Let it never be said that Billy Corgan wasn't an ambitious young man. As leader of the young Chicago rock band, he crafted a deal with major-label Virgin Records. The deal he struck was not for their first album, "Gish", but for the followup, "Siamese Dream". Corgan understood, even in 1990, that in alternative rock, perception is everything.
The deal with Virgin famously included the provision that "Gish" would be released on Caroline Records, an independent label that was, at the time, secretly a Virgin subsidiary. This, he reasoned, would buy them street cred. It's a difficult idea to wrap your head around in the digital age, but in the early 90's, street cred was often more important than the music.
The fact that Corgan and company pulled off the subterfuge long enough to ride "Siamese Dream" all the way to the top of the pop charts isn't all that surprising when you actually listen to these records. "Gish" is a wild, reverb-laden tribute to everything that was great about My Bloody Valentine and Jane's Addiction, with enough sense to leave out everything that wasn't. Crafted by future Nirvana producer Butch Vig, songs like "Rhinoceros" and "I Am One" are the stuff of legends. The reissue adds a few period outtakes, notably "Drown", which appeared in the movie "Singles".
Billy Corgan was a pretty notorious perfectionist, and it's been recently confirmed that he played nearly every note of music on these studio recordings, aside from Jimmy Chamberlain's frenetic, jazz-influenced drumming. The real appeal of these reissues isn't in hearing remastered Billy Corgan pretending to be a band, it's in the live DVDs. Each of these reissues comes with a complete concert video, both of them recorded at Chicago's legendary Metro.
The "Gish" DVD was filmed nearly a full year before that album's release. It's remarkable to hear how fully-formed most of these songs are, but the real treat is in watching an unknown band with such a huge local following. With all the body parts flailing around, you'd swear that this band was already dominating the charts.
The "Siamese Dream" DVD is the true standout of the entire reissue project. Recorded just two weeks after "Siamese Dream" was released, they play another blistering set, again at The famed Metro. This time, though, they are all swagger. While still a couple months away from the runaway success of "Today" and "Disarm", the band are clearly at the top of their game here. They ever got any better than this, but they didn't have to.