In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re talking about songs with a cappella interludes.
At its most emphatic, Billy Corgan’s voice demands musical accompaniment. Corgan belts from the shoulders up, especially when he’s hammering home a lyric, producing a brittle, shrill timbre that works because of what’s going on around it. He isn’t on anyone’s shortlist to sing a pre-game national anthem, but his nasally head voice is perfect for cutting through the blaring guitars of a Smashing Pumpkins track.
The exception to the rule is “The Everlasting Gaze,” the lead single from Smashing Pumpkins’ fifth album, Machina/The Machines Of God. Machina is a messy album, a reflection of the infighting that led to the band’s dissolution, but “Gaze” is a rousing single, the Pumpkins’ best straight rocker since “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.” The track’s loudness—due in part to the return of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin—makes it well-suited to Corgan’s head voice. But at the bridge, the instruments drop out, leaving only Corgan’s voice and a typically quasi-blasphemous lyric about “the fickle fascination of an everlasting God.”
As unappealing as an a cappella Corgan sounds on paper, it has an impressive, dramatic effect on the song. The bridge calls attention to the provocative language and offers a brief respite from the thunderous sonics, making the instruments that much more welcome when they return. Singing without accompaniment isn’t something Corgan can pull off regularly, and luckily he never made a habit of it. But after the baroque experimentation of Adore, the Pumpkins needed to get their fans’ attention back, and “Gaze,” with its all-Corgan bridge, was a smart way to do it.