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Music Review: Smashing Pumpkins – Pisces Iscariot [2012 Remastered Edition]

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The Smashing Pumpkins were (and in many ways still are when I’m in a certain nostalgic mood) one of my favorite bands of the last 20 years. There is something quite amazing about the anal-retentive perfection that Billy Corgan searched for in his music that managed to viscerally pull me in with each listen.

It was as if grunge music had been infiltrated by an insanely OCD prog-rock mastermind which resulted in some of the most precise and meticulous albums of all time. No matter where my life will take me I know that I will love Corgan and whatever incarnation of the Smashing Pumpkins he chooses to cloak his talent with for that yearning for perfection in his recorded music and albums.

This is why the album I want to write about is perhaps my third favorite of all their albums, despite it being nothing at all like anything else Corgan has released.

Pisces Iscariot – and this is the new remastered version I’m reviewing here, FYI – is not a true Smashing Pumpkins release in the truest sense of the word. At least, it’s not a proper album of theirs.

Instead, Pisces Iscariot is a compilation album consisting of B-sides and studio outtakes. When it was originally released in 1994 it was an album that made me rethink entirely the way I felt about Corgan and his talent.

Sure I knew the guy could write smart lyrics and lay down some incredibly memorable guitar tracks (whether he had to double, triple or quadruple track them or run them all backwards just because it made an interesting sound). But Pisces Iscariot opened my eyes – okay, ears – to the fact that he could also strip down the highly polished noise and accuracy of it all and still end up with some gorgeous melodies.

It opens with the hauntingly beautiful acoustic track “Soothe,” continues on through messy and fuzztastic gems such as “Plume” and “Pissant,” stops for a heartbreakingly tender cover version of “Landslide,” and eventually ends with the appropriately named and achingly lovely sonic landscape of “Spaced.” Simply put, there is not a moment where Pisces Iscariot leaves me wanting to change the disc or fast-forward to “my favorite tracks.”

These songs are all my “favorite” tracks and the album flows as if you’re listening to this disjointed but still melodic radio station that’s playing the soundtrack of Billy Corgan right when the Smashing Pumpkins were taking off into the heady sphere of “rock stars.”

I love it, and even though I am a bit disappointed in some places by the heavy-handed mastering, I find that I am loving this remastered edition. To my untrained ears I will tell you that there is a tenderness and softness to the mastering done on my original copy of this album that is in some ways torn asunder.

It’s not all a bad thing, however, as the softness that feels removed in some places is replaced by my ability to hear all of the meticulous work and sounds that are dancing just beneath the surface on songs I thought were truly simple.

This new remaster shows me that even when he’s not trying to be…Corgan is always layering depths of sound into his albums. I don’t think he can help himself, really.

I’m glad.

I’m also glad I had the chance to review this album. It made me dig out my original copy and listen obsessively to both versions for quite a while, and there’s not much that I enjoy quite so much as letting my own OCD tendencies fly free for a while.

Pisces Iscariot is a great album and is nicely remastered. But some might be irked at the slightly different vibe this master gives to an album they may remember as being a tad more ear friendly in some places – not all remasters need to be loaded up with increased LOUDness, I think. But it is well worth it if you are at all a fan of Corgan and his music.

I’d turn it to at least 7 on this dial that goes to 11.

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