A Matter of Grace

  • Artist: The Smashing Pumpkins
  • Title: Adore
  • Released: 1998
  • Format: CD
  • Genre: Alternative Rock
  • Beverage of Choice: Levo 2018 Under the Gun Grenache

Through all the line-up changes, off-stage drama and on-again/off-again personalities that make up The Smashing Pumpkins, it’s truly amazing that their music has always been so tightly connected to the original energy and creativity that marked their first three studio albums. Substitute keyboards and ambient backgrounds for the trademark layered/distorted guitar arrangements on those offerings and you can trace the DNA for the mostly low-key, mid-paced but immersive songs that make up Adore directly to tracks like “Rhinoceros” (Gish), “Luna” (Siamese Dream) and “By Starlight” (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness). This release possibly confused and divided their fan base somewhat with it’s lack of sonic explosions and the return to drum machine (as well as some notable guest percussionists such as Matt Walker from Soundgarden) after drummer Jimmy Chamberlain’s dismissal.

I had been a huge fan of the Pumpkin’s Mellon Collie project and managed to get a ticket to the sold out show for the Adore supporting tour at Universal Amphitheatre in July ’98. Even with the lack of a permanent drummer, the group was amazing; tight, focused, emotional and loud. I remember the entire audience singing every word to the opener “To Sheila” and the huge roar that accompanied the words “Highway warm sings silent poetry”. The rest of the night was sheer magic and was the end of the era with bassist  D’arcy Wretzky leaving the band after a short reunion tour with Chamberlain the following year.

With the somewhat sombre and subdued tone of this album, the band also changed their public persona with a darker look; all of this following the stress that Chamberlain’s drug issues had placed on the band, Billy Corgan’s mother dying and his divorce. I think it’s fair to say that Corgan probably felt that the band couldn’t survive the turmoil and that Adore might be a last chance to release a body of work that would showcase the breadth of his artistry; and it certainly does. The songs are arranged and produced with remarkable clarity, depth and poetic resonance. The album did not initially sell all that well but has grown in reputation (and sales) to become a multi-platinum disc in the USA and many other countries.

To Sheila” is a simply beautiful and intimate poem with Corgan’s typically somewhat obscure lyrics highlighted in a close-up performance accented with cricket ambience, pedal steel, banjo and acoustic guitar. The warm sound envelops the ears and emotions, seductively drawing one into it’s hooks, harmonies and counterpoints. It’s the sonic equivalent of a deep pool of water reflecting a starlit sky; mysterious, quiet and affecting.

The only ‘big’ song on Adore is the eponymously titled “Ava Adore” with a driving bass line and suitable Pumpkins’ layered guitars with a strange love-themed lyrical intensity. Corgan unleashes his vocal power as does James Iha his electric guitar prowess; the rhythm drives the song forward as if thrusting us forward to the heart of the album. Over the course of the next thirteen songs (yes, this is a long album clocking in at 73 minutes and change), Corgan shows us that he can write… and write… and write. The range of styles, moods, production, mixes and lyrical themes is impressive even if we know he is somewhat going all out to impress. When he uses keyboard and drum sequencing there is a Depeche Mode/OMD/Cure influence heard (“Pug“) but the diverse rock and pop sources Corgan has always drawn upon serve him well and some of these songs would not be out of place on a Beatles album, they are that next-level great – evidence “For Martha“.

Adore offers many such sublime moments along its course and, with the definable ebb and flow that makes up a Pumpkin’s release (a glorious mix of Corgan’s vocal delivery, verse structure, instrumentation and arrangement), rings true even to a fan that regards “Zero” as the ultimate Smashing Pumpkins tune. It’s a reworking and reimagining of the core energy of the band with more intimacy and artistic expansiveness than the previous albums. Even if The Smashing Pumpkins had folded their tent and ridden off on the night mare (and I am so glad they didn’t), Adore would stand as a testament to a vision executed with artistry, love, talent and the relentless pursuit of perfection.

Published by Rick Adams

Husband, father, music lover

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