Make no mistake about it, Billy Corgan always wanted us to know Adore was wordplay for ‘A Door.’ He wished it was accepted as much as Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness were, but it wasn’t to be, even after it celebrated its 20th anniversary a couple of years ago, its reputation still hasn’t lived up to what the Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman wanted despite it being a strong album with plenty of great melodies and atmospheres. It has an unusual place as one of the five major Pumpkins albums released with (mostly) their original lineup, but without Chamberlin or a lot of the guitars that were essential to their earlier works, Adore has a secure place with hardcore fans but casual fans never seem to fully accept it.
While many see the Pumpkins as an alt rock band that had a number of heavy hits and some softer songs mixed in early in their career, the fans were willing to accept amazing works that walked a different sonic path. The thumping, electronic-leaning “1979” and the string-laden “Tonight Tonight” were huge singles with incredible accompanying videos. The single “Thirty-Three” hit the top 10 on the modern rock charts yet it was barely above an acoustic volume. With this in mind, Corgan must have thought the fans would be ready for an album where the guitar fades from the foreground and the atmosphere and lyrics takes on a heavier burden.
But despite mass success with Mellon Collie which eventually went diamond in sales, The Smashing Pumpkins went through a number of trials and tribulations that altered the lineup that was steady since 1988. Chamberlin was ousted after being arrested for drug possession being in the company of keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin who died from an unfortunate overdose. Chamberlain was fired as the media and fans were feeling the chaos and the band thought it best for all parties. Drummer Matt Walker took over and the group had two more big hits -both for soundtracks; the electronica pop “Eye” from Lost Highway and the surging “The End Is the Beginning Is the End” from Batman and Robin. “Eye” was the hint to what fans should expect from the band for a Mellon Collie followup as the nature of the music scene was shifting some towards electronica. The pulsing gurgle rhythm glistens in late 20th century toys. “The End Is the Beginning Is the End” had a great blend of the Pumpkins distorted guitar buzz plus frozen synth shading, and the video with its connection to The Dark Knight seemed like a logical combination – with the band floating around the Batcave in all black, the band were a perfect fit for the goth look. These moments of 1997 would inform 1998 and Adore as we see a woman from pitch black freezing us in an icy glare on the album cover and
Lyrically, Billy Corgan focuses more on exterior lyrics than interior ones. He sings of others as much as himself as his female character sketches cover a large portion of the album. Songs like “To Sheila”, “Ava Adore”, “Daphne Descends”, “The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete” and “Annie Dog” are profiles with depth and of course the longest track “For Martha” was for his mother that had recently passed. That was another of darker shades lingering through the album. “Once Upon a Time” was also influenced by his mother’s passing. In the Adore box liner notes, Corgan brought it to the forefront:
“Like “For Martha”, this was penned in direct opposition to my mother’s untimely death.”
It must have been difficult for Corgan to deal with the passing of his mother on record only to have many fans criticizing the album when it was initially released.
The live experiences from 1998 were wide ranging with a number of songs changing from their studio versions. Without Jimmy Chamberlin around, may have contributed in what Corgan said was a confusing time for the direction of the band in concert settings. ‘quote’ As a fan going to their show, it was difficult if you didn’t buy the album beforehand since the setlist was bombarded by Adore songs.
While I visited my high school friend Greg in NYC, July 1998, we went to the free outdoor Letterman show rehearsals that were just outside the studio on 53rd street. With a 6-foot high stage set up in the gutter, The Pumpkins played with their transitional lineup of Corgan, Iha, D’arcy, and drummer Kenny Aronoff rehearsing “Perfect” a few times before cameras rolled. Once “Perfect” was complete and David Letterman went back inside the studio, The Pumpkins stuck around to play a few more songs before police broke it up due to crowd control problems. Knowing the softer nature of Adore since the album’s release the month before, it was a surprise how the Pumpkins approached the album live. .
“1979” followed and featured much of the same loud guitar distortion just like “To Shelia”, which starts out atmospheric like on record, with Corgan’s whisper-quiet singing for a verse and chorus before the band come in like they were dumping elephants on stage. It was still fun to witness it blasting out in the street.
The beautifully-hushed Adore opener “To Sheila” was next, and neared ten minutes (you can see a version leading off an Atlanta concert from 1996 , finally released in 2014 on DVD) with Corgan screaming the lyrics over hard guitar-accented chords. “Ava Adore” had more of that “Siamese” sound as well, blasting out into the hot city’s summer air with an additional catchy metal riff surging through. “Pug” continued in this vein, and if it had been released as a single with the Pumpkins’ harder rock style, it could have been a good followup hit to “Perfect”. “Crestfallen” wound up closing the show and it was a bit quieter despite being brought up in volume from the record. Recasting the songs as post-grunge may have helped a touch but without the release of a live album from the tour, the songs remained in people’s memories as a pretty good electronica-influenced pop/rock album. While there’s nothing wrong with a change in direction, they’ll always be a part of a band’s fanbase that sticks to the early stuff and sound.
Despite some 1998 performances altering the songs’ arrangements, elsewhere, like on the Adore box set, we hear live versions of these tracks as if they were a played by a different band. “Ava Adore”, “Daphne Descends”, “The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete” and a number of other tracks are played acoustically with jazz piano rippling around the serene scene. Additional musicians were brought on for their ’98 shows though Corgan in hindsight he felt things could have been executed better. “quote”
Corgan described in the Adore box liner notes some of the indecision of the period on how to present Adore at the time in both publicity and live performance:
“But if I could sum up that time for the band, we were just searching for an identity and we couldn’t find one. So if Jimmy was at the center of that, I can’t say. If I had to guess though, I don’t think so – I just think our time was up.”
The album’s cold, rainy night feel is dripping with goth in sound and substance and melodramatic epics like the thunderstruck “Tear”, riding the foggy night on the horses from the back cover on “Behold! The Night Mare” and speeding through the catchy electronic pop tunnel that is “Apples and Oranjes”. The beats and electronic tones have saturated alt. rock 20 years later and are much more widely accepted by fanbases than they once were when The Pumpkins released Adore. Hindsight is 20/20, and perhaps now we can see how the group helped open the sound of alternative music by released what Corgan later described as the album’s real title: ‘A Door.’