Pisces Iscariot was first released in 1994. Primarily a B-sides and outtakes collection, it lacks the cohesion and tightness that other Pumpkins albums of the era have, but it’s still a quality collection of excellent tunes nonetheless. While the album is probably not anyone’s favorite Smashing Pumpkins record, it does have plenty of tracks that remain standouts in the Pumpkins’ repertoire to this day, including the band’s classic cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” the hard-rocking “Frail & Bedazzled” and the legendary epic face-melting shredfest that is “Starla.”
Even though Pisces Iscariot is “just” a b-sides compilation, Billy Corgan still decided that it should be part of his massive re-issue campaign which to date has already seen excellent three-disc (2 CD/1 DVD ) re-releases of the band’s first two albums; Gish and Siamese Dream.
In my reviews for those re-issues I noted that not only were the remasters decent (although not optimal) but that the deluxe editions of the albums included a good selection of excellent demos, b-sides and other rarities that fans of the groups should enjoy. I gave both my wholehearted endorsement.
I don’t think I can do the same for Pisces Iscariot.
Oh boy, this one is really a mixed bag. Where do I begin?
Disc 2 of the collection is probably what fans of the band are interested in the most, as it’s where most of the previously unheard material is held, so I suppose I’ll start there. The packaging for the album describes the second disc a collection of “17 previously unreleased or alternative versions of Pisces era songs.” But that’s a lie. Only nine of the tracks on disc two are in fact previously unreleased, the rest are culled from singles, compilations or the Earphoria album (which is weird since that’s still in print).
Those nine tracks are good though, and should be of interest to most Pumpkins fans. Highlights include the quiet “Blissed,” which is exceptionally beautiful, and unexpected covers of “Cinnamon Girl” and “Venus In Furs.” And while they have been previously released, it’s a safe bet that most fans haven’t heard quality rarities like “Glynis” or”Jackie Blue” so it’s nice to see them finally see a release on a proper Pumpkins album. They deserve to be heard by a wider audience.
But then again, so did “Honey Spider II” and “Not Worth Asking” two rarities that were included on a bonus 7″ on some editions of the original Pisces Iscariot. Why were they excluded? It’s so random. And where is “Bullet Train To Osaka,” the b-side to “I Am One?” The 15-minute long “Why Am I So Tired” should have been cut to make room for these genuine rarities. It’s on Earphoria. There’s no reason for it to be here. Especially considering how it was “remastered.”
About the remaster, it’s another Bob “I’m against the Loudness Wars until someone pays me” Ludwig job, so it’s not great. It’s not bad either, but it’s certainly less than ideal. Just like the remasters for Gish and Siamese Dream, everything on Pisces Iscariot has fallen victim to the Loudness Wars. Although some songs have made it out better than others.
Nearly all the quiet tracks are fine, it would be really hard to make something like “Landslide” too loud, so I’m going to focus on the more rocking numbers from Pisces.
Each of the following are images of the waveforms from selected tracks. The original version is on top, the remastered version on the bottom. Below each image is a measure of each version’s dynamic range, which is the difference between the quietest and loudest parts of a recording. When a remaster decreases the dynamic range of a song, then its actively making it sound worse.
So all the tracks on Pisces have made it through the remastering process with some of their dynamic range stripped away in lieu of making them as loud as possible. Just like Gish and Siamese Dream though, the difference is barely noticeable. At least I didn’t detect any audible distortion in any of the tracks and they don’t have a “wall of noise” feel to them like the remaster of Nevermind did. The album is totally listenable in its remastered form, but if you have the original you should probably hang on to it.
The second disc is more a mixed bag. The quiet songs made it out fine, but the louder tunes seem to have been over-compressed to a much more noticeable degree. Here are some comparisons of tracks on the second disc that have been previously released. Just like the other comparisons, the originals are on top, while the remastered versions are on the bottom.
“Glynis” goes from 10 to 7 and “Slunk” also drops down three, from an already noisy 8 to a boisterously loud 5, but the real crime here is the needless butchering of “Why Am I So Tired.” It loses nearly half of its dynamic range! And Check out the clipping.
See where the waveform flattens out? That’s where music is actually being lost so the album can be made louder. Pointless.
The song sounds different now, it’s like a wall of noise that drowns out the music buried within. It’s actually tiring to hear (Why Am Is So Tired? Because your song is too damn loud Billy). Thankfully I still have the properly mastered version on Earphoria.
On a most positive note, the box also features a DVD of an early live footage of the group, which includes an entire performance for a cable access show in 1988 and some various live clips from ’89 to ’94. Most are taken from videotape, so they don’t look good, but at least they sound great. I’m actually ripping all the tracks off the DVD and converting them to MP3 because I like them so much.
And finally, there’s even a reproduction of the band’s demo tape, which is actually on a cassette tape.
Okay, I get it. Cassettes are “cute” and retro at the moment. People have developed some strange nostalgia for cassette culture and that’s great. I’m not going to fault anyone for looking back at something that made them happy when they were growing up.
But…cassettes sound like garbage! They’re worthless, dead pieces of technology that no one should be forced to deal with ever again. And who the hell still has a tape deck? The majority of people who buy this box set are never going to get to listen to this tape. And if they do, they’ll just be bummed at how crappy it sounds. Because cassettes sound like crap! At the very least it should have included a download card.
Oh wait it did, but only if you bought the album direct from the Smashing Pumpkins website. Because fuck record stores I guess.
And to top it all off, the tape is ugly.
So, is this set worth getting? Well, even with all its faults I still think it’s worth picking up for the previously unreleased tunes and the live footage, which is really something special. It’s just a downer that the set is “good enough” when it really had the potential to be great.
It does make me worry about the upcoming deluxe reissue of Melon Collie. If Billy fucks that one up I hope someone punches him in his little bald head.
As various commentors have, well, commented, there are additional problems with this remaster.
The above image is taken from the waveform for “Pissant.” See that part that looks like a square wave? That’s a mastering error. These are the kind of things that should be caught before the album comes out. Bob Ludwig strikes again.
There are also other problems, which you can read about in the comments, perhaps you may want to stay clear of this one for now until they (hopefully) get worked out.
And if anyone wants to complain about this to Bob Ludwig or Billy Corgan on Twitter, please do. I would, but they both blocked me! I assumed Bob blocked me for this, and I think Billy blocked me when I attacked him for his transphobic bullshit.