Billy Corgan is the moon. No really. If you’ve ever wondered why that bit in the video for ‘Tonight Tonight’ worked so well, try watching the man perform his greatest hits under a tent beneath a cloudless, beautiful sky and it will make perfect sense. Without being able to see that thing up there for ourselves, we watched as the luminescent Corgan, written off by almost everyone (including himself) recently shone brighter than ever and showed the kids how a rock show really happens. There’s the electric energy you get from a festival full of kids dancing to house beats and then there’s a different kind of power that comes from a universal hollering along to rock songs that were so well put together that they really never aged at all. Corgan, all translucent white skin, serious attitude and phenomenal voice, certainly hasn’t. Even without any of the original members of his band, he managed to somehow pull off a rare coup of being a revival act without relying only on the past to do the work for him. Also, it helps that he is the moon. You can’t avoid his head or his voice, and both of them were shining pretty bright when he played. Honestly, you just can’t stop looking at him.
This was a really big Billy Corgan-inspired weekend for me. The man once immortalised in one of the best lines from The Simpsons (‘Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins/’Homer Simpson, smiling politely’) headlined the annual Splendour In The Grass festival in Australia’s Byron Bay, but somehow managed to have a monopoly on popular conversation for all three days of the festival. Always a divisive character at the best of times, Corgan, who’s been known to fuck with everyone from Courtney Love to Jessica Simpson (often literally), by way of Radiohead, the man who was sharing space on the poster with At The Drive In, Azealia Banks and the mighty Jack White was the talk of the town. He woke up early in the morning to be interviewed in public on music television, sat down with comic Wil Anderson for a frank talk about the industry and his part in it and then inspired a flurry of rumours in the industry circle that he was alternately only going to play his new stuff for two hours or, better yet, was contractually obliged to offer material from Mellon Collie and Siamese Dream or he wouldn’t get paid. I liked the second rumour more, primarily because it was ridiculous, and last night, we got a bit of both. Having always been more of a Nirvana and Soundgarden kid myself, I have a passing knowledge of Corgan’s work after that double album that spawned all the big hits. But I was inspired by one particular tune that I recognised last night, but didn’t know by name. It’s called ‘Ava Adore’, it came out in 1998 and it completely blew me away.
The reason for a lot of the NIN-esque percussive elements on Adore, I’m told, is that Billy fired his drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who had a raging heroin addiction that was splitting the group apart (and had already killed their touring keyboardist.) It has this really phenomenal groove to it that recalls the big sound of glam, centred around the sneering vocal line and bass hook that kicks through the door from the first note. Corgan’s genius really shines through on cuts like this one; it could easily become a textural piece that focuses more on the sound than the song and barely deviates (see: most modern rock bands), but instead it blossoms into this incredible major chorus that nobody sees coming. All the ambition of the previous albums is still there, from the double tracked guitar solos in the bridge through to that sparkling wordplay that’s made Corgan a hero to millions of kids now in their thirties. When he snarls ‘We must never be apart’ and slides his own voice up to the starting note of the verse, you get a brief glimpse of why, even though nobody really takes his new stuff seriously, Corgan is entitled to rant about almost anything he wants. The others burned out and he survived, only to get paid three times as much for playing songs as old as the Discman. You wouldn’t think that something old would be considered refreshing. But then, you probably haven’t seen the moon much lately.
Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Ava Adore’