Smashing indeed: Pumpkins crank it up to good effect

August 06, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

SIAMESE DREAM

Smashing Pumpkins (Virgin 88267)

Not all guitar noise is created equal. Some albums may make the mighty crunch of Marshall amps seem screechy and abrasive, but not "Siamese Dream." Even when the members of Smashing Pumpkins crank their amps to 11 (which is most of the time), the resultant roar is smooth and polished, keeping the instrumental clangor for crowding out the band's melodic flair. Add in the cool understatement of Billy Corgan's vocals, and the Pumpkins are left with a sound that's as tuneful as it is powerful -- and that's as true of full-throttle romps like "Cherub Rock" or "Geek U.S.A." as it is of quieter fare like the semi-acoustic "Spaceboy."

THE BALLADS OF MADISON

COUNTY

Robert James Waller (Atlantic 82511)

Let's be fair, now: Anyone who laughed along when Stephen King, Amy Tan and Dave Barry helped the Rock Bottom Remainders massacre their favorite oldies has no right snickering at Robert James Waller's attempt to parlay the success of his book, "The Bridges of Madison County," into a singing career. For one thing, Waller -- unlike King, Tan or Barry -- really can carry a tune. But as "The Ballads of Madison County" makes excruciatingly obvious, Waller hasn't a clue where to take it. At his best, as on the title tune or "Wabash Cannonball," his light voice and low-key delivery leave him sounding like a poor man's Roger Whittaker. But let him get out of his depth, as he does with Johnny Mercer's "Tangerine" and Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country," and he sounds like just another self-deluding celebrity.

IN ON THE KILL TAKER

Fugazi (Dischord DS70)

Between its uncompromising politics and incorruptible business practices, Fugazi has been hailed as alternative rock's last angry band. And rightfully so, given the incandescent magnificence of early albums like "13 Songs" and "Repeater." Unfortunately, "In on the Kill Taker" finds much of the quartet's energy squandered on cheap drama and instrumental bluster, as if the band had forgotten the difference between self-reliance and self-indulgence. Granted, there are moments -- like the near-chaotic "Cassavetes," or the dark, Wire-like "23 Beats Off" -- when the music still shines with brilliance of old, but those are too few and far between to make this album worth the trouble.

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