Pity the Smashing Pumpkins: If anyone will be burdened with the dreaded mantle of ”next Nirvana,” it’ll be this Chicago band. Together since 1988, the Pumpkins released their first album, Gish, three years later. With its crunch of guitars and the ennui-drenched singing of singer-songwriter-guitarist Billy Corgan, the album became a college-radio staple. Now, like Nirvana, the Pumpkins have crossed over to the big leagues. Their major-label debut, Siamese Dream (Virgin), was, like Gish, coproduced by Butch Vig — the same studio wiz whose name adorns the credits of, yes, Nirvana’s Nevermind.
Not surprisingly, Siamese Dream has all the alternative-rock trademarks we’ve come to know, love, and occasionally fall asleep to — but with a twist. Like many of his peers, Corgan has a wispy voice that’s rough around the edges, and he writes songs with enigmatic lyrics — ”The killer in me is the killer in you,” ”Cool enough to not quite see it/dumb enough to always feel it,” and ”I miss everything I’ll never be.” Then the band buries them beneath a big, fuzzy feedback-driven roar. And quite a roar it is: The guitars resemble vacuum cleaners plugged into megawatt amps.
What matters, though, is what the Pumpkins do with those clichés. Like Nevermind, Siamese Dream represents the great lost link between alternative, pop, and metal. In a song like ”Today” — where Corgan actually sounds somewhat happy — the music drifts from a dreamy, acoustic-guitar folkiness to a full-bore electric bludgeoning, and the shift is so effortless and artful you barely notice it. The album is crammed with that sort of subtle attention to detail — wistful love songs with spooky, unearthly string sections, touches of dreamy psychedelia that don’t sound at all dated, and songs like ”Cherub Rock” that have the collar-grabbing power of (last Nirvana reference, we promise) ”Smells Like Teen Spirit.” In aiming for more than just another alternative guitar record, Smashing Pumpkins may have stumbled upon a whole new stance: slackers with a vision. B