Smashing Pumpkins: Adore (Super Deluxe Edition)

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Smashing Pumpkins
Adore: Super Deluxe Edition
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)

Rock music’s hallowed halls are overstuffed with stories of artists growing disenchanted with power chords and pentatonic scales, or catching listeners off guard with a surprise shift in their M.O. And the higher that artist rises, the sharper the left turn, be it Neil Young’s sad robot vocoder party or The Rolling Stones’ almost-successful take on disco. So it was for Billy Corgan in 1998; Smashing Pumpkins were riding a wave of success from 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, a sprawling, progressive-rock-inspired double-album that became the group’s most commercially successful work — which in turn led to some of the worst times the group ever encountered, including drummer Jimmy Chamberlin’s relapse into heroin use, and keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin’s death following an overdose.

Corgan, himself, was undergoing his share of personal trauma outside of the band, including both the death of his mother Martha, as well as his divorce from then-wife Christine Fabian. The end result wasn’t just a period of personal soul-searching for Corgan, but a dramatic restatement of purpose, and near-abandonment of the group’s trademark alt-rock crunch. Rather than keep up the angst-ridden rants of past hits like “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” or “Zero,” Corgan retreated into softer textures and gothic moods, taking inspiration from bands like The Cure, Depeche Mode and Cocteau Twins — bands that always played a role in the Pumpkins’ sound from day one, but made much more explicit here.

The resulting album, Adore, tends to get lost in the Pumpkins canon, overshadowed in part by the genius that preceded it, and the fiascoes that came afterward. But it’s also the last Pumpkins album of its caliber, a work in which the songwriting lives up to the vision. And about that vision — it feels far humbler and more intimate than anything else in the group’s discography, thanks in large part to how personal and, well, quiet it is. There are certainly moments of bombast: the drum-machine stomp of “Ava Adore,” the creepy-crawly dance-goth of “Pug,” or the ornate sweep of “Tear” — all of which are vessels for Corgan’s post-nuptial catharsis.

Adore, however, is also the source of some of Corgan’s prettiest songs, including its biggest single, the dream-pop flutter of “Perfect,” and the breathtakingly beautiful opener, “To Sheila.” That the distance between these songs and the album’s louder ones isn’t all that vast speaks to its cohesion; all of the songs feel of a piece, and despite the shock they might have provoked in fans at the time, show the kind of maturity and grace that Corgan was once capable of — before entering the world of professional wrestling and eight-hour Siddhartha-inspired wankfests.

The one weakness of Adore is that it seems a bit overlong, and while there are lots of good ideas, some of its undercooked ones could be cast off without anyone missing anything. The six-disc deluxe reissue of the album, of course, doesn’t really fix that, but it does add more layers to the album, showcasing demo versions, outtakes and remixes that at least provide some fun enhancements and curiosities — even if a lot of the bonus material is far from essential. Not that there aren’t some standouts; Puff Daddy’s remix of “Ava Adore” is surprisingly restrained and pretty, “Waiting” makes the most of its stripped-down approach, and “Eye” — originally featured on the soundtrack to David Lynch’s Lost Highway” — is one of the best songs Corgan ever wrote, leading one to wonder why it was left off the original album. What the extra tracks do more than anything is offer an opportunity to create a make-your-own-version playlist, if you’re the type that likes to play with tracklists. Not that Adore necessarily needs much; just find a place to slide “Eye” in, and you have the last great album the band recorded.


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