Smashing Pumpkins -- Pisces Iscariot


Written For KADE Magazine on November 9, 1994

Whatever you might think about Billy "NOT INSANE!" Corgan and his behavior, you gotta admit that last years Siamese Dream was a brilliantly constructed record. It was one of those records which added up to more than then sum of its parts. On compilation tapes or on the radio, the songs never sounded as good as they did when in the presence of their brothers and sisters. And yeah, while its plethora of totally unecessary bits -- think the drums and guitar interweave at the end of "Hummer" -- brought it far closer to Zeppelinish art rock than Pistolish punk rock, I always liked Led Zeppelin a lot, too.

Still, after two records, its a little soon to be bringing out the b-sides. This smacks more of a quickie record company explotation of unexpected success, like Arrested Development's Unplugged or Vanilla Ice's live album, than a treat for patient fans. Record companies are like that -- the Smiths have more compilations than they do actual studio albums. Of course, it varies with record companies: U2's been putting singles out for 15 years and while I know they could make an amazing b-sides album (hello Island records?), it's never even been rumoured. Even IRS had the decency to wait until after Life's Rich Pageant before they brought out Dead Letter Office.

Look, while I totally support the concept of non-album b-sides--a great place for live tracks, experiments and versions--there's usually a reason they didn't make the record. And while sometimes its because a song doesn't fit the artists' concept of the record, it more often that the song doesn't fit anybody's concept of good. Which is ok: those who buy singles for b-sides know what to expect, as well as those who buy b-sides albums -- a couple of amazing tracks, several blah tracks and a couple of laughable clunkers.

"Frail and Bedazzled," "Whir" and "La Dolly Vita" are the standouts -- they'll certainly land on any Pumpkins compilation tape I slap together. But none of them are major in any way, they only stand out in context. You know how bad its getting when they even include a song -- in a band notorious for dictatorship -- written and sang (well, sort of), by the other guitarist, James Iha. I guess it was included to dispell the stories that Billy played most of the non-drum parts of Siamese Dream himself. It's ok -- I mean, it doesn't suck. Almost nothing here sucks -- it just doesn't work. As doesn't the 11 minute epic "Starla," or the oh-so-purty "Obscured." And so forth.

What works least of all are the covers: the alone-in-his-room version of Stevie Nicks' "Landslide" is a stone bore (and doesn't wake even the remotest memory of the original) and the other, "Girl Called Sandoz," is the kind of Hendrix rip we used to make fun of Robin Trower and Frank Marino for doing in the pre-punk era. It's an Eric Burdon cover, for chrissakes. I realize this is supposed to be the ultimate in cool--obscure Hendrixy Eric Brudon cover, but if Eric Burdon has actually ever written 3 songs worth covering, at least two of them have passed me right by. I mean, if you are going to do Hendrix, then do Hendrix. Otherwise its just like using "Hot Blooded" as a Bad Company cover or "Longview" as a Buzzcocks cover. On the other hand, let's just drop the entire concept.

Siamese Dream was such a great album, I was hoping that some of its magic would rub off on this record--especially cos 9 of the 14 songs are from those sessions. Nope. Which makes Siamese Dream all the more magical, in my book. I realize this is just a stopgap while Billy works on the next Pumpkins record. He's threatening to make it a double CD and a concept record to boot. Which means it could be Corganophenia or Tales From Schizophrenic Oceans. Nowhere in between, either. And coincidentally, nowhere is pretty much the word to describe Pisces Iscariot.

--Jim Connelly

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This document last modified 09 August, 1995.
I was listening to Foo Fighters -- Foo Fighters