22 Years Ago: The Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Gish’ Album Released
Billy Corgan is credited as co-producer of the Smashing Pumpkins’ debut album, 1991’s ‘Gish,’ but don’t be fooled by this shared duty: He was calling the shots. Working with Butch Vig, who was still a few months away from starting his life-altering project, Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind,’ Corgan knew what he wanted his band’s album to sound like from the minute he stepped into Vig’s Wisconsin studio in late 1990. When they emerged four months later, they had made one of the most defining alt-rock records of the early ‘90s.
But it wasn’t easy. Corgan was never easy, even at this early stage of the group’s troubled career. Even though the Smashing Pumpkins had a second guitarist and a bass player, Corgan chose to play almost every single guitar and bass note on ‘Gish’ – which celebrates its 22nd anniversary today – by himself. It caused serious issues in the band, which they never fully recovered from. But Corgan had a vision for ‘Gish,’ and he wasn’t going to let his producer, his bandmates or his limitations get in the way of fulfilling it.
Unlike so much indie rock from the period, which desperately shifted its gaze as far as possible from anything remotely classic rock, ‘Gish’ embraced the big, anthem-sized sounds of the 1970s. Corgan was a fan of bands like Queen and instilled his own music with similar epic, operatic touches. There’s nothing DIY or low-fi about ‘I Am One,’ ‘Siva,’ ‘Rhinoceros’ and ‘Tristessa.’ They’re big, sprawling and loaded with the sort of guitar wankery usually reserved for Camaro-era rock. And they’re glorious.
‘Gish’ and the Smashing Pumpkins weren’t an immediate hit. The album never got higher than No. 195 on the chart, but it did eventually go platinum, and the six-and-a-half-minute ‘Rhinoceros’ managed to climb to No. 27 on the modern-rock chart. By the time the Pumpkins returned two years later with their masterpiece, ‘Siamese Dream,’ Vig (who once again co-produced with Corgan) was a red-hot producer, the Pumpkins were on their way to superstardom and Corgan was still calling the shots. ‘Gish’ was his first epic move.