Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream

Mark E Smith calls them "hippychildren". They are in the ascendant.

Born between about 1965 and 1975, they've defied historical precedent by replicating their baby-boomer parents' obsessions with matters of the heart, with looking after the planet, with spiritual development, with a liberal outlook that rejects running at the seat of government wielding big sticks in favour of 'personal growth' and a bit of well-meaning tinkering.

Give them guitars, and two things can happen. If they're British, you get layers of spooky effects and pseudo-profound allusions to "catching the breeze" and "letting it flow"; witness shoegazing. If they're American, you're probably in for introspective, soul-searching music that finds the break-up of relationships far more worrying than the wage slavery inherent in modern capitalism or the alienation of consumer society but still manages to be wonderfully affecting. Such are Throwing Muses, Belly, Drop Nineteens, Sebadoh, the Lemonheads...

...And Smashing Pumpkins. Sure, it's slightly tragic that people born into a world that's as awful as it ever was seem to want to run into their bedrooms, light a big reefer and talk about their inner psyches. But we can suspend most grumbles in the light of the facts that: 1) some of their peers are busy decrying the lousy state of the world - see the new wave of politicos; and 2) there are some things that make the blank generation's self-centred dippiness worthwhile. Like the Verve album. Like 'Feed The Tree', 'Leave Them All Behind' and 'Gish', the Pumpkins' debut album. Like its successor, which, for all its air of non-committal blankness and exercise-book psychoanalysis, is a startling, deeply satisfying record.

It's all in the sounds: in the way that 'Cherub Rock' manages to take all the hallmarks of noisy college rock and re-invent the lot, using them to create an array of airbrushed, melodic inflections that make the songs sound almost soothing; in 'Disarm', an exquisite weepie that uses chimes, thunderclaps and string to create a doomy, neurotic masterstroke; in 'Today' - the next single, apparently - which has laughably simple words ("Today is the greatest day I have ever known"), a wonderfully textured arrangement, and an irresistible air of innocent euphoria.

In essence, the Pumpkins - under the overarching tutelage of frontman Billy Corgan - have the intelligence and confidence to make truly wonderful music. It was evident on 'Gish', whose multi-faceted songs were melodic, deliciously evocative and capable of striding from headspinning noise-outs into beautiful calm, all of which gave the impression of a band who pored over their every note. It's even more obvious here: there's the startling use of embellishments (the strings, the bells, the deft use of spectral samples), the twin grasp of the polar opposites of placid quiet and breeze-block riffola, the fact that the nine minutes of a track called 'Silverfuck' seem to contain about 16 different songs, every one of them a delight. Corgan is habitually portrayed as the Pumpkins' grand dictator and, without doubt, 'Siamese Dream' has enough signs of unrivalled vision and ambition to make him the kind of talent who jumps up about once every five years. Honest.

The upshot of all this is clear. Given the Pumpkins' origins in the phenomenon that begins with 'G', after months of carping about the increasing mundanity of left-field Yank rock and the way that plaid-shirted enthusiasm blinded us all to the crushing shortcomings of the latest American subculture, 'Siamese Dream' is the record that will send every smug little Englander running back to their country seat. Ha ha.

And no, it's not this year's 'Nevermind': it isn't sufficiently incendiary, not nearly despondent and desolate enough to strike the same chord. There's no 'Polly', no 'Lithium', no '... Teen Spirit': Corgan's lyrics are too ambiguous (witness couplets like "Pick your pockets full of sorrow/And run away with me tomorrow"), his public persona too harmless, his band's air of safe anonymity too great.

They're knob-twiddlers, musos, neo-hippies - so no-one will want to be in Smashing Pumpkins; their interviews will contain little in the way of cocky arrogance, tales of fast living or headline-hungry shock quotes; and the establishment will breathe a heavy sigh of relief at the fact that their children prefer lying on their beds and thrilling to 'Siamese Dream' than participating in campus riots. Does this matter? Probably - but this is such an accomplished record that we'll shelve our misgivings and swoon along.


John Harris