On Shuffle: Smashing Pumpkins – "Geek USA"

Where single tracks are stripped from their albums, and context is fleeting.

While most future entries will not be tied to any one geographical region, the month of July shall be married to one city. Chicago.

Smashing Pumpkins – “Geek USA”

Arguably Chicago’s most recognizable wavemakers in the alt-rock tsunami of the early 1990s, Smashing Pumpkins owed as much to the psychedelic rockers of the 1960s as they did to the punk pioneers of the ’70s and ’80s. Fusing these elements, they carved themselves a place in rock history, and subsequently my little heart. I was familiar with their singles when they were released, but I didn’t fully explore their catalog until their flame, once bright, was smoldering on the verge of going out. Once I did, I fell in love.

SP’s major-label debut, Siamese Dream, is still, in my oh-so-humble opinion, their most perfect album from start to finish. Although it had a number of singles that racked up enough radio mileage to wear them thin to the point of annoyance, every one of the remaining tracks were stone-solid. “Geek USA,” smack in the middle of the album, remains to this day one of my personal favorites.

Jimmy Chamberlin leads the charge into the fray with a marching snare quick-step. Billy Corgan and James Iha enter with fuzzed out guitars holding the same pattern for a few seconds until D’arcy Wretzky jumps in, bass bouncing between octaves, and Chamberlin drops onto the kick drum, showcasing the caveman drumming he’s known for. They all hang out here for a few more bars with a few punctuated squeals up high from the double axe attack before embarking on the full-on sprint of the main riff. Over the top of it, Corgan blathers on about his self-loathing being shot full of diamonds or something I could honestly care less about. His voice is enough to set them apart in that department, alternating between nasal screaming and silky crooning, but in a rough paraphrase from David Byrne, “the vocals are just a trick to get you to pay attention to the music,” and it’s the music here that shines.

After a couple trips from verse to chorus and back again, the groove dissolves into a placid delay-soaked dreamland where Corgan reveals the origin of the album’s title while displaying a brief glimpse of the group’s more spaced-out tendencies. Just as calm is about to settle, it’s violently displaced by an enormous wall of distortion, keeping the same tempo long enough to finish the vocal phrase and then we’re back headlong into the original riff, now pitting the dueling guitars against each other to see which can best emulate a laser blaster as we race to the finish line. Just when it seems like we’ve reached the end, everybody drops out except for D’arcy, who picks up yet another groove at half the speed. Instead of hurtling us off the end of their initial breakneck tempo, they decide to let us down in layers. The band rejoins her with vintage punk pick scrapes and gives us enough time to catch our breath and ride this one to an epic and satisfying ending.

As a sidenote, this impressive little ditty is one of the fastest they’ve got, and in truth it’s no slouch in the speed department. I guess they got bored with it at that speed because in concert they play it nearly twice as fast.

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5 responses to “On Shuffle: Smashing Pumpkins – "Geek USA"

  1. Love love love that song. I always thought the Pumpkins’ deep cuts were better than their singles, at least from Siamese Dream onward. Don’t even get me started on the rest of that album: Hummer, Mayonaise, Silverfuck. God, it’s good.

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  2. For serious! I always thought of this song as the middle of a trio bookended by Soma and Mayonaise. This album is so far embedded in my DNA that our first dance at my wedding was to Luna.

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  3. “Jimmy Chamberlin leads the charge into the fray with a marching snare quick-step. Billy Corgan and Billy Corgan enters with fuzzed out guitars holding the same pattern for a few seconds until Billy Corgan jumps in, bass bouncing between octaves”

    ^Some tellings of the recording session go more like this, and I’ve always wondered to what extend they represent reality.

    The song’s a highlight on Vieuphoria, too, as I recall (it might be the part with the dB reading in the corner).

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  4. Goo point. Actually, I may be shattering the illusion a bit here, but I was under the impression that Billy played most of the instruments on Siamese Dream. Not that SP didn’t rock out live. Billy is just sort of a control freak, from what I understand.

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