On The Record: Billy Corgan And The Pinkerton Effect
Ever wanted to get tons of irate, condescending e-mails from dudes with handles like “disenchanted_zero,” “*sivamOrningstar*” and “paladinofdarkness”? Just write a column in which you: A) take a few potshots at Billy Corgan; B) compare the new Smashing Pumpkins to Perry Farrell’s disastrous Satellite Party project; and C) call the band’s Zeitgeist album “not much more than the second (or third) Corgan solo record.”
That’s what I did last week in Bigger Than the Sound , which means it’s been “angry e-mails ahoy” for seven days now. Seems Pumpkins fans worldwide don’t take kindly to people ripping their chrome-domed leader, and were eager to make me aware of that fact. (Sample missive: “Billy Corgan is not a sell out, or a money whore, and your bias for his actions for bringing HIS band back is just unnecessary … Zwan was a cry for help, a way for Billy to get back into the scene, and while it bombed, it had shown that Billy’s passion for music — yes, Billy does enjoy what he does whether you choose to believe that or not — was alive and well.”)
Phew! And while most of my e-mail exchanges were equally, uh, zesty, I did find out that most (rational) Pumpkins fans — when pressured — would admit that Zeitgeist isn’t that great. In fact, the phrase I kept hearing over and over was something along the lines of, “It’s better than Machina but not as good as Adore.”
And to me, that was hilarious. Because almost 10 years after its release, Pumpkins fans have finally come around to Adore, a somber, beautiful, experimental and accomplished album that everybody hated. Reaction was so bad that Corgan famously went on “The Howard Stern Show” and said he was “disappointed” by his fans, and declared, “Rock is dead” — then followed that up by doing an interview with Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke, in which Corgan compared Adore to Lou Reed’s ambitious 1973 clusterf— Berlin and summed up his feelings about Smashing Pumpkins fans thusly:
“There’s definitely the moment where you go, ‘What happened?’ You have this feeling of desertion: Maybe they don’t love you anymore.”
Of course, it probably didn’t help matters any that Corgan supported the album with videos featuring him looking like a goofy Nosferatu and rocking a rather inexplicable cowboy hat, but the fact remained that pretty much no one gave Adore a chance. Until the Pumpkins were dead and buried, that is — and the fans realized it’s pretty great.
Not only that, but a lot of SP fans I recently spoke with now see Adore as possibly the most important record the Smashing Pumpkins ever made: a stylistic departure that’s colored everything Corgan has done since, and without a doubt the line of demarcation between “classic” Smashing Pumpkins and whatever the hell has been going on since. No one may have gotten it at the time, but now, with nearly 10 years’ worth of hindsight, people understand Adore, appreciate it as both a historical document and a slightly misguided-yet-ultimately-rewarding goth-tronica album.
It’s something that we’re calling the Pinkerton Effect, after Weezer’s 1996 effort, which was initially maligned but in recent years has come to be recognized as both the band’s finest hour and a touchstone of emo’s second wave. It applies to any album that flies over pretty much everyone’s head when it’s first released, yet only grows in import and stature given time. A Pinkerton Effect album usually follows the “breakthrough” album in most bands’ catalogs, oftentimes killing (or seriously wounding) said band’s career and leading to the departure of “original members.” It is a record for which you could say, “After [insert title here], nothing was ever the same.” (By that school of thought, you could also call this the Paul’s Boutique Effect.)
And all that got me thinking: If Adore has finally been rewarded with Pinkerton status, then why shouldn’t other equally deserving albums receive the treatment? So, off the top of my head, here are a couple of efforts that I feel are due a little love.
Pavement’s Wowee Zowee (1995, Matador)
Following on the heels of 1994′s (snicker) breakthrough Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Zowee was Pavement at their most stony, most boozy and, well, most annoying (“Half a Canyon”). Yet it also showcased frontman Stephen Malkmus’ growing obsession with twee folk, English pop and goofy prog — three things he’s still exploring today on his solo albums. Initially seen as a huge misstep by most of the band’s fans — and, ahem, most of the band — it has, over time, become a favorite of both, and just last year, Matador reissued the album as a deluxe two-disc edition.
The Amps’ Pacer (1995, 4AD/Elektra)
Kim Deal originally intended the Amps to be nothing more than a side project, but when it became apparent that her sister’s struggles with heroin meant that there weren’t going to be any Breeders albums coming anytime soon, the band — which included Breeders drummer Jim MacPherson and two members of Dayton, Ohio’s the Tasties — became the Kim Deal project. The resulting album, Pacer, was recorded over one long summer, and the resulting songs are delightfully raw, slightly off-kilter and incredibly immediate. And when Deal eventually reconvened the Breeders for 2002′s Title TK, the result sounded a whole lot like the Amps. Perhaps expecting a repeat of Deal’s success with the Breeders’ Last Splash album, Elektra shipped a huge first pressing of Pacer, which led to its availability in discount bins for years. And that makes the fact that very few people have discovered it all the more puzzling, because at its best, Pacer sounds like Guided by Voices covering the Pixies, Belly and the Breeders — and if you’re saying that, then there’s really no “at worst.”
Beck’s Midnite Vultures (1999, DGC)
The first album on which Beck assumed the lion’s share of the production duties was also the first in his career to be considered a “misstep,” which for a guy who spent the first half of the ’90s recording leaf-blower solos, is saying something. Midnite Vultures is all sexed-up falsettos, horny robots and piss-take R&B jamz, so it’s not difficult to see why so many critics and fans were left scratching their heads. Reportedly, Beck was deeply hurt by the reaction to Vultures‘ jokiness and has spent most of the time since its release trying to downplay the inherent humor in his music. And that’s a shame, because listening to Vultures now, it’s hard not to be struck by just how ahead of the game it seems — both lyrically (ahem, Har Mar Superstar, Annie) and sonically. Because for all the horny hullabaloo surrounding it, Midnite Vultures is, at its very core, a very forward-thinking electronic pop album, one that feels futuristic even today (though maybe that’s because of all the robo-humping).
Modest Mouse’s The Moon and Antarctica (2000, Epic)
The Mouse made the leap to the majors with Moon, an album that saw them reining in their shambling, 10-minute guitar excursions and focusing on (relatively) tight, ruminations on topics both personal and universal. The album title serves as a metaphor for the isolation and depression frontman Isaac Brock felt living in Seattle and Gainesville, Florida, and those twin themes manifest themselves on nearly every song on the record. Opening with the tinny guitars of “3rd Planet,” weighing down in the middle thanks to “The Cold Part,” “Alone Down There” and “The Stars Are Projectors” (a near-17-minute exercise in bottom-scraping) and ending with the breakneck “What People Are Made Of,” Moon is far from easy listening. But those who made it all the way through were rewarded with the most fully realized MM album to date, a theme-driven exercise that Brock has been attempting to duplicate (with decidedly greater commercial results) ever since.
1515′s Take: Some Of Our Greatest Minds Weigh In With Their Pinkerton Effect Picks
Faith No More’s Angel Dust (1992, Slash)
Robert Mancini, MTV News editorial director: So Faith No More break through big time with the bombastic bounce of “Epic,” delivering rap-rock to an eager world and seemingly introducing themselves to the masses as a bunch of righteous dudes always up for a good time (sure, the whole goldfish thing was weird, but the song was pure pop gold). And how did they choose to build on that mainstream success? With songs like “Crack Hitler,” “Jizzlobber” and “Be Aggressive” (an ode to gay oral sex). Frontman Mike Patton found lyrical inspiration in fortune cookies, Scientology and sleep-deprivation experiments, all of which are fairly apparent when you dig into Angel Dust (perhaps the most appropriately named album of all time). Patton wasn’t exactly engaging while touring behind Angel Dust either, almost daring audiences to hang in there as he sat at the front of the stage eating cigarettes (seriously… they made opening act Helmet look like Mouseketeers). Critics applauded the album, but fans (at least those lured in by their MTV success) were, well, “perplexed” might be putting it mildly. I even remember seeing the band live and watching in astonishment as one college gymnasium slowly bled its audience as the band’s new direction sent kids hoping for another “Epic” back to their cars scratching their heads. It was, of course, pure genius. The album is now considered the band’s high-water mark, its dark, ambitious vision elevating FNM beyond the rap-rock genre they inspired. Bottom line: Angel Dust is why Faith No More matter, and people who don’t love it are not to be trusted. Period.
Deftones’ Deftones (2003, Maverick)
Chris Harris, MTV News reporter: It was no easy task, following up an album like 2000′s White Pony — often regarded by fans as the band’s crowning achievement and most mature studio offering. Hell, it even featured a breathtaking duet between cherubic frontman Chino Moreno and Tool’s Maynard James Keenan. But in 2003, the Deftones made magic once again with their self-titled masterpiece, an experimental album that was initially shunned for being “too eclectic,” but with songs like “When Girls Telephone Boys” and “Hexagram,” Deftones showed the Sacramento, California, band at its brutal best. The LP marked a turning point in the band’s career, crossing many different genres and ideas that only previous efforts had hinted at; fans were worried, at first, that the ‘Tones were heading in a more electronic direction. The album laid the groundwork for even more ambient expeditions found on last year’s Saturday Night Wrist. Moreno’s obvious love affair with My Bloody Valentine and the Cure was never as evident as on Deftones, on which the band separated itself from the nü-metal heap, abandoning excess breakdowns for more emotional territory.
The Magnetic Fields’ I (2004, Nonesuch)
Rodrigo Perez, MTV.com producer: Following up the classic triple-album opus 69 Love Songs wasn’t an easy task. The discs were such a critical achievement, it cemented Stephin Merritt’s spot in the pantheon of classic songwriters and he was all but dubbed “the modern-day Cole Porter” afterward. (I don’t know about you, but that’s keeper résumé material). The unspectacularly named I and its equally understated production made the whole affair feel like such a letdown in comparison to 69 Love Songs‘ grand aspirations. And how could it not be? Instead of an eclectic crop of songs with a panorama of synthesizers, drum machines and soaking-wet spacial reverb, I was completely acoustic and recorded with a dead-as-wood sound. This, we later learned, was for practical reasons: Merritt was diagnosed with a defect in the ear that causes loud noises to feed back exponentially and become rather painful. The Magnetic Fields were taking things down to a whisper in preparation for their live shows. The album showcased only acoustic guitars, upright pianos, ukuleles, cello and banjo, and any initially disappointed fan that stuck around long enough to get past the semi-drastic sound makeover realized that these were the same-old dramatic, bittersweet, sarcastic, wry and winsome songs wrapped in a new package.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s Some Loud Thunder (self-released, 2007)
Christopher “CJ” Smith, MTV News segment producer: Unlike the Arcade Fire, these Brooklyn, New York, “true” indie-rockers had a bunch of unreleased tunes they had been honing live throughout their brief existence — and quite good ones at that. Consequently, it was expected that their sophomore album would be a surefire follow-up in the vein of the leap the Talking Heads made from 77 to More Songs About Buildings and Food (i.e. no evolution whatsoever). Instead, the band made a departure record with the psychedelic Thunder, leaving its still-new fans baffled. Many even tried to claim the record was “a step back” — whatever that means, considering the band only had one record. But as is often the case with a record that defies expectations, one day it just clicked: production from Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips) and the band’s new direction suddenly made sense. It’s an album that reveals itself to me — and any listener who was ready to accept that a band can evolve into something new, just that quickly.
B-Sides: Other Stories I’m Following This Week
Judge rules Avril’s response to Rubinoos’ lawsuit contains “musical similarities” to Rubinoos’ song “Nothing a Little Love Wouldn’t Cure.” Double-lawsuit bonanza ensues. (See “Avril Lavigne Responds To Lawsuit, Says She’s Been ‘Falsely Accused.’ “ )
This is an actual quote from Bang Camaro mastermind Alex Necochea: “Basically, all our songs are about girls and power.” Bang Camaro rule. (See “Bang Camaro Prove That If One Metal Singer Is Awesome, 20 Are Awesomer.” )
Dorks on parade: The “Harry Potter” premiere red carpet. (See ” ‘Harry Potter’ Cast, Hannah Montana, Ashley Tisdale Enchanted At ‘Phoenix’ Premiere.” )
Unhappy with my Pinkerton list? Got one of your own? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.