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Deflated Pumpkins

Smashing Pumpkins
Salad Days: The Smashing Pumpkins strike a pose right before the sudden summer departure of troubled drummer Jimmy Chamberlain (upper right).

Photo by Yelena Yumchuk

New five-CD mega-album is anything but Smashing for cash-cow rockers

By Gina Arnold

LAST WEEK, the New York Times ran an article claiming that the bottom has dropped out of the record business. This year, they said, few if any labels are showing a profit.

The same is certainly not true for the Smashing Pumpkins, who've managed in one short year to snag almost every spare dollar in America.

Think about it. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, released in March, was a double LP that cost $25, while tickets to the band's three local performances, including one at Kezar Stadium in April, the vast Tibetan Freedom Day Festival in Golden Gate Park in June, and this weekend's San Jose Arena gig, would total in excess of $100.

Add to that the band's new five-CD release, The Aeroplane Flies High, which retails at around 40 bucks, and you have to start pitying the group's poor die-hard fans, because clearly, when it comes to other people's cash, the Pumpkins' main man, Billy Corgan, has no trouble thinking big.

Maximizing his profits in a short space of time seems to be his goal--and given the volatile nature of the business he's in, this may well be a smart move. Things move fast in music, and grunge is already dead. Why not get what you can while you can still get it, from kids who may be unwilling to shell out next year?

Corgan can't seem to avoid coming off as more of a businessman than artist, however much blue eye shadow he dons in his videos. But one thing you can't fault is the Smashing Pumpkins' work ethic. Despite being members of the so-called slacker generation, the Pumpkins stand out as super-workaholics.

After headlining Lollapalooza in 1994, the band cranked out the 120-minute-long double record, and has been touring in support of it for nearly a year, barely slowed by the heroin OD death of its hired keyboard player midtour and the subsequent firing of their drummer, Jimmy Chamberlain.

They've also released five award-winning music videos--and as if that weren't enough, they've now launched Aeroplane, beautifully packaged in a retro-looking carrying case that used to be used to carry 45s, just in time for Christmas shoppers!

Crucify the Insincere

0T'S A GOOD THING the presentation is so superlative, however, since the collection itself is relatively parsimonious, containing only 33 songs. (By contrast, Mellon Collie's two CDs contain 28 songs).

Of these, five are singles that appear on Mellon Collie, and five are B-sides to the just-released singles (in other words, material most Pumpkins fans have already).

The others can be purchased for the low price of $5.99 on various domestically released four-song EPS. Plus, there's a reprise here of the song "Tonight Tonight."

One could go on and criticize the material itself--the similarity of all the Pumpkins' tunes and tempos, the profusion of half-written ballads, the unimaginative (and overly frequent) use of strings, the intrinsic lack of dynamics, the overblown lyrics (my personal hate is for the line "crucify the insincere tonight," though "the world is a vampire" comes close in pretentiousness).

But since this collection is clearly aimed only at collectors, what's the point? People who buy this set are already favorably disposed to Corgan's pragmatic form of sonic melodrama and nasty, nasal voice. He's not my idea of good rock hero--too cynical; too neocon for my taste--but he must be somebody's, or he wouldn't be where he is today.

Unlike some box sets, Aeroplane doesn't really document the Pumpkins' growth from a guitar-heavy grunge band circa Gish to the overblown pop-operetta troupe it is now.

In fact, the obscure songs here are merely throwaways. The most interesting thing on the record is the band's choice of covers--songs by Blondie, Missing Persons, the Cars, the Cure and Alice Cooper.

Except for the last, these are all classics from the early-'80s New Wave era, things that often show up on Live 105's Flashback Lunch and Weekends; though catchy, not one of them is a song of any intrinsic artistic merit (like the Pumpkins' own material).

Covering Up

ARE THESE songs the band is fond of, songs it's laughing at or the songs with the easiest chords? It's impossible to tell, but it is amusing to listen to the group's takes on "You're All I've Got Tonight," "Dreaming" and "Destination Unknown." Conveniently, all five covers are grouped on the first disc, which makes it by far the most fun to listen to.

Aeroplane bills itself as a collector's item, but it's a bit too slick--and widely available--to really deserve that tag.

There's no really rare material here, and in fact, the extensive Pumpkins discography included in the CD booklet shows that there's an incredible wealth of stuff left for the band to release in other high-priced collector's packages in years to come. And don't forget the magic live concert album that the band will no doubt be dropping on us soon.

All these items will come in handy to the Pumpkins presently, since, although Mellon Collie sold 3 million copies, recent concerts are not selling out.

It may almost be time for the Pumpkins to step out of the ring, but no doubt given the amount of cash they've pocketed, they'll do so with pleasure. Then Corgan can start on his solo career. I can hardly wait.

The Smashing Pumpkins and Garbage perform Monday (Dec. 16) at 7:30pm at the San Jose Arena, 525 W. San Carlos St., San Jose. Tickets are $25. (BASS)

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From the December 12-18, 1996 issue of Metro

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