Smashing Pumpkins – Pisces Iscariot Deluxe Edition Review

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.

 

Frail And Bedazzled
Original - 10
Remaster  - 8

Starla
Original – 11
New – 9

La Dolly Vita
Original – 11
New –  8

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
Original –  10
Remaster –  7

Slunk
Original – 8
Remaster – 5

Why Am I So Tired?
Original – 13
Remaster – 7

“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.

Update
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.

 

9 Responses to “Smashing Pumpkins – Pisces Iscariot Deluxe Edition Review”

  1. Mike says:

    apparently there are several digital glitches along with an alt vocal used for Plume as well.
    Also for whatever reason, they used Howie Weinberg instead of Bob Ludwig to master the second disk.

  2. Lost Turntable says:

    I didn’t notice the glitches, but thanks for letting me know.

  3. Mike says:

    no problem

    I haven’t received my copy yet from amazon.com yet so I can’t confirm any of the issues myself, but here is a summary from the folks at the official SP forum:

    the song “Bye June” is now called “By June”
    the song “Plume” is now an alternate mix featuring a different vocal and slightly longer intro.
    the song “Purr Snickety” doesn’t start properly. The first 5 seconds are tacked onto the end of “French Movie Theme”
    the song “Soothe” appears to be a new mix, although it is not stated as such (the original sounded like it was mixed on a 4 track Portastudio. the new one sounds digital and refined (for better or worse)
    the song “Jackie Blue” contains a digital glitch at approx. 1:30-1:40
    the song “Why Am I So Tired?” features a glitch after the end of the song (in the total silence before the end of the cd)
    the song “Pissant” contains a glitch at approx. 0:03
    the song “Blue” contains a glitch at 3:08

    PLUS – the original promotions stated it would be sold in HIREZ (24/96) for download. these files are now being sold as 16/44.1 (and for a while 24/44.1) and apparently the excuse given is its due to the limitations of the material, which is BS – because the first two sets were done in HIREZ with no issues. everything SP has done has transferred to HIREZ.

    Also the 2 discs feature INCREDIBLY different mastering.
    CD 1 – is mastered by Bob Ludwig and contains (for the most part) the same dynamics as the original cd, just tighter.
    CD 2 – is mastered by Howie Weinberg and it is LOUD, COMPRESSED and CLIPPED all too heck.

    and the final one, so far, is the digital versions of the tape that you could download, all had their track indexes screwed up. a few songs have the beginning of the next song at the tail end and then when the proper song starts on the next track it repeats the intro.

  4. Keith says:

    I was really looking forward to getting crisp, remastered versions of the Smashing Pumpkins cassette – Jennifer Ever is among my favorite tracks the band ever recorded. Indexes aside, do the official versions sound any better than the widely circulated cassette rips from back in the day?

  5. Lost Turntable says:

    I would assume they sound better than tape rips (you know my stance on tapes) but they’re far from perfect.

    Just steal it online, they obviously don’t respect you enough to earn your money.

  6. Trash EXecutioner says:

    Lest we forget how the 1994 release of Pisces broke ground from a mastering standpoint. ‘Hello Kitty Cat’ is compressed to an unprecedented level on the original release. So is ‘Pissant’. This is part of the collection’s charm.

  7. Scaresbums says:

    Interesting info; not sure it’s fair to compare the versions of Glynis however since they are so vastly different from one another. Different vocals, completely different mix. It’s more of an alternative version than a remaster from the original No Alternative compilation.

  8. Lost Turntable says:

    It’s still too compressed and clips, and that was done in the mastering, not in the recording.

  9. K_Man says:

    My solution to so-called remasters(digital or otherwise) of my favorite artists is simply to NOT BUY the crap! Hit the record labels(and the artists if nec) in their pocketbooks.

    I have digital audio editing software as illustrated above, and I can put up a HUNDRED more screenshots of the same smashed(pardon the pun!) waveforms of my favorite legacy artists(from 1995 and earlier) music.

    It is all done in the name of MONEY.

    True remastering actually improves the sound – not degrades it! Removing tape hiss, adding bass to the bottom end of older LP-based masters that could not handle the bass or the needle would skip, correcting wow or other incorrect speed issues, and saving the restored sound to higher-res 24bit – THOSE are examples of good remastering.

    Otherwise, the original tone and dynamics of the recordings – the elements that defined it’s emotion, should be LEFT ALONE.

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