Album Review: Smashing Pumpkins – “Rotten Apples: Greatest Hits”

Rotten Apples is a collection of some of the best known songs that The Smashing Pumpkins issued during their career up to the time this CD was released in 2001. The eighteen-song CD contains such landmark songs as “Rhinoceros” (the alternative-radio breakthrough from 1991’s Gish), “Disarm” (the band’s first song to hit the CHR Top 40 on Radio & Records), and the MTV smash hit “Tonight, Tonight.” Other highlights of the disc include soundtrack selections “Drown” and “Eye” (from Singles and Lost Highway, respectively) and lesser known singles “Zero” and “The Everlasting Gaze.” Also included are two previously unreleased songs: “Untitled” and a track from the infamous Machina II album, “Real Love.”

The collection is pretty straightforward, including the most obvious choices from the breakthrough Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness albums. It is also interesting to note that radio edits of both “Rhinoceros” and “Drown” are included rather than the full-length original versions. The most unusual selection would likely be “Landslide,” a B-side to the “Disarm” single that was included on 1994’s B-sides album Pisces Iscariot and achieved significant radio airplay nationwide. Serious Smashing Pumpkins collectors will likely be disappointed that the original Sub-Pop version of “Tristessa” and the original Limited Potential Records version of “I Am One” are not included on this disc; one can only hope that sometime in the future the band will put out a boxed set that will include these gems.

To accompany their greatest hits album, a companion volume to Pisces Iscariot was created, entitled Judas 0. However, it should be noted that there are very significant differences between the two collections. With Pisces Iscariot, the collection was primarily made up of previously released songs; only three of the fourteen selections were unreleased. Of the sixteen songs on Judas 0, only six were previously issued, and one of those doesn’t technically qualify as a B-side, as it didn’t appear on a single but rather on a promotional only EP that was made available with copies of the Machina album at select retailers. For the remaining ten songs, two come from the Machina II album (technically released, but not through conventional means) and the rest are outtakes from the Adore and Machina album sessions.

“Lucky 13” is a heavy rock song from the Machina II album, which can also heard as the bed music for the opening sequence on the band’s video collection DVD. Billy’s vocals are pushed into the background, being suppressed behind the guitars and drums. “Slow Dawn” also comes from Machina II, and it feels like a slower version of “Try, Try, Try.”

“Because You Are” is a rambling mess, and is vocally stuck on the title phrase for much of the song. Musically, it leans more toward the Machina album than it does Adore; it was recorded during the Adore sessions. After hearing how repetitive it is, I can see why it was left off of Adore.

“My Mistake” is a piano-based track, typical of other Adore era material, and is one of the highlights of this disc. “Sparrow” is an acoustic track in the style of “Bye June” and “Soothe” (the latter from the “Disarm” single and Pisces Iscariot), but Billy’s vocals seem to be uninspired on this track.

Another highlight of the disc is the pseudo-electronic track “Waiting,” from the Adore sessions. “Waiting” is one of the few songs on this disc that realistically has the strength to stand up with material that did make the Pumpkins’ previous albums.

While a rock-oriented version of “Saturnine” appeared on Machina II, it had previously been recorded during the Adore sessions in a more electronic rendition. This version of the song seems too similar in style to “Ava Adore” to have fit comfortably on the Adore album; not that it’s a bad track, but the similarities in the production of the tracks make it difficult to separate the two.

“Rock On” is a cover of the Essex song from 1974 which was previously covered, and taken to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, by soap opera actor Michael Damian in 1989. The difficult part of this track is the inclusion of bits and pieces of old Van Halen songs in the break in the middle of the song (“Everybody Wants Some” and “The Cradle Will Rock”). These bits feel forced into the track and don’t seem to enhance anything. Billy also seems to have trouble keeping his vocals in sync with the music in some spots, noticeably rushing to catch up with the music.

“Winterlong” is a soft acoustic guitar and bass guitar driven song. It’s a rather unusual arrangement, with the bass pushed into the foreground with the acoustic guitar hidden in the background; however, that makes this track stand out as another highlight on the set.

“Soot and Stars” is the final Machina outtake, though it feels more like an Adore track. Musically, the focus is more on keyboards than most of the Machina material. Unfortunately, this is a song that holds a lot of promise that goes unfilled due to the fact that it never progresses out of the basic keyboard structure. This structure feels like it should be an introduction to something more fleshed out; however, this turns out to be the complete structure of the track musically.

Overall, both discs are quite satisfying representations of the Smashing Pumpkins material, though both are missing notable tracks. As previously stated, the first disc really should have contained one of the early singles the band released prior to signing with Caroline Records. Likewise, Judas 0 could have included a few more of the songs that were actually released as B-sides. However, the set that was released is highly respectable and a reasonable primer on the Smashing Pumpkins’ material.

I wrote this review after listening to a copy of Rotten Apples: Greatest Hits that my husband and I purchased.

(written by Lesley Aeschliman on December 28, 2002)


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