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What’s the point of The Smashing Pumpkins’ overstuffed Adore reissue?

Welcome to the Music Roundtable, a blatant rip-off of TV Club’s TV Roundtable feature. Here, music writers and fans discuss recent reissues, hot new releases, or just records we like. This time, we’re talking about The Smashing Pumpkins’ 1998 album Adore, which just got a ridiculously massive reissue.

Annie Zaleski: I’ve always had a somewhat conflicted relationship with The Smashing Pumpkins. During the band’s period of peak popularity—let’s say circa Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness—I was indifferent to the band. I wasn’t a fan of Billy Corgan’s voice (too whiny for me, especially on that grating cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”), while radio and MTV airplay overkill squashed any affection I had for singles such as “Today,” “1979,” and “Tonight, Tonight.” But Smashing Pumpkins’ propensity for weirdness kept me from writing the band off completely—I loved Siamese Dream’s “Rocket” (and a song I always felt was its companion, Mellon Collie’s “Muzzle”). And once the group started exploring futuristic, electronic-edged rock in the second half of the decade—namely with “The End Is The Beginning Is The End” and “Eye”—I was hooked.

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In fact, 1998’s Adore was the record that made me actively care about The Smashing Pumpkins. I was clearly in the minority, though, as the album didn’t have the chart (or commercial) performance of previous records. That’s why it’s somewhat surprising that the new reissue of Adore is geared toward über-collectors—it comes in multiple formats, including a super-deluxe six-CD/DVD edition with outtakes, demos, live tracks, remixes and a mono version of the album. You get the sense that this complete package is Corgan’s way of reclaiming an underappreciated album, while revising The Smashing Pumpkins’ narrative from this time period. As the story goes, Adore was created in the midst of turmoil—for starters, it was the first one without drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who turned out to be one of the band’s most stabilizing creative forces, and it was mostly Corgan steering the musical direction.

At the time, I loved the LP for the very reasons many people hated it: its gothic overtones and its departure from the rest of the band’s catalog. Aside from the generic breakup ache “Perfect” and squelching single “Ava Adore,” the record isn’t particularly poppy or accessible; Nitzer Ebb’s Bon Harris contributes bustling electronic programming throughout, which resulted in synth-goth swoons (“Daphne Descends,” “Crestfallen”), moony Gary Numan-esque new wave (“Pug”), and motorik electropop knife-twists (the philosophical “Appels + Oranjes”). And even for Corgan, Adore sounded moody and emotionally wrecked, from dusky acoustic laments such as “To Sheila” and “The Tale Of Dusty And Pistol Pete” to the sparse piano elegy “For Martha,” a song for his late mother. Unlike previous Smashing Pumpkins LPs, there was no pretense (or pretensions) to overshadow the music; Adore was stark, vulnerable, and fractured, which made it easy to relate to.

Listening to the reissue today, Adore actually sounds contemporary; it avoids the trap of a lot of ’90s electronic-oriented records, which have tinny and dated-sounded production values. Plus, it hasn’t lost any of its melancholy—it still feels like a bleak record tinted with grayscale hues. And while Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness always gets praised for its ambition, Adore is far braver—you can’t help but have grudging respect for how Corgan cast off the past and changed his sound. In fact, you can point to this record as the one that set him on the stubbornly forward-thinking path he’s still on today.

So, what does everybody else think? Is Adore really deserving of this huge, comprehensive reissue? Is the record a lost classic—or a deflating detour?

Sonia Saraiya: Annie, I think you articulated something I wasn’t able to when I was first listening to this reissue: Adore does sound contemporary, more so than other albums by The Smashing Pumpkins. It’s also the one that feels the most devoid of Billy Corgan’s personality, though—and unlike you, I was a fan of The Smashing Pumpkins, though perhaps in the least hip, most radio-friendly way possible. The only album I ever owned by them was Rotten Apples, a best-of compilation, made for Johnny-come-latelies like myself who picked up the album at Target as a shorthand through the band’s discography.

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The only single from Adore that made it to Rotten Apples is “Ava Adore,” the song that sounds most like what the Pumpkins used to be, before Chamberlin’s departure. So while I was passingly familiar with a few other tracks on the album, a lot of this reissue for me entailed experiencing Adore for the first time.

I liked it fine, but it’s amazing how little an impact it left on me. It sounds like watered-down, filtered Smashing Pumpkins, an album that makes you feel like you just missed a bigger, ballsier Pumpkins song in the shuffle. Of course, because it’s reaching so high, it also feels so much more approachable and intimate but maybe too intimate. It’s a raw, sad album, and one song moves to another like successive dreams in a long night of sleep. I was happy to discover “Tear,” which had slipped by me before, and surprised to realize “Ava Adore” sounds harsh and out of place on this album. Adore feels more like a curiosity that belongs in a 2002 half-off bin than a fancy reissue 15 years after its release.

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That’s partly because while I was sifting through the multiple versions on this six-disc set, I could not quite understand why this re-release exists. It’s cool, having the multiple layers of the same album, but it wasn’t particularly edifying. Adore is meandering and dreamy enough that releasing six different versions of it makes the album feel less like it’s being put on a pedestal and more like it’s being buried in an impenetrable wall of sound. It’s fascinating, too, that there’s a Puffy Combs remix of “Ava Adore” on disc four, directly following an early banjo version of “To Sheila,” both of which commanded my attention. But Adore doesn’t need six different versions of itself—it needs one cleaner, clearer version of itself; a single would have elevated this album to a bit more than Corgan’s portrait of a band in breakdown. One of the many weird CD purchases I made in the early 2000s was the soundtrack to Stigmata, a movie my friends and I watched over and over. Corgan co-composed that score with Mike Garson, and the music in the film has that moody ethereality that is signature Corgan, even if it doesn’t have his signature voice. That CD speaks to the notion that a sort of stripped-down Pumpkins warrants more attention than something like this overproduction.

A.A. Dowd: I suppose conventional wisdom holds that only beloved, “classic” albums are worthy of a big reissue, and something like Adore, which rather famously did not build off the monster sales of Mellon Collie, is an odd choice to get the lavish retrospective treatment. Frankly, though, that seems a little backward to me. Commercial prospects aside, it’s the marginalized cult records that most warrant nerdy, comprehensive re-releases, because who but the cheeses that stand alone would want multiple versions of, say, “The Tale Of Dusty And Pistol Pete?”

Among Pumpkins records, Adore strikes me as the one most ripe for deluxe expansion. The last thing Mellon Collie needs is more songs, and the early (and, in my opinion, best) Pumpkins LPs are so perfectly calibrated additional material just seems unnecessary. But as you point out, Sonia, Adore is essentially a vision of a band coming undone, and I’d argue that a big part of its appeal lies in the creative tension happening between the notes. In theory, all of the demos, outtakes, remixes, and alternate takes could provide another window into the album’s troubled genesis. Plus, the whole set rewards those outliers (like Annie) who have been singing Adore’s praises since it hit stores. It’s for the people who do consider it a lost classic, but maybe also of interest to those who consider it a deflating detour.

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Back in 1998, I belonged firmly to the latter camp. Sonia, it’s interesting that you describe Adore as lacking in Corgan’s personality, because I’d argue that it’s basically his personal diary set to music—and certainly the first Pumpkins record to feel more like a solo Corgan joint than a group effort. (Though the frontman was overdubbing his bandmates’ performances as early as Siamese Dream, you can still plainly hear their contributions on that record and the supersized epic that followed. Not so much here.)

Adore isolated one element of the Pumpkins’ sound—the Gothic balladry, the eccentric sad sack routine—and devoted an entire collection of songs to it. It was as if Corgan had decided to remake only the quiet parts of Mellon Collie, doing away with the schizophrenia of that magnum opus by creating the soundtrack to some imaginary big-screen fairy tale. It arrived during a time when I had little patience for mope in my music, and my teenage ears rebelled; the tenderness, once cast as a counterpoint to the squawking guitar rock I craved, had taken over. I missed the squealing, soloing Corgan, the college-rock hero of my formative years. He had been replaced by a depressive troubadour in a black turtleneck.

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Listening to Adore today, though, I find myself mostly won over by the qualities that once put me off. I agree with both of you that it’s an immaculately produced album, less immediately identifiable as a product of the Clinton years. Some of the songs still bore me—“Annie-Dog,” for example, is now and forever skippable—but there’s a dreamy cohesiveness here that makes the whole record go down easy. “To Sheila” is one of the loveliest love songs Corgan has ever penned, its chorus rising from a gentle sea of banjo and keys. “Tear” and “Pug” ride agreeably repetitive hooks. And “Blank Page” features the singer at his most nakedly vulnerable; not for nothing does he save it for next-to-last. Ironically, the song I once clung to for its old-Pumpkins familiarity—lead single “Ava Adore”—now strikes me as a sore thumb, the disruption of an otherwise consistent listening experience. Sonia, did this particular album really need a standout single? Its mission is to create a singular mood, not a series of highs and lows.

I still, and will probably always, prefer Siamese Dream, which remains the most perfect synthesis of the Pumpkins’ multiple strengths—their gift for stirring melodies, their twin-guitar attack, their disarming sincerity. But Adore is much better than I remembered. These days, it only sounds troubling for what it portended—the death of the Pumpkins as an honest-to-God band, driven by intersecting musical sensibilities, and the birth of the de facto Billy Corgan solo project he’s been subjecting his fans to ever since. Had Adore been more of a breather, the Mutations of the Pumpkins’ career, it would be remembered more fondly.

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Annie and Sonia, what do you think of all the extras? To my ears, most of them seem inessential, like the half-finished songs they basically are: The acoustic demos packed onto disc two were abandoned for a reason, while the instrumentals seem like the backbone of tunes for which Corgan never bothered to pen lyrics. There are a few real highlights, though: “Let Me Give The World To You” is good enough to have been included on the album proper, and “Do You Close Your Eyes When You Kiss Me?” almost seems like something Rivers Cuomo could have written, though the music is miles away from the bright blitz of Weezer. Anything else of note?

AZ: I was actually surprised at how many of the extras I enjoyed. I totally agree with you on the strength of “Let Me Give The World To You,” which I’d have to think Corgan ditched because it sounded too slick, what with the Rick Rubin production and stirring strings. (After all, the version that ended up on MACHINA II/The Friends & Enemies Of Modern Music was far more shoegaze-inspired.) I do like the vulnerability of the piano-heavy version of “The Tale Of Dusty & Pistol Pete (Live/Sao Paolo Session)” and “Saturnine (For Piano And Voice),” the retro charms of the tinny synthpop song “O Rio,” and the melancholic post-rock of “The Guns Of Love Disastrous” (2014 Mix/CRC Demo). The cinematic, string-heavy Puffy Combs remix of “Ava Adore” is also way better than it has any right to be (as well as serving as a reminder of the weirdness of late-’90s music). And the live, 13-minute version of Joy Division’s “Transmission” is gloriously noisy, unhinged and distorted—a nod to the early days of the Pumpkins and a welcome blast of rough energy. But you’re right about of the acoustic demos, while both the mono version of the album and the industrial/electro-tinged Matt Walker 2014 reimagining are completely unnecessary. This could’ve been a really solid three-CD reissue and had a bigger impact.

Yet, having so much insight into Adore’s creative process—the ideas Corgan worked up, tossed and/or revamped—is interesting from a historical perspective. This particular record clearly means a lot to him today, maybe even more now than it did before. And having so many different versions of songs lets fans cobble together their own version of Adore that perhaps differs from Corgan’s vision. He’s certainly not precious about his legacy, which is impressive for someone who has always devoted so much time and effort to crafting the perfect version of his work.

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What do you say, Sonia? Do the Adore outtakes and extras mean anything to you? Does anything stand out?

SS: Not really. I listened to the albums multiple times in the days leading up to this roundtable—on loop, mostly, while doing other things. Only the Puffy remix of “Ava Adore” prompted me to perk up and investigate its origins, and that’s because it’s so weird. It’s like if Billy Corgan accidentally wandered onto the set for a music video creating a new hit for ’90s easy-listening stations; there are strings laid over the track, which cheese up the song and make it horribly dated, all at the same time. If I had to hazard a guess, I think the reason that remix interested me, while a lot of the other bonus material didn’t, is that it has a discernible bass line that isn’t afraid to resonate. With the exception of the out-of-place “Ava Adore,” most of Adore is soporific on purpose. And though this reissue offers layers and layers of complexity, it’s really hard to listen to 107 tracks of music that sound very similar (and in numerous cases, are duplicates of one another).

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Compare this entire reissue to this 8-track demo for “Drown,” which Corgan released in 2011 as part of The Smashing Pumpkins Record Club. It’s not even a fair fight, is it? There is something alive about this track, even though it has some of the same atmospheric moodiness that characterizes Adore. As you observed, Alex, Adore is the de facto end of the Pumpkins as a band and the beginning of Billy Corgan as a solo artist. But most of the tracks here make me miss the former iteration of the band, where there was a distinct tension between the sincere dreaminess of Corgan’s work and the sharper edge of the drums and bass and distortion, which, I assume, was Chamberlin’s contribution. It made The Smashing Pumpkins a band you had to listen to, if only to untangle the duality.

I don’t hate Adore, and I don’t hate the reissue. But offering up several versions of this album, complete with reimagining and outtakes, only serves to underscore how much of a departure it was—and for a fan who came to the Pumpkins through the mainstream, the record feels like it’s missing something. It’s not bad, it’s just incomplete. For instance, when I type out the record title Adore, I have to take a minute and remember if it’s called Ava Adore, but no, that’s the single. Adore feels kind of incomplete, like there’s a whole half missing. And though what’s there is sad and beautiful in its own way, somehow getting six discs of it feels like overkill.

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What do you say, Alex? Am I being harsh or unfair?

AAD: It’s interesting that you describe Adore as incomplete. The “whole half” that’s missing is essentially the raucous rock half of the Pumpkins equation—the ragers that made up about 50 percent of Mellon Collie. (Side note: Why didn’t Corgan save that title for this record, which is much more consistently melancholy?) But the exclusion is intentional and pointed; Corgan wanted a downer of a fourth album, and while I can quibble with Adore on a song-by-song basis, I never listen to it and think, “It feels like Corgan didn’t finish this thing.” I’m not saying the album couldn’t stand for adjustment—I’ll get to that in a minute—but to me, Adore seems as “complete,” sonically and thematically, as any Pumpkins record. It’s not a rough draft.

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As for whether you’re being fair, Sonia, It might be stacking the deck a little to compare any version of “Drown,” possibly the band’s best song, to any version of an Adore track. You’re right, it isn’t a fair fight, but that has everything to do with the original material. For my money, a perfected “Perfect” would still fall short of a skeletal demo for, say, “Spaceboy.” The basic building blocks of the latter are just stronger.

Again, though, I think this addresses what needs a deluxe, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink reissue should serve. No one really requires an alternate cut of Siamese Dream, because the songs are peerless as is. But in the case of Adore, there might be real room for improvement. Annie, you touched upon this above: The multiple discs of extras allow consumers to construct their own, ideal incarnation of Adore, cherry-picking from the raw materials and alternate takes—while trimming the fat and even re-sequencing the tracklist—to create a kind of “listener’s cut.” Critics and fans alike sometimes fantasize about having editorial veto power with their favorite artists—and few musicians could use a little editing more than Corgan, who started losing the thread around the time he began ignoring the input of his bandmates. The irony of an odds-and-sods Adore release is that it allows everyone to shape one of Corgan’s most singular, personal efforts into something more personally satisfying to the individual listener. (I, for one, prefer Puffy’s take on “Ava Adore,” and would gladly slot it into track two of the album in the original’s place.) It wrestles creative control away from a notorious control freak.

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And so I’m glad this overstuffed Adore exists—as a valentine to true believers like Annie, and as a chance for a little context (and deconstructive powers) for us skeptics. Just don’t quote me on that when Corgan decides to release a dozen discs of bonus Machina material.

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