Smashing Pumpkins, The – Pisces Iscariot: Deluxe Edition
Record Label: EMI
Release Date: July 17th, 2012
By 1994 The Smashing Pumpkins had firmly cemented themselves as the alternative queens (kings being way too mainstream) of the northeast of America with their unique brand of awkwardly passionate alternative rock music. In fact, they had arguably established themselves as one of the main alternative bands of America as a whole. This was, of course, coming on the back of the success with which their second album Siamese Dream was met. Despite a recording session which was fraught with near unbearable band tensions, Siamese Dream debuted at number ten on the U.S. Billboard chart, and would go on to sell over four million copies in the U.S. and eventually over six million worldwide (and counting). What followed next was a record labels attempt to keep the hype ball rolling. 1994’s Pisces Iscariot was a neatly packaged and very well advertised b-sides and outtakes compilation album. With this 2012 re-mastered and re-released edition, which is part of EMI’s re-release of all of the Pumpkins back catalogue, the album is still as neatly packaged as ever, but is now even more jammed packed with that much cherished b-side and outtake goodness.
To look back at its roots, Pisces Iscariot was initially conceived as a difficult sell to the masses simply because Pumpkins records had become so well known for their pedantic recording qualities. Every song and record that this band had released to date had been engrained in a perfectionist aura. To rush a “half arsed” collection of b-sides out was both dangerous and a testament to the labels faith in the quality of the Pumpkins extracurricular musical efforts. It was then much to the shock of near everyone involved when the album went on to peak at number 4 on the U.S. Billboard chart becoming at the time their highest debuting album.
But to put it tastefully the original album has always been a bit of a cluttered mess. The record is decorated with tracks that do not successfully flow into each other, and as a whole it is extremely difficult to listen to in one full sitting. Your encounter will be more easily enjoyed if you consider the effort as a bunch of individual songs, and Corgan himself would encourage this as he has described the work as his attempt to make a mixtape instead of an album on several occasions. This is definitely one of the times in Cogan’s life that he sold out, but we can certainly still reap some rewards from these sonic pieces. For instance, “Frail and Bedazzled” wonderfully showcases the early intensity to which the Pumpkins can successfully rattle their bubbling instruments along. “Pissant” too is musically as heavy as anything that they have ever released in their career and a definite highlight here. The Fleetwood Mac enthusiasts out there received a shock when “Landslide” appeared on Pisces and is an exceptionally delicate lyric based cover similar to the original. The song is actually in the vein of most of the slow songs on the album with opener “Soothe” perhaps being the best example of the slowed down approach. The later album track “Starla” is arguably the greatest b-side that the band had created up to this point in their career. It is the song which justifies these b-sides being worthy of existing in a collection together as the eleven minute track is simply born from the pure talent and constraint of the band as a collective.
Of the new b-sides and outtakes available on the second disk, it is the opening two tracks which are the most impressive with “By June” and “My Dahlia” showcasing the type of musical aesthetic which was to come on their career defining next album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. These songs give a snapshot of the early process of creating a newer more succinct sound which could reach a more diverse audience for the first time; even more so than the 3 minute guitar riffs had been bringing about up to now. On the Siamese Dream outtake “French Movie Theme” the enchanting sound of atmospheric keys is noticeably present, and the song is quite reminiscent to their later, and perhaps most famous, instrumental song “Mellon Collie and Infinite Sadness”. One further song worth commenting on is the third last track “There It Goes”, which is the only song on the updated second collection which sounds capable of appearing as an actual Pumpkins single. The quality is very high on this track, but unfortunately it is so far hidden in this haze of b-sides that it is hard to pick out from the offering early on. It is always great to be given the opportunity to revise works of art in more detail a few decades after its cultural impact, but sadly for the first time on this re-release of the Smashing Pumpkins back catalogue do you feel like you are drowning in the sheer mass of the Pumpkins musical repertoire.
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