Gish serves as a fine example of what a debut album should be. It contains dynamic songwriting, offering moments of finesse alongside the fuzzed-up mania, and is performed with a balance of raw intensity and technical prowess.
The Smashing Pumpkins work tremendously as a collective, that much is certain, but the individual performances are too good to overlook. Jimmy Chamberlin’s drumming is frenetic, but assuredly fluid; the basslines performed by both Darcy Wretzky and Billy Corgan are consistently strong, at times very progressive; and the multi-layered guitar work is a hazy delight. Corgan’s playing is particularly impressive, laying down solo’s that are more in the vein of Kyuss’ Joshua Homme than anything in the alternative rock scene.
The record is a rich and gloriously grubby collage of sounds. It stands strong in a place somewhere between Pixies and Nirvana, with an added injection of psychedelic rock to ensure The Pumpkins nail down a sound of their own. The distinction of Gish isn’t always all that clear — the dynamic contrast shown on “Siva” was essentially a Pixies trademark in 1991 — but it’s helped out tremendously by compelling song arrangements and notable flexibility with structure.
The Pumpkins occupy a great space; it’s not always polished, but it is often engaging, and Gish manages to keep its illusive atmosphere to the end. In the middle of the album lies an outstanding trio of songs that highlight the range of The Pumpkins’ vision — they rock out on “Bury Me”, before singing hopelessly about love on “Crush” (comparing the warmth of love to a liquid peppermint) and channelling their inner Doors on “Suffer”.
It’s as good as ’90s alt rock gets. Gish is far from perfect, but only a few debuts manage to get even close to those realms. An essential listen for any alternative rock fan.
8 out of 10
Prior to Gish my only exposure to The Smashing Pumpkins was by way of a Simpsons gag, so I was glad to expand on that. This introduction has been pleasant in ways only debuts can be. It has that perfect tottering aliveness that comes with first steps — reminiscent of Wolf Alice’s My Love Is Cool in that respect.
The music tempers murkiness with edge, occupying a peculiar space between psychedelia and grunge. Opener “I Am One” storms out of the blocks with a disciplined frenzy typical of much of Grish, but it’s the record’s central spell where the group really hit their stride. The guitar work on “Rhinoceros” is gorgeous, weightless… like the strings aren’t attached to anything. The same goes for the bass halfway through “Suffer”, which fittingly goes on to conduct some sort of a stoner epiphany. Tracks in their vein, which slow things down to the point of drug-riddled meditation, are Gish at its best. Their loose, thoughtful control really hit the spot. Billy Corgan vocals sound like a scratchy Mick Jagger, and that’s just right.
Not that everything is just right. The album’s finesse is lost in the fuzz often enough to be frustrating, with the closing few tracks particularly guilty of inducing a daze. Several songs are longer than they justify. That’s ok, though. Gish carves out a distinctive enough pre-grunge sound to be worth anyone’s time. It can wear thin, but there are some lovely spells to drift into.
7 out of 10
The Smashing Pumpkins managed to find a good combination of sounds for their debut release. Calling back to the ’80s rock that had come before it and forging a style that sat on the precipice of grunge as its popularity skyrocketed, Gish is crafted from a mixture of noisey, chugging rock, impressive guitar work, and entrancing, drone-like intervals.
There’s a good deal of great playing across the line up, particularly the bassline at the front of the mix in “Suffer”, the drum fills and the guitar solo work in “Bury Me”, and the more pensive, delicate vocals in “Crush”. The tracklist is well thought out too, keeping a nice, chugging head of steam punctuated with slower moments throughout. It unravels a little towards the end, with different ideas merging together and feeling less defined to the listener half an hour through its play time. Luckily the closer, “Daydream”, avoids the same fate with acoustic string instrumentals and bassist, D’arcy Wretzky, leading the vocal line for a final, refreshing change.
Safe to say 1991 was big year for the grunge scene and Gish does well to add further context alongside the likes of Pearl Jam’s Ten and Nirvana’s Nevermind. It’s a solid debut, but it doesn’t rock my world. There are moments to remember throughout but if previous experience with Gish is anything to go by they won’t stay with me for long.
7 out of 10