Part 1: 'Adore' of Perceptions
By David Wild
Adore is the surprisingly beautiful sound of a great band falling apart
Just about a decade and a half ago-shortly after the release of The Smashing Pumpkins' Adore album met with an underwhelming commercial response-Billy Corgan told David Fricke of Rolling Stone, "At the end of the day, if people do not connect with Adore, that is my responsibility. But in fifteen years, if somebody pulls me over and says, 'Adore is the best record you ever did,' I'm going to fall over laughing."
Asked now about that comment--and about his current feelings regarding Adore today--Corgan laughs, though for the record, he does not fall over. "I love Adore," he explains, "but for a while my opinion of the record was so intertwined with people's reaction to it at the time. I would say that my kind of iffy feeling lingered long past the point when a lot of fans seemed to come back around to the record--which seemed to really start happening around seven years ago. Now Adore is name-checked by fans constantly."
The immediate reaction to Adore was complicated, just as its cration came in the aftermath of decidedly complicated times for Corgan. For years, The Smashing Pumpkins had just become bigger and bigger on a number of levels with eah studio release: Gish in 1991, Siamese Dream in 1993, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness in 1995. But Adore would ultimately reflect a significant change of pace and style. In addition to Jimmy Chamberlin having been fired from the band, Corgan had also gone through a divorce and the death of his mother. In this context, it seems unsurprising that Adore was heard as anything but just another Smashing Pumpkins album
"It was this weird thing where for five or six years, every time that I opened my mouth, I seemed to follow it up with something bigger," Corgan says today. "It felt like being a guy on a roll of the eice, always rolling the right number or something. So this period was my first big misstep--at least that's how it was perceived at the time."
In fact, some critics praised the album, but the public seemed thrown by the significantly different, more intimate, and less guitar based sound of Adore, with its more quietly introspecteve and poetic mood and gorgeous touches of both folk and electronica. "I think I put more work into textural qualities of the record. Of course, it was lost in the onrush to condemn it."
When reminded that some critics actually seemed to like the album more than the public, Corgan explains, "I don't have that memory, but I was inside the bubble. I don't feel like I ever lost touch with reality; I just didn't know what to do about it."
In a variety of ways, the muted response to Adore struck Corgan as an almost inevitable moment of reckoning. "Success has a funny way of smoothing over relationships." He explains, "People tolerate you a little more than they would otherwise. There's this funny feeling that's sort of to your advantage, so you're not exactly fighting it, but there's still a feeling that something's not quite right either. And then there's some sort of moment of accountability for it or responsibility. Maybe it's a spiritual thing. Maybe it's just the law of energy. You can only run at a thousand miles an hour for so long. Those sorts of live events took me below a certain level of focus or energy or invulnerability, and I believe I tried on Adore to accurately document that. I believe I said at the time, that the album was just as much about Jimmy NOT being there. I really felt like in many ways, Jimmy was there."
So Jimmy Chamberlin was a presence even in his absence?
"Oh absolutely, it was like the ghost of Jimmy was in the room," Corgan explains. "Jimmy was my greatest confidant in terms of musical solidarity. And so I didn't have this guy to take a track and make it better because Jimmy can read my mind. Suddenly I'm dealing with different personalities and I don't have the same drive. Over time, I see it as being akin to the loss of my mom because I didn't really deal with it. And because I hadn't grown up with my mother, that loss hit me in a funny way because we hadn't had the relationship that I wanted."
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Corgan originally envisioned taking a different approach to recording hat would become the Adore album. "I think what was so confusing for most people who worked on the album, including my bandmates, was that Adore from a production standpoint is sort of about disassociation and disintegration and disembodiment."
Originally, Corgan began work with producer Brad Wood who had received positive attention for his work with Liz Phair, among others, but eventually Corgan concluded that Wood's low-fi, indie approach did not mesh well with his during early sessions that saw the Pumpkins joined by drummer Matt Walker of Filter. "I originally had the crazy idea that we'd move studios each week," Corgan recalls. ""In Brad's defense, that put a pressure on him he didn't needI think I maybe had been listening to the Basement Tapes too much. The idea was we were going to roll into the studio and create. Which I sort of did for the first eight weeks, technical issues aside. But the band didn't really participate that much in that process. I don't know why, but to me they didn't seem that interested. So when I made the decision to take the whole thing to L.A.--and I'm sure weather had something to do with that--they clocked in for a while, and then just started fading away. They didn't want to sit there watching me sit and tweak sampled drums all day, and they didn't get what I was doing and why I was doing it. At some point they stopped coming in all together."
One highlight of the album -- "For Martha," the more than eight minute-long song for Corgan's mother -- was recorded live in the studio by the Pumpkijns with Matt Cameron on drums. "It's one of those things that's so super personal that it's hard for me to have a musical perspective on it. There are things on Adore where there's a thin line between elegance and the hokey. So there were things on Adore where I let myself express things that I wouldn't under normal circumstances because it was so personal."
For Corgan, trying to replace Chamberlin made life within The Smashing Pumpkins very difficult. "Yes, I hated it, none of those guys were used to working in my system," says Corgan. "Jimmy and I had a crazy ability to work quickly and I could be very specific about what I wanted, and he would say 'Sure' and do it. I nitpicked the drums all day and he could do it. Not being mature enough then, I couldn't figure out why other guys could not follow that."
More satisfying for Corgan was the chance to integrate Bon Harris' electronic contributions into his vision. "Bon had a beautiful integrity when it came to electronic music, and that's all he'd ever really known," Corgan says. "So Bon would kind of feed information into the pipeline and I would sort of discern what I could put together. People would come in with ideas, but it was confusing for them because I'd only want strands of their ideas. That's what's cool about this reissue --what's been done with some of the remixes and particularly with those things Bon did electronically that weren't used at the time are here. And everybody who's heard those tracks says it sounds so modern--like it could come out today. But I wasn't interested in being progressive then, I was just interested in finding a kind of filtered light."
Eventually during the recording of Adore discerning what would work became too difficult for even Corgan to figure out without the help of one of his most trusted collaborators: Flood. "I was basically three-quarters of the way through, and the album was like a maze," Corgan confesses. "People in the studio wondered, 'Wow, does this guy know where he's going?' I was fumbling in the dark, and so finally, reached a point where I called Flood and sid, 'You've got to come and help me. I'm lost and I know you'll help me rein it in,' and he did. I think Flood was there about six weeks. But we have such a good relationship as compatriots that he saved my ass. He helped me make a better record without compromising my vision."
In retrospect, Adore has a power all its own--with less guitar, Corgan's voice and lyrics cut though in a different way. "I think when you're doing a full on rock song, it's almost like chanting. Rock has a more penetrative effect. On Adore, the voice sits out front in a very different space. It's more idiomatically folk than rock."
In retrospect, Corgan is proud that The Smashing Pumpkins continued to evolve rather than simply repeating themselves. "Having grown up in the tremendous shadow of The Beatles, not to mention The Kinks and The Who and The Rolling Stones, it's unfathomable in music not to keep changing. But in the '90s, we saw a narrowing of music. Bands and brands were coming together, and the most effective way to sell a brand is consistency."
Adore was released on June 1, 1998, and the same day the video for the first single "Ava Adore" premiered. "The first single began, 'It's you that I Adore/You'll always be my whore.' And that was supposed to be our radio hit!" In Rolling Stone, Greg Kot called Adore "the most intimate album the Pumpkins have ever made and also the prettiest, a parade of swooning melodies and gentle, unfolding nocturnes." Yet even though Adore entered the Billboard album chart at #2 and rather quickly went platinum, it did not live up to the massive success of the band's previous efforts
Looking back on the tour to promote the album, Corgan admits it was difficult to figure out how to perform material from Adore. "If I had it to do all over again, I would have had Kenny Aronoff -- who's an incredible timekeeper -- play along with loops from the album. But I made the fateful decision to get two percussionists, Stephen Hodges and Dan Morris, and that drove Kenny up the wall because Kenny has perfect time and one guy played on top and the other behind. I remember Kenny saying, 'I feel like I'm tripping on LSD' because he kept hearing things that were not in time, and it drove him crazy."
"In many ways," says Corgan, "the band was drifting apart internally. So it became a strange tour."
For the tour, The Smashing Pumpking were also joined by keyboardist Mike Garson, best known for his work with David Bowie. "The thing about Mike is he made a decision 40 years ago that he would live in the intuitive flow of what he was feeling, so he literally cannot play the same thing twice," Corgan says. "So we'd have gigs where he'd have that same magic as on Aladdin Sane and the next night he'd come and play the extreme opposite style--like honkytonk. I really respect Mike, but to play with him was always challenging; precisely because he is such a supreme musician."
Yet there were positive sides to the band's scaled back An Evening with The Smashing Pumpkins world tour. Overseas, the Pumpkins played at an eclectic group of venues, like the rooftop of FNAC record store in Paris, the botanic gardens in Brussels, and Museo Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. And back home in the United Satates, the band donated 100% of their ticket profits to local charities
"Those were highlights for sure, and I give our managers at the time a lot of credit. And I'm sure when I fired them, this is one of the reasons they scratched their heads. But if I could sum that time up for the band, we were just searching for an identity and we couldn't find one. Every other time we sought for one, we'd found it. So if Jimmy was at the center of that, I can't say. If I had to guess, I don't think so -- I just think our number was up. I don't know that to compare it to. But to me it was a singular experience, and much of it had to do with the band running out of gas."
On some level, Corgan was looking for a way out which helps explain Adore's often-misunderstood title. "I don't remember when the title came up, but the funny thing was the title was a joke, that no one ever got," Corgan explains now
So Adore is really A Door?
"That's it. To this day, I've never had anyone come up to me and say, 'I got it.' It was so obvious that no one ever got it."
Part 2: Track by Track
By Billy Corgan
To Sheila-- Written in Poland, the lyrics coming to me as I rode with our band party down a non-descript county road. The first take on the first day of the album, and the song that trumpeted in softly a new era; or what was the final era; or the end of the only era; or the beginning of this era. Either way, the melody and simplicity of chords presented is both a coming and going; or better said, a door in and out. There was no Sheila, but if she does exist somewhere beyond the limits of my imagination I imagine her to be Gaelic. One other impression: the line, 'you make me real,' strikes me as odd as its intention would be that up until this point I wasn't; or that your narrator never was. For that which is struck into negation still exists, and is a law of love that tyrants can never understand
Ava Adore-- Ostensibly written about some objectified person, there also is no 'Ava' that I can configure, and the lyric is perhaps more a screed to my frustration at the fairer sex than say what might meld two souls together; 'we must never be apart' more a demand than any state of absolution. Recorded essentially in a single morning and afternoon, I shockingly didn't tinker with the production much in all the languishing that went about during the album's recording. If I'd known it was to be pushed as the opening single I suppose I would have made a better effort to examine what made the track provocative, and for its time, too strange. Thankfully the song has endured long past when it might have expired, and along with it the caginess that made the accompanying video so arresting, and expensive
Perfect-- Penned in Los Angeles, 'Perfect' was a late addition to the fold; my inspiration the coming break-up of two people I once thought I admired. To state the obvious, the lyric is meant as ironic, as little in love's affairs can be quantified as perfect. Yet this is the goal. Rekindling the memory, I am still scarred by making what was then, and now, so disappointing a video; where even our attempt to reassemble the beguiling cast of '1979' was fated from the first; with one of them sitting at that moment in jail. On top of this I decided my lip sync should be filmed from on high, and a 150 ft. high crane was located for rent. Soon such heights revealed my fear of them, and as I tried to sing I found I couldn't stop shaking. Affecting what became a tremulous, unfortunate delirium that would last a week
Daphne Descends-- Originally meant as an old-timey number, like one you'd play sitting on a front porch drinking sarsaparilla; the day hot. But in that the song felt inconsequential, the message lost in tedium and a clock-like wait. Hence the loping synthesizer bass, and the gallop of the one-two beat's back rythym. And whoever 'Daphne' is, she gets a lot of warning here about 'the boy.' No, not by band mate's fey, lovesick 'boy' of song, but the kind of boy-child I once was
Once Upon a Time-- Like 'For Martha,' this was penned in direct opposition to my Mother's untimely death. A message I suppose for things I would have like to have said, but didn't have the courage for. A personal highlight, and one I treasure regardless of current taste or favor. The purest of them all
Tear-- An interesting note: 'Tear' was originally recorded in Chicago, and by the time we got out to L.A. I'd gone off the version for some reason. Not because I didn't like it per se, but because it wasn't near the hyperbolic drama I really wanted. For across the albgum there were really but a few loud moments, and I thought this unwise. So I remember trying some new versions, and they sounded the same; which returned me back to the original. I tried running it through some distortion but that sounded trite, and over-compression affected it positively but not far enough. To bridge the gap we'd engage in a process called 'tape saturation,' where tracks are bounced from one reel to another until they start to smear. Voila, and with that a rough mix was commissioned and we moved on. Yet by the time we went to mix the song some months later, the sound was drastically changed and there was no high end to be found. "It's falled off," said Flood, meaning that the gimmickry of the saturation doesn't last for long. Hence what you have in your hands as the original: the rough mix, and a newly made balance from the digital transfer; made when the tape was fresh
Crestfallen-- The tune is a piano ballad (thru and through), despite my attempt here (and previously in demos) to electrify its sorrows. That said, I am partial to the song's cadence (even if I can't say why), as the melody embodies something not so easily found in my various searches in A minor. And though I will admit it is a bit syrupy, the lyrics as a whole are direct and at least represent the undaunted heart in an album where so much is broken
Appels + Oranjes-- One time I was walking down the street and confronted by a fan. "You do realize,' he said with some vigor, "that you've stolen that title from a Pink Floyd song!" And I said, "Yes, of course." "So why didn't you change it?" he replied. "But I did!" "And how so," he asked, "When it's the same?" "By using the Danish spelling of Oranges!" Sad to sa, but this joke was lost on him as so many jokes have been lost on so many of the put-upon. That aside, "A + O" has the distinction of being the first song written for 'Adore,' demoed out during a session with Matt Walker, as other music was being put together for what became the 'Ransom' soundtrack. And here lies another story, as the famed composer I was to share the album's cover with had me summarily kicked off it. Why? Because he claimed the work I'd done was not 'music,' and he would not be sullied by it. To him, and to you, I say it is better to make original noise than lukewarm, adapted themes trolled from the greats. To he, I dedicate this hymn. For what if his shining, erstwhile baton refused to shudder at our collective rebellion?
Pug-- A tale of sexual misanthropy, no less dressed up as a delusional pop song. Done correctly, 'Pug' might have been a single, but like a few castaways it lingers in the hallways of also-rans. Here too lies the traces of the mighty Flood, who was partial to this tracks menace and wished the album had more of this kind of lope; and not less. Per my ears, I favor the chorus, and the wistful acoustic-isms that that accompany it languor; with a nice guitar figure courtesy of James St. James
The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete-- Ostensibly a narrative covering the fallout of a murder; as the lass has been murdered by her beau, and he is rewarded in forever being haunted by her scream. What this says about the state of my romantic life circa 1997-1997 I'll leave you to decide, but suffice to say I've never harmed anyone; the weapon of so many words being excepted. And all trifling aside, I recommend it be played over the sound of my funeral pyre, for I love the somber blue of the chords; and they go well with smoke
Annie-Dog-- Presented in no less than its original form, 'Annie-Dog' was cut in full just once, and any attempt thereafter was deemed a failure. Reading into this, I'd say it shows my 'anything can happen' approach that so shaped the album's outcome; despite the fretting that went on over the more juiced-up tracks. As a playful character Annie-Dog is like many women I've met and found facinating, being among those who are willing to trade their bodies so readily for something much more valuable; like say attention, or the appearances of love
Shame-- Also a kind of live track, there is a bit of sleight of hand there, as I went back and overdubbed some things immediately afterwards; capturing the same feeling with a bit more technical proficiency. Story-wise the song's recording is well known, as I woke up that morning, wrote the song as soon as I was awake, and pretty much drove straight to the studio. The version here not yet 2 hours old, and left un-tampered with
Behold! The Night Mare-- Yes, its about a horse, but a mythical one; as in the kind that drives through your dreams. The drums are double-tracked and in mono each, set aside by the far realms of stereo, which give the track that swishy-feeling that if given more thought might have been abandoned. I guess in retrospect the lack of a solid foundational rhythym is part of what makes the track's ethereal quality stand up, for one could argue its imperfection is inexorably linked with timelessness. And as a lyric, 'I've faced the fathoms in your deep' still seems a particularly good way to sum up anyone's quest for equity in heart-stuff and heart-death; for it appears there is no other way that I can tell. Recorded in Chicago, and quickly, and rarely touched in L.A
For Martha-- Included in the box set are two early takes of 'For Martha,' as the band and I paw through its complexities with flashes of dignity. I've included these as a rare document into how we worked together, as you can see much of the song's timbral charts are already drawn; and what matters now is how they play out against one another to create pathos, or in this case, respect. As among the most personal of my songs I think the lyric stands for itself by way of explanation. Yet i will tell you that Martha Louise was an incredible soul, obviously. Not judging by how I turned out, mind you, for I am flawed too; but by the way she's never left
Blank Page-- A miracle in that 'Blank Page' was never meant to be a song in the conventional sense, but an instrumental called '48 Chords;' in honor of its un-cycling sequence. A chance encounter changed all that when I stuffed a poem I'd just written in my pocket, and in taking it out during a technical disaster I started to sing along to the music filtering out of a tossed-off pair of headphones. From there I went line by line, and I'm proud to say that I think this might be in the album's best. I'm sure I'll find someone to argue the point, but that too is like so many oranjes left in the sun
17-- I am ready to reveal that this small offering is 'Blissed and Gone,' the track I so rashly left off of 'Adore.' And what precipitated the decision might be found in an encounter I had with producer and friend Rick Rubin, in whom management had asked to survey my progress; which at that time had ground to a standstill. "Whoa," he said when hearing the looped version of the greater song. "Whoa." In this I took whoa to mean 'not good,' and abandoned it like many others that were worthy. The least of which was Rick's oversight of 'Let Me Give The World To You,' which the label had pegged as their only hope to sell more plastic. So let the circle be complete, because if you are reading this, then you've made them happy