This list feature is based on my subjective personal opinion, not fan consensus or journalistic research. They are ranked from best to worst, best being simply “my own favourite” and worst being “the one I personally like the least.” I know it is customary to rank from worst to best, but I prefer to lead with the positive. Check out the rankings home page for more albums-ranked lists.
Today I’ll be discussing Chicago’s own genre-defying, ever-evolving, hard to define band, The Smashing Pumpkins, and their somewhat intimidating discography. (Feel free to add your own ranknigs in the comments).
1. Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (1993) – Its quite hard to pick a number one album when the band have two of the most definitive albums of the 1990s, both of which are always featured on every list and retrospective of the most important / most iconic / most famous / best albums in every book, magazine, website, blog etc. that you can think of. (Almost like Pink Floyd having both The Wall and Dark Side Of The Moon in their catalogue). Which one you will prefer will ultimately come down to personal choice: Do you want a tighter more direct ride to your destination? Or do you want the more scenic diverse route that covers more ground, and gets you there in a slower but more colourful way?
I like every album the Pumpkins have made so far, but it is fair to say the most famous two are the most famous for a good reason, and the two best starting points for a new fan. I was almost tempted for half a minute not to pick either the perfect-flowing Siamese Dream or the epic double-album Melon Collie’ for first place, but ultimately decided that was just being deliberately awkward, and inaccurate. After deep consideration, I do honestly believe Siamese Dream is my favourite Pumpkins album and deserving of the top spot, even if it is an obvious choice.
Great drums, heavy moments, soft moments, grungey moments, occasional proggy tinges and some very memorable hits. Enough has already been written about Billy Corgan’s masterpiece that I won’t write too much steamy praise here, but if you haven’t heard it yet, I’ll just echo the hundreds of voices online that say it absolutely lives up to its reputation, deserves all the plaudits, and gets better on each listen.
And to think, I took a strange dislike to this band as a teenager due to the song “Today” and its music video, and didn’t give the band a fair listen until my brother got me this album as an unrequested gift, only about 4 or 5 years ago. All that time wasted, not realising how good this band are. Oh well, guess I’ll have to make up for it now.
Best hits: “Cherub Rock” & “Disarm”
Best deep cuts: “Silverfuck,” “Geek USA” & “Hummer.”
2. Smashing Pumpkins – Melon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (1996) – As hinted above already, this huge sprawling eccentric record is another masterpiece, and has an equal chance of being thought of as their finest hour. It is almost difficult to take in during one listen, there’s more creativity and ideas popping off here than in some of their peer’s whole discographies.
It takes all the ideas of their previous two albums, amplifies them, expands upon them and then introduces dozens more new ideas on top of that to create a two-hour voyage through numerous facets of rock, pop and metal music with a loose dreamy passage of time theme, some trippy artwork, and some very evocative lyrics. There are songs for every mood you could be in, for every type of rock fan – perhaps that’s why it was such a monster seller?
Speaking of its sales, I almost find it hard to believe that such a borderline reckless album with seemingly no creative restraint ended up being so financially successful (gold, platinum, multi-platinum and diamond selling, in different territories). Sometimes it doesn’t even seem to know if it wants to be Smells Like Teen Spirit, Pink Moon, Colony Of Slippermen or Enter Sandman. Then again, a few listens, and you get to see how good the songs are, and as mentioned above… there’s something for everything, so I guess it makes a lot of sense.
Best hits: “Tonight, Tonight,” “Zero” & “1979.”
Best deep cuts: “An Ode To No One,” “X.Y.U” & “Where Boys Fear To Tread.”
3. Smashing Pumpkins – Gish (1991) – This is one of the band’s tightest, most efficient, consistent and succinct records to date. Whereas the next two albums made a great success out of being broad, expansive, and diverse, this album’s strength is in its relative straight-forwardness and cohesion.
That’s not to say the album is boring or repetitive, there is a mixture of hard rockers, ballads and sleepy psychedelic moments – its just focused, flows well and has a clear direction. I know the band started off in the ‘80s with a bunch of goth and New Wave influences, but by the time they got into the 90s, their debut album sounds more like early Monster Magnet and peak Kyuss to me than it does like New Order or The Cure. Maybe that’s just my ear. Rock fans who have only heard the big singles like “1979” and “Today,” or “Tonight, Tonight” might be quite surprised with the fuzzed out attacking moments on this record. If you like your “Demon Cleaner” with a side of “Dinosaur Vacuum” – check this one out, you might be pleasantly surprised.
In terms of a well-crafted album, this is pretty damn great. The others are just trying to be “more than an album” and, arguably succeeding. Still, in such a long and very varied career, with members coming and going, with exploration into all sorts of different musical territories, through various breakups and comebacks… whichever album managed to come in at third place behind the two obvious always going to be number one or two shouts must be pretty must-hear, right? Well it is. I feel like every music publication in the rock world will tell you to listen to Siamese’ and Melon Collie, but if you have even the most passing interest in the band, you need to get some Gish in your life too, at an absolute minimum.
Best songs: “Bury Me,” “Siva” & “I Am One.”
4. Smashing Pumpkins – Zeitgeist (2007) – This album usually features pretty low on critic’s Pumpkins album ranking lists, but I don’t care. This blog isn’t about the common consensus, this is just my own personal taste, and personally, I love this record.
The Smashing Pumpkins have one of the most frustrating and hard to please fanbases in the rock world, and the critics seems twice as unpleasable as that. This album was already written-off by the press before it was even released because bassist and guitarist D’arcy and James were gone, and then upon review, the specifics were added in. It was poo-pooed for being too metal and too simple, despite critic’s favourite Pumpkins albums being full of highly metallic songs like “Zero” and “Bodies” and “Quiet” as well as despite critics previously poo-pooing parts of Machina for being too experimental and proggy, on top of the fact that D’arcy and James contributed the least musically to all the albums the critics do like… its just a weird bandwagon for everyone to jump on.
When the Pumpkins came back with a cool striking artwork and theme (that carried through to all the merch and singles and videos and stage image etc), and a vague promise in interviews to return to the immediacy of Gish, and kept the two most important members of the band, in hindsight it just seems a little weird and off that this album is thought of by so many people as a stinker.
Imagine being Billy Corgan in 2007, or even nowadays looking back at rankings and seeing this at or near the bottom. What must he be thinking? “You’re mad at the Pumpkins because they’re being more simple, like you wanted them to, and writing more metallic songs again, like you wanted them to, and because the band members who make the least difference to the overall Pumpkins sound are gone – but the really noticeable drummer and the voice and writer of 90% of the music is still there…the guy who physically played all the bass on Siamese Dream anyway? – And on top of that, this record and marketing campaign are both really cool and that’s all being ignored in favour of those really nit-picky complaints?” Yeah, ok, I wouldn’t know how to process that either.
When I personally listen to the excellent music, which has some great Hard Rock / borderline metallic bangers ala the best moments on the first three albums, as well as some great melodic modern moments that rival or even exceed the best moments on Machina (“That’s The Way My Love Is,” “Bring The Light” etc), and even a near-ten-minute Tool-sounding drum fuelled epic (“United Stated”)… I definitely get what I want from the Pumpkins.
I guess some people wanted Dream Pop, or Shoegaze or New Wave or Avant-Garde, and fair enough, those aspects are in shorter supply here, so if that is what you were expecting, those elements aren’t as well represented this time, and if that was the actual criticism, I could respect that. But don’t try and tell me with a straight face that “Death From Above” is a bad song, or that you can really hear the lack of D’Arcy on this album.
Some people don’t like the production, especially on the vocals, and fair enough, that’s personal taste. I can get if you don’t want all the overdubbed vocals and effects. For me, personally, the production here still sounds a lot better than Adore or either volume of Machina did, so its not a deal-breaker level bad production to my ears.
Best songs: “Doomsday Clock,” “Tarantula” & “United States.”
5. Smashing Pumpkins – Shiny And Oh So Bright’ (2018) – This eight track album (initially called Volume 1, although there seems no sign of a volume 2 at time of writing) is the Pumpkins’ shortest album to date, at just over half an hour.
While other Smashing Pumpkins albums tend to have a hook or angle of some sort (eg. broad, diverse, eccentric, arty, commercial, electronic, heavy, quiet, proggy, back to basics, etc) this one just seems to focus entirely on “good song writing” which for my money, is a very admirable goal.
There are only eight songs here, but all of them are a winner, nothing is skippable, all are immensely memorable.
The Rick Rubin-produced affair sees the return of guitarist James Iha (absent since 2000) and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain (absent since 2009), which makes for good headlines, although early bassist D’arcy Wretzky is still absent, which rankled some critics, so I guess you could only consider it a partial reunion… kind of like Guns N’ Roses getting Slash and Duff back in the band, but not Adler.
Oh well, if the results are this good, I can live without the optics of a full reunion.
PS. I don’t mean to come across like I dislike D’Arcy or anything, not at all, I just really don’t understand when some people online or in the media come out with a real hard-line “No Pumpkins album without D’Arcy is any good” attitude. I just don’t see it. They’ve released some spectacular work without her.
Best songs: “Seek And You Shall Destroy,” “Marchin’ On” & “Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts).”
6. Smashing Pumpkins – Machina II: The Friends & Enemies Of Modern Music (2000) – Smashing Pumpkins are years ahead of their time. They gave an album away for free on the internet more than half a decade before Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails made it cool. They had some alternate-reality marketing before a similar idea made Reznor look like a genius. Hell, they even had the idea of an animated band before the Gorillaz.
If you are wondering what the heck I’m talking about, have a good old read online about the stillborn double album Glass And The Machines Of God. Ok, it wasn’t all completely original… the idea of a rock opera about a rock-star thing had already been well explored by bands like WASP and Savatage a decade prior, and of course by Pink Floyd over a decade before that. But the they handled/were going to handle it, seemed like quite a cool update / twist on the basic premise.
When the record that was initially to be a double eventually morphed into two separate records, Machina 2, (the one that didn’t unfortunately get a proper commercial release and which you have to listen to online or via dodgy bootlegs), was actually the better of the two, with the best songs, the best ideas, and the most clear narrative.
Until this eventually gets rereleased in some glorious deluxe edition, you’ll just have to search-engine your way to a trustworthy copy, and the sound won’t be perfect, but for the tunes its worth it.
Although it has such an interesting backstory, it is not a mere gimmick, and if it was just an album you could always get in the shops just like anything else, it would still be one of their best. I can’t even think of the Pumpkins without thinking “Shattering fast…”
Best songs: “Glass’ Theme,” “Cash Car Star” & “Dross.”
7. Smashing Pumpkins – Monuments To An Elegy (2014) – This album has the somewhat weird distinction of having Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee on drums. As odd a pairing as that is on paper, Lee actually fits the music tastefully and you wouldn’t even know he was there unless you were told.
Similarly to Shiny And Oh So Bright, it is barely over half an hour in length. With the exception of the quite rocking opener, the musical direction is quite upbeat, poppy, synthy. It’s a very pleasant listening experience.
If you want blistering guitar solos, throat rending screams, and gen-x angst, you’ve very much picked up the wrong disc, but if you want to hear the band in a more contemplative, mature, less aggro space, this is a nice diversion. Simple, elegant, understated. I guess you could see it as Billy exploring what songs you can write at the polar opposite point to the complex, ostentatious, over the top end of the spectrum that brought us Melon Collie. I wouldn’t like them to live here full time, I love it when they go big, but as a one off album, I really love that this exists.
Best songs: “Tiberius,” “Drum + Fife” & “Anaise!”
8. Smashing Pumpkins – Pisces Iscariot (1994) – Ok, this isn’t a real album, its actually a B-sides compilation, but its as good as most band’s real albums. In fact, there’s many a Pumpkins fan who would place this as their second or third best record, almost up there with the top tier classics.
Its well sequenced, and flows like a real album, moreso than a compilation, and if someone told you it wasn’t just their second album between Gish and Siamese Dream, you could easily fall for that line.
For that reason, I’ve decided to include it on the list here. If you’re using this list as a buyer’s guide, seriously treat this compilation like a true album, its unskippable.
Best songs: “Frail & Bedazzled,” “Pissant” & “Starla.”
9. Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania (2012) – 2012’s Oceania is the first full-length Pumpkins album with Jeff Schroeder officially on it, even though he’s actually been in the band since the comeback shows of 2007.
After the press and even a lot of the fans unceremoniously took a dump on the fantastic Zeitgeist album, in which the band had tried to be simplistic and go back to basics, but also took a dump on the live shows of the time in which the band tried to be creative and progressive and boundary pushing, (see the excellent documentary / live DVD “If All Goes Wrong” for context), then also ignored their ahead-of-their-time, creative new “we don’t do albums anymore, we’ll just release stuff online” approach of the next few years… the Pumpkins were at a bit of a cross roads. People aren’t happy when the band go back to their roots, people aren’t happy when the band making progress… the only thing people can really seem to ever agree on is liking Siamese Dream. Everyone likes Siamese Dream. So, Billy and company decided with Oceania to deliberately try and remind people of Siamese Dream. Not so much obvious retreading, but “capturing a vibe.” Well, I say not obvious retreading, but you’d have to try very hard to find a review of this album that doesn’t mention “Cherub Rock,” or “Disarm” or maybe even “Spaceboy” and “Luna” …everyone is tripping over themselves to hear hints of Siamese Dream on this album, and tell .
Its not all Siamese-nostaliga though. You can actually hear as much were they would be going on future albums like Monuments’ and Cyr in some of the poppier and synthier moments as much as you can riffs or drum rolls that remind you of the glory days.
In terms of ranking it, it is a pretty strong album, but a bit of filler holds it back from the absolute top tiers. If it had either been a tad more adventurous, or else a tad more succinct, it would have been even better. As it stands, its just pretty good, but not an utter classic.
Best songs: “The Celestials,” “Inkless” & “Quasar.”
10. Smashing Pumpkins – Teargarden By Kaleidyscope EPs & Singles (2010) – As mentioned above, after the music journalists savaged basically everything Billy and his merry band did since they returned, the decision was made to abandon the traditional album format, and instead just release digital EPs and singles.
This was quite forward thinking, but like Lars was right about Napster at the time, and people are starting to realise it in hindsight, but it seemed crazy at the time and people just didn’t rally around it like they should have. It seems like the whole “lets eschew albums in favour of just digital singles or short but frequent EPs” mostly idea is more relevant today than ever. You can’t switch on a music podcast these days without some artist or industry insider pondering about whether the album format is old fashioned in the era of streaming and downloads.
Technically, Oceania and Monuments’ are part of this overarching project too, but they work as well (if not better) as distinct albums, so for this entry, I’m just talking about the rest of the material. If you take the EPs The Solstice Bare & Songs For A Sailor plus the rest of the Teargarden single tracks, they basically all add up together to form a third album’s worth of material, and so for ease of organisation, I tend to just think of them as one album, and have actually just formatted them as one album in my music library. A sort of missing album between Zeitgeist and Oceania if you will.
You know how they say don’t look a gift horse in the mouth? Yeah, well, considering these are totally free tracks, it’s a very enjoyable set. Alright, if you want to get your critical analysis skills out, sure, it isn’t as accomplished as the upper half of the list, but for a free record, it’s a heck of a lot better than you’d expect.
Best songs: “Song For A Son,” “Freak USA” & “Cottonwood Symphony.”
11. Smashing Pumpkins – Cyr (2020) – The newest album on this list at time of writing, Cyr is a double disc synth-pop album. It was talked up as being their attempt to create something modern, but to me it sounds like ‘80s worship. I wonder is this in fact closer to the vision inside Billy’s head when they started the band, than a genuine attempt to be modern?
At first, I wasn’t quite as into this record as most of the others. My main concerns were basically, “What’s the point of having a drummer as good as Chamberlain back in the band if you are going to have programmed beats and restrained songs?” and “what’s the point of having a double album if its all sort of one pace and all sort of one duration, with no peaks and valleys?” but from repeat listens, it has really grown on me. At the end of the day, a good song is a good song. Yeah, it isn’t as heavy and aggressive as I like, or as proggy and weird as I like, or as acoustic and beautiful as I like, or as diverse and surprising as I like, or as virtuosic and instrumentally impressive as I’d like… but do I spend a lot of the week humming choruses or melody lines from it… so Billy must have been on to something.
Best songs: “Ramona,” “Anno Satana” “Tyger, Tyger” & “Wyttch.”
12. Smashing Pumpkins – The Aeroplane Flies High Boxset (1996) – Originally this was a box set collecting all the singles from Melon Collie, but nowadays you can just get it on iTunes or Amazon etc, and if you ignore the hit Mellon Collie songs, its kind of works like a (less-good) follow up to Pisces Iscariot. In contrast to that very wonderful compilation though, this doesn’t flow like an album, isn’t consistent all the way through, and isn’t a must-have. If you love the Pumpkins and just want a bit more, it is worth seeking out, and there are some great tunes on it, but it is definitely uneven and for-fans-only.
Best songs: “God,” “Pennies” & “Marquis In Spades.”
13. Smashing Pumpkins – Machina / The Machines Of God (2000) – I really like the album, but I’m going to have to try and justify putting it so far down the list, lower than things that aren’t even real albums, between albums you can’t even buy on CD and between albums without most of the original line up. Far below albums many critics outright panned. It would be easy to just say “personal preference” chalk the whole thing up as a good job, and knock off early for ice cream, but I suppose I better try and come up with a rationale anyway.
The production on this one has a bit of a harsh sheen on most of it, and sort of hurts my ears. It’s a bit too bright, brittle and loud.
The record is also a bit overlong and although there is some diversity and some totally new ideas, it suffers a bit from filler in the middle and so unfortunately feels like it doesn’t justify its length.
The heavy, energetic, intensely memorable opener is one of the best songs in the band’s history, and there are some nice trippy experimental moments here and there, but most of the album is a bit too syrupy.
Also, for a concept album / rock opera, the narrative doesn’t really come across as clearly as you would expect.
If either they had combined this and Machina 2 into one giant epic, or else they had trimmed this down to its best moments, and toned down the production a bit, then perhaps it would be a bit higher up the list, but as it stands, it is a good Pumpkins album, but not a great one.
Best songs: “The Everlasting Gaze,” “Try, Try, Try” & “Wound.”
14. Smashing Pumpkins – Adore (1998) – It feels harsh having this album last, and indeed it will be utter blasphemy to some fans, but something has to be in last place, and although I like it, it is unarguably my least favourite. The songs, for the most part, aren’t just quite as good as the Pumpkin’s best. There’s definitely good stuff here, but there’s better stuff elsewhere.
I don’t mind them not playing hard or metallic, I don’t mind them not having Chamberlain’s drums, and I don’t mind them using synths or being gothy elsewhere, so don’t think I’m some kind of luddite just rejecting this album because it was a big sonic shift for the band.
Its just a bit plain, unadventurous and dreary when compared to the Pumpkins’ bigger more beloved albums, and also not as memorable, concise and well-written as their lesser well-known material. Even compared to their other ‘80s and electronic tinged album, its not as fun.
I’m sort of making it sound as though I don’t like it, but that is not the case, I do still like it… I’m just trying to explain how it can be last on the list, so the hardcore fans put down their pitchforks and flaming torches. It has some memorable moments, a unique aesthetic in the band’s catalogue, was historically important. I’m not denying that. It is an interesting portrait of a dark, bereaved time for the Pumpkins and confused time for the music business. But its just not as much my cup of tea as all the others.
Oh wait, did I essentially just say “personal preference” and knock off early? Woops. Anyone for ice-cream?
Best songs: “Ava Adore,” “Blank Page” & “For Martha.”
Also, the EPs American Gothic and Lull deserve honorary mentions. You can do with “Slunk” and “The Rose March” in your life if you like good Pumpkins.