Smashing Pumpkins’ first three albums as following the exact same trajectory of Fleetwood Mac’s most famous incarnation: (1) a solid and surprisingly modestdebut based on what would come next; (2) a stone cold classic that seemed to be impossible to follow up; (3) a successful follow-up by having more of everything. (PSA: Tusk is one of the best double albums.) But whereas Fleetwood Mac’s followed that up by (expectedly) retreating into a rather lightweight if still solid Mirage, Billy Corgan didn’t retreat at all: Adore is 73 minutes, and still ambitious and sprawling, albeit in a more low-key way than Mellon Collie.
But the problem is Billy Corgan ain’t cut out for sincere singer/songwriter work, and more than a third of the album is exactly that. It’s partly because his lyrics are typically inept (and I find it funny that he’d one day release a book of poetry); the first lines on this album rhymes “blistering Avalon” with “aching Autobahn” which is, to be clear, a unique rhyme but heavy handed in its adjectives; the first line of the first single rhymes “Adore” with “whore”, etc. It’s also because his voice gets in the way and was more fitting when shouted over distorted guitars. But it’s chiefly because singer/songwriter is not his primary talent. (I understand that this year, he changed his name to William Patrick Corgan and teamed up with Rick Rubin for a late-Johnny Cash-style album. I understand he gave up his full name and went back to Billy Corgan right after, presumably because of how little traction that album received.) That the album ends with a Marvel end-credit Easter Egg nod to the Cure’s Seventeen Seconds just serves to remind us of how Robert Smith already did all of this better a decade ago in Disintegration.
Not to say that there aren’t highlights: the heaviness of “Ava Adore” achieved through the bass and drums (which sound eerily similar to PJ Harvey’s “A Perfect Day Elise,” recorded around the same time and also my favorite PJ Harvey song); how they manage to sneak in a quick guitar solo on that same song; the surprise of the banjo on Fleetwood Mac ballad-styled “For Sheila.” But much of the album feels redundant (ie. “Annie-Dog” and “Blank Page,” though I like the latter, to “For Martha”) or ugly (the squelchy nonsense introduced in “Appels + Oranjes” and “Pug”; the overproduced electric guitar of “For Martha” and “riff” of “Tear”, both looking ahead to MACHINA) or otherwise conventionally tuneful (ie. “Crestfallen”) so that it adds little to nothing. And whereas the drum programming is suitable for songs like “Tear” and “Appels and Oranjes”, methinks something less busy would’ve only helped “Perfect,” and though he tries to subdue it, “Shame” could’ve only been better had it been given to someone less nasally than Corgan to sing. Accurately rated.