Best tunes of 1993: #13 The Smashing Pumpkins “Disarm”

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For a while in the 1990s, I went off of American music, and to a lesser extent, Canadian music. For a newly minted music geek that felt he had just begun to experience the best that the alternate music world had to offer, Nirvana’s ascent on the scene and the life altering effect that had was like a death knell. And I don’t mean to get down on the Seattle-based trio here because it really was the fault of big music. The dollar signs shone bright green in their eyes and they followed their noses to the west coast, snapping up all the acts there, and when that was done, started sniffing out similar sounding acts the rest of the continent over and in some cases, tipping some more established acts into more consumer friendly territory.

Smashing Pumpkins predated the Seattle renaissance by a few months and their debut album, 1991’s “Gish”, already had prognosticators comparing them favourably to be the next Jane’s Addiction, who at that point were already on their way to implosion. The expectations were high with Virgin executives when the band went back to the studio with the now mystical producer Butch Vig to record their sophomore album. By all accounts, the sessions were fraught with difficulties – drugs and heartbreak and depression – but as we know, from adversity springs beauty and “Siamese dream” is widely considered one of the classic albums of the early 1990s.

I remember hearing them a lot on the radio and despite being initially turned off, given that they were being lumped in with the Seattle grunge heads, still found something palatable in their songs. Yeah, I knew they were from Chicago and wasn’t fooled by the hype machine, but I could also hear something different, an element in their sound that made me not want to turn off the radio. There was something theatrical there, owing more to the goths and noiserockers from the 80s. I went out and got a copy of “Siamese dream” on CD on the strength of these radio singles and quietly became a fan.

And now that I am spilling the beans here, I might as well admit that “Disarm” is the rod that reeled this music fan in. I mean, really… chugging acoustic strumming… haunting chimes… and dramatic intensity heightened by violin and cello strings. It is operatic in scope but not in sound. Billy Corgan spouts dangerous and strong words that got the song banned in some countries but in truth, this is just him dealing with the trauma and pain inflicted upon him by his parents during his youth.

“Disarm you with a smile
And cut you like you want me to
Cut that little child
Inside of me and such a part of you
Ooh, the years burn”

It’s a song that begs to be turned up loud and played on repeat and that I did, on both counts back in the day, often the volume knob easing slightly more clockwise with each listen. Great tune.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.


100 best covers: #55 Smashing Pumpkins “Never let me down again”

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I’d consider myself a pretty big fan of Depeche Mode, especially of their period spanning the late 1980s to the late 1990s. In fact, last year on these very pages, I did a series of three posts on the iconic synth pop band, each one focusing on my top five tunes of their three very distinct eras: the prolific 1980s, the popular 1990s, and everything that followed, in a more experimental but still very relevant vein.

Near the end of that middle and very popular period in the 90s, a tribute album was put together by the artists and management team behind the industrial rock group, God Lives Underwater. Titled “For the masses”, it featured reimaginings by said band, but also by The Cure, Veruca Salt, Meat Beat Manifesto, and yes, Smashing Pumpkins. I bought the compilation on compact disc, of course, but was mostly disappointed with it and only ever listened to it a few times. And often those few times that it found itself in my player were because I had a hankering to listen to one of the disc’s meagre bright spots, that is, the track that we are focusing on today.

Smashing Pumpkins originally included their cover of “Never let me down again” as a B-side to the single, “Rocket”, released in 1994, just as they were breaking into the mainstream. The cover’s later inclusion on this compilation was the impetus for my buying the CD, after hearing it quite a bit on alternative radio. It is one of the few examples here that the covering artist really remakes the subject matter into their own thing. Where the original was robotic, dark, cold, and practically unemotional, Billy Corgan and gang inject a bit of warmth and yes, some increased sensuality to the proceedings. They take the convertible out for a ride in sunshine, still wearing sunglasses and cool, of course, the guitars are jangling and the drumming peppy, and Corgan is all snarls and whispery and just this side of screaming it out.

Yeah, it’s a great cover. Can I really say it’s better than Mode’s original synth pop evocation of drug euphoria? Nope. Do I think it’s still worth playing over and over? Oh yes.


The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.