After distinctive career, Smashing Pumpkins carve out new album

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Smashing Pumpkins play The Riverside in Milwaukee at 7 p.m. on Sept. 30.

The Smashing Pumpkins arrived on the Chicago (and national) music scene at just the right time. For a city as big as Chicago, there was an embarrassing dearth of cool music coming from Lake Michigan’s southwestern shores. As late as the late 1980s, Cheap Trick was still the biggest band to be associated with Chicago (and they were actually from Rockford!). Most of the punk-era bands emerging from Chicago never achieved the kind of crossover success that bands from other major metropolitan areas did. Milwaukee bands, such as the BoDeans and Violent Femmes, fared much better. 

All of that changed in 1991 with The Smashing Pumpkins’ full-length debut disc “Gish,” recently reissued in a remastered and expanded edition. The Smashing Pumpkins, didn’t sound like the ’80s, and only vaguely echoed grunge. The music was metallic, but it was saved by Billy Corgan’s distinctive and emotive vocals.

Two years later, after grunge had predictably run its course and alternative was the predominant force, Smashing Pumpkins’ remarkable “Siamese Dream,” also reissued, remastered and expanded, set the standard. Shimmering with the shards of grunge, “Siamese Dream” also dared to go where few others had ventured, as exemplified in the rapturous “Today” and the disarming “Disarm,” complete with chimes and a string section. “Gish” and “Siamese Dream” are nothing less than essential.

The considerably expanded deluxe reissue of the Smashing Pumpkins’ 1994 B-sides and rarities compilation “Pisces Iscariot” and the latest Pumpkins’ full-length recording “Oceania” were released within weeks of each other in 2012. They offer a fascinating history lesson on Chicago’s most successful band of the 1990s.

Joining the ranks of the stunningly packaged “Gish” and “Siamese Dream” reissues, “Pisces Iscariot” includes the remastered original album (featuring the glorious cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and the blistering “Hello Kitty Kat”), a second disc of outtakes, live tracks, demos and rough mixes, and a DVD that includes footage from the cable access show “Pulse Basement Jam” and bonus live performances. Of particular interest to Pumpkins fans will be the six-song red plastic demo cassette.

The band may have changed its line-up over the years, but there’s no mistaking “Oceania” as a Smashing Pumpkins record. Of course, that’s mainly due to the Pumpkins’ most consistent factor, front-man Billy Corgan. His distinguished vocals and guitar style are evident right from the start on “Quasar,” and the remainder of the disc follows the Pumpkins’ formula of heavy rockers (“Panopticon,” “The Chimera”) and pleasant pop numbers (“The Celestials,” “Pinwheels”). Heck, there’s even a synthy tune, “One Diamond, One Heart,” that displays an unexpected side of the band.

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