On Saturday night I will be seeing the Smashing Pumpkins in concert for the 7th time, my first going back to 1991 in while in college. To prepare I have been ripping through the albums. In my mind, I was secretly ranking them. Some I knew exactly where they would rank, but there were some surprises for me. Typically, Pumpkins fans of my age will praise the first three, throw a few accolades at Adore and then dismiss the rest and make a pejorative statement about Billy. That’s not me. If you have listened to the Wanderings podcast, we have praised artists through the years for not mimicking what they did in early years- those artists who have a vision and push the boundaries of creativity. In my mind, Billy Corgan is the epitome of digging in and creating his vision, critics be damned.
Without further ado- my ranking of every Smashing Pumpkins album. (Pisces Iscariot is included because why not)
1- Siamese Dream
Greatest Pumpkin album- Siamese Dream: Not only is this my favorite Pumpkins record, but it’s probably my favorite album of all time. I know I have listened to it more than any album ever! I was blown away at Gish, but this follow up takes what was promising and perfects it. Tracks like Mayonaise, Hummer, Cherub Rock, Sapceboy, and Rocket stand out for me, but the entire album is a roller coaster ride of layered guitars, virtuoso drumming and beautiful lyrics that are both poetic and meaningful with beautiful phrasology. No matter how many times I listen to this record, it always sounds fresh. This is a truly a unique and inspiring album. Did I mention Soma or Geek USA? Oh yeah, they are great too!
Gish is the first album released by the Pumpkins and my entry point to the band. I was blown away initially by the unique sound and vocals. At this time, grunge and the “Seattle sound” had taken hold and was ubiquitous on the airwaves. This had the same alternative inspiration but was singular in its delivery. No other band sounded remotely like the Pumpkins. I’m still blown away to this day by Siva, I Am One, Rhinoceros and Bury Me. In a world of music filled with copy cat alternative bands, the Pumpkins created their own path and still follow it today. This is raw Pumpkin sound in its nascent form.
3. Picses Iscariot
Yeah, it’s technically not a studio album, I get it. I know this is a weird choice, especially to place it in front of Mellon Collie. Plus, it is basically a compilation of throw aways and B-sides. However, this is a hodge podge of greatness. Songs like Frail and Bedazzled or Hello Kitty Kat belong on any album and harken back to Gish. (sweet spot with me). Landslide and Girl Named Sandoz prove the Pumpkins can take a classic and improve upon it. Plume, Whir, La Dolly Vita and Obscured show the cool grooviness that underlies a lot of more of their well known songs. This cobbled together album is better than most of what is out there. Top three for me and likely top five for most Pumpkin fans.
4. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness could easily be the greatest Pumpkins album of all time. It has some of the greatest Pumpkin songs, and it is by far the most ambitious. If I were to rate the albums on ambition, Mellon Collie and Atum would be 1 and 2. However, I can’t do that. While I love most everything about this record, there are some missteps for me that hold it back as a cohesive piece. The band was at the height of its popularity. They played Tonight Tonight at the Grammy’s. Everyone was singing “rat in a cage” regardless if you liked heavy music or not. The first six songs on the record are arguably the best start of any record ever. Plus, one of my favorite Pumpkin songs, 33, appears here. However, there is too much here. Too many ideas that don’t quite fit. If the band had chosen their best 12-15 songs, it could have been the best album of all time. 28 songs was too much and slightly bloated. Not my top three, but absolutely a classic!
I feel like Oceania goes unnoticed, or underappreciated, by many Pumpkin fans. It was five years after the divisive Zeitgeist and 12 years after the positively reviewed Machina. There was a clear tonal change, but the integrity and vibe is there. While more electronica is included, this one has plenty of Billy melody and layered guitars, albeit slightly more sparse. This album has a sweet groove from beginning to end. Songs like Quasar, Panopticon, The Celestials, My Love is Winter and The Chimera are standouts here. This is one that I can listen to beginning to end with no skips every time. Very underrated. Give it a listen!
Atum is Smashing Pumpkins most recent album. Initially Atum was released one song at a time on Billy’s podcast- absolutely the coolest idea. I love a concept record. Rush is my favorites band, aside from the Pumpkins, so concept rules! This one has a cosmic story that started with Mellon Collie: Zero to Glass to Shiny, and ends here with Atum. Musically, this one is all over the place in a good way. Like Mellon Collie, it’s a mixed bag. When it shines, though, it really shines. 33 songs- 2/3 or more are bangers. I would say that the first 8 songs are amazing and completely set the tone for the musical experience. For those who love hard songs, Empires, Moss, Beguiled, and Harmageddon fit the bill. Others like Hooligan, Neophyte, Sojourner, Cenotaph or Spellbinding provide a smooth Pumpkin groove that we have become accustomed to. For 33 songs, this is entirely listenable and at times completely shines! The breadth and ambition are commendable.
This album for me is tough. I really like it. It’s hard. It’s rhythmic and it has some great grooves and melody. Essentially, it’s Billy and Jimmy, how we like it. However, it feels like they are trying too hard to recreate the past. Too many layers. Great album. I still listen frequently. Doomsday Clock, Bleeding the Orchid and Tarantula withstand the test of time.
8. Machina/The Machines of God
Machina is unfulfilled expectations. It was a return to form, a sounding bell for the end of D’Arcy, and a continuation of a story that wouldn’t be fullfilled for 23 years with Atum. This album has some amazing music (thank you for coming back Jimmy) and some great songs, but is not complete in form – as a supposed concept record it falls short. Songs like Everlasting Gaze, Stand Inside Your Love, I of the Mourning, This Time and Glass and the Ghost Children are the best offerings here. I enjoy this record, but it is not one of the greats. Atum, however, has made it more interesting recently.
9. Shiny and Oh So Bright
Shiny was a bit of a surprise for me. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. It’s a tight record of only 8 songs with four very strong songs: Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts), Solara, Marchin’ On and Seek and You Shall Destroy. Those are wrapped by softer, melodic songs that tie this one together nicely. Definitely an underrated outing.
Adore is the fourth studio album from the Pumpkins. It is a departure from their previous outings, choosing to use far more electronics. The absence of Jimmy is clearly evident as well. Adore falls pretty low on my list, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some shining moments, because it does. Ava Adore and Perfect are both excellent songs. The rest fall flat for me. They are ambitious and I applaud the effort to expand and explore, but it seems they weren’t quite ready for that much change. I think the lack of Jimmy working with Billy is apparent. Nice effort, but lacks the spark and consistency of their better albums.
11. Monuments to an Elegy
Monuments to an Elegy is an interesting record. It’s not bad, but it’s also not great. Four songs really stand out here: Tiberius, Being Beige, One and All (We Are), and Drum + Fife. In fact, Drum + Fife is one of my favorite 2000s songs from the band. The problem with the album is that the other songs are good, but not great. I enjoy it in the background, but don’t prefer it loud and in my face.
Cyr is simply not an album I like. There really isn’t anything bad, but it’s not really good either. It just simply “is.” That’s a problem when you create art. The response cannot be “meh.” I simply wasn’t moved by the one. I do enjoy The Colour of Love, Wyttch and Purple Blood, but that’s where it ends. It’s a long album with little for me to hang on to.
So there you have it- all Smashing Pumpkin records rated from best to worst. Hopefully, we will be listening to Machina 2 in it’s glorious remaster soon. Feel free to comment and tell me what I got wrong. I’ll post thoughts after the concert on Saturday. Check that out too. You can find it here.