Sunday, December 11, 2011

Reviews: The Smashing Pumpkin- Gish and Siamese Dream deluxe edition remastered reissues

The Smashing Pumpkins/ Gish and Siamese Dream deluxe editions (Virgin/ EMI, 2011)
I have no problem buying remastered CDs of material that was released before the CD era, say, 1990. But Gish and Siamese Dream were recorded, mixed, and mastered for the CD format to begin with, so I have some issues, philosophically speaking, with the remastering of these albums. Is it necessary? Are these remastered or remixed? The EQs are different, with higher highs and lower lows. I will critique these albums based on the following criteria: Remastering, the bonus disc, and the packaging. There is a DVD with a full live show included in each box, but I haven't gotten around to watching them yet, and probably won't until my Winter sabbatical next month.
I have the original Caroline and the 1994 Virgin re-release/remastered versions of Gish. There was very little difference between the two, but this 2011 remaster is head and shoulders above them both. The guitar solos are much louder in the mix than on the original album, and this is where my “remixed” comments come into play. The same can be said with the distortion at the end of Rhinoceros and the beginning of Bury Me, which sound much different than they did on the original album. The biggest improvement, aside from the expanded dynamic range in the mix, is in the drums. Gish has always had a flat, tinny sound to it, but the cymbals and bass drum are far more pleasing to the ear here than they were on the original album. While the mastering is louder and clearer, it is not brick-walled. Indeed, it sounds more analog than the original album. Crush is the highlight out of the remastered tunes. It really comes to life here. I have listened to both of these albums hundreds of times over the years, but hearing them again for the first time was a treat.
There is a wealth of unreleased Pumpkins songs, from the band's inception in 1988 through the completion of their second album in 1993. I have many of these from my trader days (in glorious, non-compressed WAV files from the blanks and postage trading era) but have always had an eye to buy them if they were ever officially issued. When I heard the rumblings of a Gish box set 3 years ago, I figured that it would have all of those demos, the Reel Time Sessions, etc. Instead, Gish has several B-sides remixed, 2/3 of the 1992 Peel Sessions EP, demos, and only 3 of songs from the Reel Time Sessions bootleg. Why they didn't include the version of Rhinoceros with the organ solo is beyond me. Working titles aside, there are only two officially unreleased songs on the Gish bonus CD (Honeyspider and Jesus is the Sun). Pulseczar was released on the 1994 promo/ 2002 reissue Earphoria, so calling it unreleased is untrue.
I feel like they missed the mark with the bonus material. I wish that this was a 5 or 10 disc box set, with every B-side, both the Peel Sessions and Lull Eps as well as all of the demos. It also would have been nice to have all of the original album packaging elements present on this reissue.
Siamese Dream is the better purchase of the two from top to bottom. For one, it's a better album, for two the remastering brings out far more nuances, and finally, the bonus disc is a treasure trove of unreleased songs and works-in-progress versions that would radically change before they saw the light of day. Today sounds huge when it kicks in. The original album had a compressed, brittle, digital filtered sound to it, which I just chalked up to it being the way that the album sounded. Here, there is breath, warmth, and light. Hummer and Rocket made me misty eyed, as they sounded so much more beautiful than even the original versions that I fell in love with many moons ago.
The bonus disc is comprised of a few truly unreleased songs, and radically different versions of others. Hello Kitty Kat has completely different lyrics and chorus. Apathy's Last Kiss is a different version then the obscure B-side, which is one of my all-time favorite Pumpkins songs. Siamese Dream is the jewel of the set. Another obscure B-side, this has also long been a favorite of mine. This is a full band electric version, with the part of the previously released B-side being only the second half of the song. It is radically different than the B-side version. The drum beat is different in Quiet, and the song feels totally different because of it. It's things like that that always made bootleg collecting, particularly the demos, so interesting to me. Spaceboy sounds like the album version, sans orchestral embellishments. It sounds great but lacks the emotional punch of the original. Soma has some of James Iha's country tinged playing that Billy always ended up chopping out of the final product. Some of the songs are instrumental takes, which are interesting listens once or twice. All of them Rock much harder, and had Billy went for the Rock rather than dynamics, then history would have been much different. While I am a rocker first and foremost, it has always been the dynamics which have drawn me to this band like a moth to the flame.
So all in all, the bonus discs are good but not great. I would've preferred a more archival approach, with one disc consisting of all officially issued B-sides, and then a few more discs of demos. I wish that all of the original artwork, including the B-side sleeves, were included in the booklets. I am hoping that the forthcoming Smashing Pumpkins Record Club will be a more comprehensive undertaking. While I still wrestle with the remastered vs. remixed/ is it wrong to remaster something originally mastered for the CD format thing, I will listen to the original version only for historical and/or nostalgic purposes from here on out. I will listen to these Bob Ludwig remasters for pleasure.
Oh, and adding the The before their name seems wrong here. They didn't call themselves The Smashing Pumpkins until 1995. Verb vs. adjective.

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