Both LIVE and The Smashing Pumpkins took three years to release albums subsequent to their commercial apex as bands, the mid-’90s. I’m not sure if this is important but it’s sort of interesting to note. It’s also pertinent that there was a lot of messed up sh** going on in the world, such as an Oklahoma City bombing, an Olympics bombing in Atlanta and the zenith of gangsta rap as a vital and ubiquitous style of music. It was hardly the time to go from brooding to light-hearted and summery, in other words.
I can personally remember that the summer of 1997 had this kind of surreal vibe to it. Both music and everything else in the world seemed incredibly fractal and disjointed. The only constant seemed to be Seinfeld, which, of course, was a TV show that made its calling card on making fun of a lot of things and doing a sort of debasing tactic in interpersonal matters, if you will.
LIVE, for one, in their preparation for their 1997 offering Secret Samadhi, an album I find pretty consistent and on which my favorite songs aren’t necessarily the singles, had just enjoyed the widespread acclaim of having “Lightning Crashes”; a single off their prior album, Throwing Copper, soundtrack the Oklahoma City bombing ceremony. The organizers found the song so appropriate, in fact, in perhaps emotional tinge and brand of metaphoric lyric, that an alternate version was recorded, with a voice-over describing certain elements of the bombing tragedy which occurred in April of 1995, a year after Throwing Copper was released. Throwing Copper had sold something like 8 million copies in the United States alone and LIVE was a band with nothing to prove going into making Secret Samadhi. Perhaps for this reason, they sound like a band, on this album, that was incredibly uninhibited, feeling no pressure to pander to radio and just doing a lot of jamming. The languid guitar riff that comes in toward the end of “Freaks” would seem to suggest this “jamming” aspect as a legitimate mechanism the band might have employed in putting songs together and choosing which segments and elements to include on the final versions.
And it seems “jamming” was pretty much their primary motive on this album — well, that and fu**ing with everyone’s heads. Truth be told, I say I don’t prefer the singles, but lead offering “Lakini’s Juice” is really a pretty catchy and head-nodding track, although, again, the semi-pornographic music video does little to explain the song’s significance other than just putting everybody off and probably getting the band temporarily revoked from MTV. Parts of the album sound rushed, like the hilariously bizarre lyrics on opener “Rattlesnake”: “In another place in another time / I’d be drivin’ trucks my dear / I’d be skinnin’ hunted deer / Dear”. When the album is at its best, though, as on “Insomnia and the Hole in the Universe”; “Ghost” and “Gas Hed Goes West”; the band is still constructing catchy, explosive choruses to flank their verses of rancorous guitar fuzz and bizarre Cubist poetry. In my opinion, these all would have made better selections as singles, but again, perhaps the band just didn’t care and were sick of fame, such details and the spotlight. They were probably set for life, as it were.
Adore, on the other hand, The Smashing Pumpkins’ fourth album and first one without founding drummer Jimmy Chamberlain (with this being the case the band relied more heavily on drum machine for recording), furnishes two singles, “Ava Adore” and “Perfect”; that I find both to occupy terrific territory in the overall ’90s rock hit arena, as well as both being very distinct from each other. Right away when I first heard “Ava Adore” on the radio, I thought it was a terrific success, a sharp stylistic right-turn from the band’s former material, into more of an industrial type of territory, and a very bold move for a band releasing a very hyped-up album. “Perfect,” then, is pure bliss, with a more approachable music video in tow as well as a wealth of gracious hooks coupled with the beautifully tongue-in-cheek chorus quips of “Next time / I promise we’ll be perfect”.
And I’m not sure if this is related to the fact of the singles being the best songs, but also, in sharp contrast to Secret Samadhi, Adore is very much the work of an individual, singer/songwriter Billy Corgan, whose intimate, earnest lyrics can be heard throughout on “Daphne Descends”; “Tear”; “Once upon a Time”; “Crestfalle” and elsewhere. Actually, when I was reading the Wikipedia page on Adore, I was surprised to even learn that there were any sessions of the band members collectively laying down demos. To the ear, it sounds more like the measured score of a musical or an opera, where the players would then be called in to play simple background parts already diagrammed by the brains behind the project, before the fact. “Ava Adore”; then, the album’s strongest track, then starts to play something like a classic Morrissey number, dripping with irony and sarcasm, and undeniably ubiquitous in its unabashed willingness to uncover a dark, debauched human initiative, in all its catchiness and grandiosity.
It would be an interesting discussion to broach which one of these albums has made the bigger impact on our world, since their release. To me, they’re about equal in quality, which is why, I guess, I chose to write about them in the same blurb. In terms of critical acclaim, Adore takes the crown by a long shot, which to me is kind of surprising since I find Secret Samadhi so approachable and consistent — more consistent than its predecessor Throwing Copper, as it were, while perhaps not having any songs as good as “Lightning Crashes”; “T.B.D.”; “Pillar of Davidson” or “White, Discussion”; as it were. Then, the’ 90s were still very much a time of extreme music snobbery, and, short of vouching for an objective of weirdness, it was very common for bands to be punished for releasing music that could qualify as “conventional” or “common,” roughly. So, undoubtedly, and properly enough, the Pumpkins were rewarded duly for “Ava Adore”; a lead single which was probably more uncomfortable than any of their famous songs up to this point, and likely remains that way to this day.
Interestingly, Secret Samadhi has sold six million copies worldwide to Adore’s 1.7 million. This, perhaps, gets back to the critics’ psychotic reactions to music that could be termed “conventional,” and, perhaps, the increasing ability of the masses to get laid to that of a guy like Jim Derogatis, who, famously, was derogative enough of Hootie & the Blowfish to get him fired from Rolling Stone. The masses spoke loudly and clearly regarding LIVE and Hootie, sending them into the record sales stratosphere, each, and this might have sparked a cord of jealousy in the music intelligentsia of our nation. Ultimately, I find each album underrated and worthy of many full listens, what’s more, appropriate for very different occasions, Secret Samadhi for hot, sweaty summer days following hard work and Adore for the cloudy or gloomy settings, nights of getting intimate and cerebral such as this current blogging binge I’m on tonight.
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