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The Smashing Pumpkins
“Though they emerged alongside grunge acts like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, the Smashing Pumpkins were the group least influenced by traditional underground rock. Headed by principal songwriter and frontman Billy Corgan, they fashioned an amalgam of progressive rock, heavy metal, goth, psychedelia, and dream pop, creating a layered, powerful sound driven by swirling, distorted guitars that churned beneath Corgan‘s angst-ridden lyrics. One of the most visible alternative rock bands of the early ’90s, they achieved mainstream success over the decade with classic releases Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness before entering an uneven and often tumultuous chapter that carried them into the 2000s. After the success of 1993’s Siamese Dream, their presence extended to the mainstream with radio and video hits from their double album, Mellon Collie. After a misunderstood foray into electronic rock on Adore, Corgan issued a final pair of efforts before putting the group to sleep for an extended early-2000s hiatus that ended with 2007’s Zeitgeist. Along with an ever-changing lineup, he continued to churn out albums under the Pumpkins moniker before reuniting with most of the original lineup for a 2018 reunion.
The son of a jazz guitarist, William Patrick Corgan grew up in a Chicago suburb, leaving home at the age of 19 to move to Florida with his fledgling goth metal band, the Marked. After the band failed down South, he returned to Chicago around 1988, where he began working at a used-record store. At the shop he met James Iha (guitar), a graphic arts student at Loyola University, and the two began collaborating, performing, and recording songs with a drum machine. Corgan met D’Arcy Wretzky at a club show; after arguing about the merits of the Dan Reed Network, the two became friends and she joined the group as a bassist. Soon, the bandmembers, who named themselves the Smashing Pumpkins, had gained a dedicated local following, which included the head of a local club who booked them to open for Jane’s Addiction. Before the pivotal concert, the band hired Jimmy Chamberlin, a former jazz musician, as their full-time drummer.
In 1990, the Smashing Pumpkins released their debut single, “I Am One,” on the local Chicago label Limited Potential. The single quickly sold out, and in December the band released “Tristessa” on Sub Pop. By this point, the Smashing Pumpkins had become the subject of a hot bidding war, and the group latched onto a clever way to move to a major label without losing indie credibility. They signed to Virgin Records, yet it was decided that the group’s debut would be released on the Virgin subsidiary Caroline, and then the band would move to the majors. The strategy worked; Gish, a majestic mix of Black Sabbath and dream pop produced by Butch Vig, became a huge college and modern rock hit upon its spring 1991 release. The Pumpkins embarked on an extensive supporting tour for Gish, which lasted over a year and included opening slots for Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. During the Gish tour, tensions between bandmembers began to escalate, as former couple Iha and Wretzky went through a messy breakup, Chamberlin became addicted to drugs and alcohol, and Corgan entered a heavy depression. These tensions weren’t resolved by the time the group entered the studio with Vig to record its second album.
Toward the beginning of the sessions, the Pumpkins were given significant exposure through the inclusion of “Drown” on the Singles soundtrack in the summer of 1992. As the sessions progressed, Corgan relieved himself of his depression by working heavily — not only did he write a surplus of songs, he played nearly all of the guitars and bass on each recording, which meant that its release was delayed several times. The resulting album, Siamese Dream, was an immaculate production and was embraced by critics upon its July 1993 release. Siamese Dream became their first blockbuster, debuting at number ten on the charts and establishing the Smashing Pumpkins as stars. “Cherub Rock,” the first single, was a modern rock hit, yet it was “Today” and the acoustic “Disarm” that sent the album into the stratosphere. The Smashing Pumpkins became the headliners of Lollapalooza 1994, and following the tour’s completion, the band went back into the studio to record a new album that Corgan had already claimed would be a double-disc set. To tide fans over until then, the Pumpkins released the B-sides and rarities album Pisces Iscariot in October 1994.
Working with producers Flood and Alan Moulder, the Smashing Pumpkins recorded as a full band for their third album, the double-disc set Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which became an even bigger hit than Siamese Dream, debuting at number one on the charts. On the strength of the singles “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” “1979,” “Zero,” and “Tonight, Tonight,” it sold over four million copies in the U.S., eventually being certified platinum over eight times. The Pumpkins had graduated to stadium shows for the Mellon Collie tour, and the band was at the peak of its popularity when things began to spiral. On July 12, prior to two shows at Madison Square Garden, the group’s touring keyboardist, Jonathan Melvoin, died from a heroin overdose; he was with Chamberlin, who survived his overdose. In the wake of the tragedy, the remaining Pumpkins fired Chamberlin and spent two months on hiatus as they recovered and searched for a new drummer. Early in August, they announced that Filter member Matt Walker would be their touring drummer and Dennis Flemion, a member of the Frogs, would be their touring keyboardist for the remainder of the year. They returned to the stage at the end of August and spent the next five months on tour.
In spring, the Smashing Pumpkins recorded two songs for the soundtracks for Batman & Robin (the Grammy-winning “The End Is the Beginning Is the End”) and Lost Highway (“Eye”). The latter track hinted at the direction of their next album, which took a surprise turn into subdued electronics. Shrouded by the death of Corgan‘s mother and a divorce, Adore followed a few months later. Despite topping international charts and peaking at number two on the Billboard 200, the effort’s sales and reviews were disappointing, with many critics confused by their new direction. The band embarked on a tour, contributing 100 percent of the earnings to charity, and returned to the studio.
Prior to the release of their fifth album, Chamberlin returned to the group and Wretzky made her exit, replaced by Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur. Bringing the band back to its early rock roots, MACHINA: The Machines of God landed in early 2000. Peaking at number three, MACHINA included the singles “Stand Inside Your Love” and “The Everlasting Gaze.” In the midst of album promotion, Corgan announced his intention to dissolve the band that year with a farewell tour. Fans received one last treat when Corgan and company finished tracks that were left over from the MACHINA sessions. Surprisingly, Virgin Records balked at the idea of releasing the 25-track set so close to the release of their previous album, so the band put the entire album (going by the official title of Machina II: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music) on the Internet for fans to download for free. On December 2, 2000, the Pumpkins played a mammoth show at Chicago’s Metro (also the venue at which the group played its first show back in 1988). Booked as a final farewell, it would actually just be their first official hiatus, the start of an uneven period for Corgan when the Pumpkins would become known as much for lineup and status changes as the music itself.
During the break, former members of the band didn’t wait long before carrying on with other projects. Corgan spent the summer of 2001 playing guitar with New Order on select concert dates, and later in the year unveiled his new band, Zwan, including Chamberlin on drums (as well as former Chavez guitarist Matt Sweeney and bassist David “Skullfisher” Pajo). He also released a book of poetry. The other two former Pumpkins, Iha and Auf der Maur, began putting together an alt-rock supergroup dubbed the Virgins. Iha also began playing with A Perfect Circle. A pair of postmortem Pumpkins collections were also issued as a double-disc/DVD, both called Greatest Hits (aka Rotten Apples). Corgan released his first solo album, The Future Embrace, in 2005, and on the day it came out, he took out a full-page ad in The Chicago Tribune to announce that the Smashing Pumpkins were reuniting just five years after splitting. However, he hadn’t informed any of his past bandmates, and only Chamberlin joined for the ride. The resulting album, Zeitgeist (Reprise Records), was issued in 2007. Although it peaked at number two, the effort continued the band’s late-era decline in sales and critical acclaim. The new lineup — which added guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Ginger Reyes, and keyboardist Lisa Harriton — embarked on a successful international tour, despite lukewarm reception to Zeitgeist.
Corgan and Chamberlin released an EP, American Gothic, at the start of 2008, before Corgan shook things up once again by announcing that the group would no longer record albums and would instead only issue singles. Chamberlin parted ways with the band once again in March 2009 and Corgan was joined by Schroeder, bassist Nicole Fiorentino, and drummer Mike Byrne. Once the dust settled, Corgan followed through on his promise to issue only short-form releases, putting out the track “A Song for a Son” in December of 2009. Scattered songs from the band’s Teargarden by Kaleidyscope concept were released over the next two years as free downloads, with physical collections of the tracks released in 2010 by way of the EP box sets Songs for a Sailor and The Solstice Bare.
In 2012, Corgan decided to take a break from the single-centric concept and released Oceania, the Smashing Pumpkins‘ official eighth studio album. A live companion, Oceania: Live in NYC, was released the following year. In 2014, Corgan announced that he would be releasing two albums the following year under a new deal with BMG, which would tie up the Teargarden concept; these would be titled Monuments to an Elegy and Day for Night. By this point, Fiorentino and Byrne had left the band, and drums on Monuments to an Elegy were played by Tommy Lee of Mötley Crüe. Monuments was released on December 9, 2014 and debuted in the Top 40 of the Billboard 200, making it their lowest-charting effort since their debut. Chamberlin returned to the band for a 2015 tour, although the promised Day for Night failed to materialize on schedule.
In early 2016, Iha reunited with Corgan and Chamberlin for a performance in Los Angeles, their first together in almost two decades. Subsequent live shows followed, leading to an eventual reunion of the original lineup (sans Wretzky) for a 2018 tour. The Shiny and Oh So Bright Tour featured the three founding members and bassist Jack Bates (son of Peter Hook). To coincide with the summertime trek, the Pumpkins released “Solara,” the first single from their reunion album Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1/LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. Produced by Rick Rubin, Shiny and Oh So Bright appeared in November 2018.” – Stephen Thomas Erlewine, AllMusic
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
“Having left Oasis the previous year after a typically turbulent backstage row with brother Liam at Manchester’s Heaton Park, the eldest Gallagher sibling’s first official foray into a “solo” career took off in 2010 with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, featuring the talents of Gallagher, former Oasis keyboard player Mike Rowe, Lemon Trees drummer Jeremy Stacey, and percussionist Lenny Castro. Cut from the same arena-sized, melodic Brit-pop cloth as the band he helped bring to prominence in the early ’90s, the High Flying Birds released their debut single, “If I Had a Gun,” in August 2011, followed by an eponymous, full-length debut in mid-October. It reached number one in the U.K., also performing well across the globe. In 2014, the single “In the Heat of the Moment” preceded the release of the High Flying Birds‘ second album, Chasing Yesterday in 2015. The band embarked on a promotional tour for the record throughout the next two years. A remix album entitled Where the City Meets the Sky: Chasing Yesterday: The Remixes saw release in the fall of 2015 and featured reworkings by the likes of Andrew Weatherall and 3D of Massive Attack. Gallagher teamed with producer David Holmes for Who Built the Moon?, a 2017 album that revived his love of noisy neo-psychedelia.” – James Christopher Monger, AllMusic
“Northern California hardcore punk revivalists AFI formed in 1991 when the band’s four founding members — vocalist Davey Havok, guitarist Markus Stopholese, bassist Vic Chalker, and drummer Adam Carson — were attending high school in Ukiah. Chalker was replaced by Geoff Kresge after eight months, and the band played several local gigs and released a split 7″, Dork, with fellow Ukiah natives Loose Change (a band that incidentally included future AFI member Jade Puget). An EP titled Behind the Times was released as well. The bandmembers then split up to attend different colleges, with Kresge temporarily moving to New Jersey to join Blanks 77. However, AFI reconvened during a holiday break to play a one-off reunion show, and audience response was so positive that the bandmembers decided to quit school and concentrate on music full-time.
AFI (whose abbreviation stands for “A Fire Inside”) issued several singles before securing a record deal with the Nitro label, which issued the band’s second album, Very Proud of Ya, in 1996. Two LPs followed in 1997 — a re-release of their 1995 debut, Answer That & Stay Fashionable, and Shut Your Mouth & Open Your Eyes — and personnel shifts ensued. Kresge was the first to leave, being replaced by bassist Hunter Burgan, and Stopholese departed in favor of ex-Redemption 87 guitarist Jade Puget, who then shared songwriting duties with Havok. The new lineup recorded an EP titled A Fire Inside in 1998, and issued a noticeably more mature full-length in 1999, Black Sails in the Sunset; 1999 also saw the release of the All Hallow’s EP and The Art of Drowning a year later. Though already having a fiercely loyal core fan base, the latter album saw the band’s music attracting an even larger audience, due in part to the moderate success of the single “Days of the Phoenix.” Accordingly, it was the first album to chart in the Billboard 200.
At the onset of the new millennium, AFI hooked up with producers Jerry Finn and Garbage‘s Butch Vig for a new set of recording sessions. The end result was the ambitious Sing the Sorrow, AFI‘s major-label debut for DreamWorks, which showcased the band’s significant growth since its early hardcore days. Released in 2003, the record also marked AFI‘s crossover into the mainstream. Sing the Sorrow eventually went platinum, buoyed by the singles “Girls Not Grey” and “The Leaving Song, Pt. II,” both of which were popular on MTV.
Working again with Jerry Finn (who had also produced records for blink-182 and Green Day), the band began recording the follow-up that would be their most labor-intensive to date, resulting in two years of detailed songwriting. Decemberunderground, AFI‘s seventh album, surfaced in 2006 on the Interscope label. The album was an instant success, debuting at number one on the Billboard charts and launching a summer-long tour, followed by a string of overseas performances in October. While on tour, Havok and Puget dedicated their spare time to a side project that would eventually become Blaqk Audio, which they debuted in early 2007. AFI released the concert album I Heard a Voice: Live from Long Beach Arena later that same year, but the bandmates continued pursuing their own projects, with Hunter Burgan playing bass for several other bands while Jade Puget did remix work for the likes of the Cure.
AFI properly reconvened in 2008 to begin writing new material; by November, they had announced their intention to begin recording with producer David Bottrill. Two months later, they traded Bottrill for a pair of new producers — Joe McGrath and Jacknife Lee — and continued working on the album, focusing on songs that were harder than those found on Decemberunderground. The result, Crash Love, was their most straight-ahead rock record to date. The album was released in September 2009 and proved to be another success, though it did not chart as highly or sell as well as the previous two albums. AFI toured extensively throughout 2010 to promote the release before going quiet for a couple of years. In 2013 they announced they would be returning with a new album, Burials, in October. Produced by Gil Norton, the album was preceded by a number of singles including the thrilling, melodic pop-punk anthem “17 Crimes.”
Four years would pass before the next AFI album, during which time Havok and Puget worked on music for the hardcore side project XTRMST, as well as Blaqk Audio‘s third LP. The self-titled AFI (also known as “The Blood Album”) was issued in January 2017. Rising to number five on the Billboard 200, it included the singles “Snow Cats” and “White Offerings.” While on tour promoting the effort, AFI wound up recording a fresh batch of songs that landed on their 2018 EP, The Missing Man. Issued that December and produced by Puget, the five-track release included the single “Get Dark.” – Steve Huey, AllMusic