Take Cover! The Civil Wars Vs. Smashing Pumpkins

When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week the Civil Wars take on Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!

By 1993, Smashing Pumpkins were quickly becoming a household name, thanks to the success of Gish on college radio and a relentless touring schedule that included opening slots for Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. But, as has been well-documented, that period in the band’s history was tumultuous at best. Soaring popularity did nothing to abate Jimmy Chamberlain’s drug abuse, Billy Corgan’s writer’s block and depression or the love lost between James Iha and D’Arcy once their once budding romance turned sour.

Although these struggles would loosely serve as a bellwether of the band’s future unraveling, in ’93, they instead coalesced into the fuel that Corgan would need to craft one of the great rock albums of all time, Siamese Dream. Alongside Chamberlain and producer Butch Vig, Corgan wrote and recorded nearly every track on the record, all of which are, in my mind, perfect. And while the psych-metal thrust of songs like “Cherub Rock” and “Geek U.S.A.” tended to hide Corgan’s vulnerability, “Disarm,” “Soma” and “Luna” made it abundantly clear that he was everything the critics had predicted: unnervingly talented but, more importantly, multi-dimensional.

What’s particularly amazing about “Disarm” is that its acoustic, orchestral fixings do nothing to belie Corgan’s intensity. Clouds of distortion and pummeling drums are nowhere to be found, yet it’s impossible not to feel tense amid its dark and obliquely romantic passages. Here, there is a cohesion with the Pumpkins’ heavier work despite the song’s relatively stark composition, Corgan revealing himself to be more of a haunted lover than the fighter implied by the otherwise visceral nature of his approach. This dynamic was not lost on us, of course: Siamese Dream, led by singles “Cherub Rock, “Disarm,” “Today” and “Rocket,” was certified quadruple platinum and is widely considered to be a classic across all genres among critics and fans alike.

Nashville’s most recent success story, the Civil Wars could probably make any piece of the Pumpkins’ catalog sound beautiful. Armed with only the essentials—two voices, acoustic guitar and piano—Joy Williams and John Paul White make music that emits a wildly disproportionate amount of feeling in relation to the austerity embedded in their approach. So it’s to the duo’s credit that, instead of simplifying “Today” or “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” for dramatic affect (something they could’ve easily done), they engaged the challenge of making their own one of the most bare Pumpkins tracks. This isn’t as easy as it looks when you consider that Williams and White already trade in the kind of slow, sonically weightless compositions that have made them an instant hit in recent months. Nonetheless, the Wars manage to suss out every pure ounce of the song, leaving the body limp and exposed, but satisfied.

Cast your vote wisely.

The Cover:

YouTube Preview Image

The Original:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1eo8r

[poll id="179"]

This entry was posted in TAKE COVER!. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

29 Comments

  1. Jeremy
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    The Pumpkins version is alot more rich, and Corgan’s voice and singing are markedly better. Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that just because a cover is new, or that the original is made awhile back, that the new one is “better” for that reason. Or because little indie-acoustic sessions are “cool” for the moment, but are actually not that good. Good musical taste is not convinced. Thanks Corgan for writing great music, and the Smashing Pumpkins song still stands as the best version, and by a large margin.

  2. Nate
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I liked the Civil Wars cover, but my love for the Smashing Pumpkins and for Disarm is too big a bias for me to overcome. Besides, the violins sound so wonderful in the original. I voted for the original version.

  3. Jesmine
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    I think civil wars cover sucks
    they turn the smash pumpkin song into a piece of sh**t
    BILLIE CORGAN RULES!

  4. Posted April 1, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    The original song is definitely better, but The Civil Wars’ cover is intriguing. It’s so good because it’s almost a completely different song.

  5. Grace
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    How can you choose one or the other? As someone who is a big fan of both artists and attended concerts for both, I think it is unfair to compare them. They both have strengths that do not compare to the other. The Smashing Pumpkins raw vocals drag you through the pain and reality of the song while the Civil Wars sooth you into a trance of embracing the pain only to be able to release it. I choose not to vote because I think they are both great… neither is “better”

  6. Posted April 1, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    SP version is way better.. more emotion . I will say the Civil Wars version is not terrible though

  7. Nick
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    The cover doesn’t come anywhere close to the original. I think its easy to make a good cover off a Pumpkins song since they are all beautiful. This one however, does not work.

  8. Jerod
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    the pumpkins win this one. the civil wars are one of my recent faves. they have some amazing material and i love the covers i’ve heard from them, but corgan’s original arrangement is still the best.

  9. Tyler
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    I definitely will say that the Civil Wars cover was amazing. They did an outstanding job of taking a great song, and performing it in a way that if you hadn’t heard the first version, it could almost stand alone as a new song, new single, and new hit. They hit the mark by giving ‘Disarm’ some justice. For the most part it’s hard to say when a cover is better. For me at least. I always try to give the benefit of the doubt, and say “At least they did the song some justice.” The Civil Wars did that in this performance. As far as better goes, I will have to say no. Not trying to sound bias in anyway, but Corgan’s writing skills are simply amazing. Listening to the the Pumpkins original version of the song again, Billy belts it out in such an emotional way, that I don’t think anyone at this point in time can ever top. ‘Siamese Dream’ bleeds emotion, lyrically and musically. Its emotional complexity will be a stand alone force, for many many years to come, and will be hard for anyone out there to ever top.

  10. Kate
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Are you kidding me?

    There is no comparison. Pumpkins win. The civil Wars made a very pretty cover, but the magic of this song, is the gut wrenching vocals, the driving guitar, the bells! The Stings! This song also , btw, changed my life when I heard it. If I had heard the Civil Wars version first, I doubt it would have had the same impact, on any of us.

  11. Rory
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    How is this even a debate?That version has none of the emotion that the version of the song by the artist who WROTE the song has.It was boring as hell.The civil wars will never be better than the smashing pumpkins unless they can write an album as good as Siamese Dream or Mellon Collie, which I don’t see ever happening.The fact that it has so many votes shows that people today have no idea what they are talking about as far as music is concerned.They took an amazing song and made it mediocre at best.

  12. Matt McCall
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    It’s interesting, but seriously, it’s a cool indie folk duo. Smashing Pumpkins wrote the damn thing and had a far more interesting arrangement and the melody didn’t need to be changed, it was perfect how it was. You cannot trump this song with a cover. It’s far too steeped in emotion of a real man named Billy Corgan. That being said, it’s a great cover and if they covered Siamese Dream I would buy it. But seriously, it isn’t comparable.

  13. Reeva
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    I get that this sort of thing happens all of the time… and I absolutely LOVE both bands. Isn’t this is what a cover is, though? A tribute to someone elses work that you just love- which is exactly what the Wars said at the beginning of their video.
    I prefer the original version but I like to think that if I just looked at the two versions as different people doing the same song with their own styles and pasts and whatever then they both have different results with it. Did that even make any sense? I still love them both equally and for totally different reasons! :P

  14. Ryan
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Better? No. However, I have heard much worse covers of Disarm than this. So I do give them credit for the attempt. I think it’s great to hear that people still care about SP’s music. They really have had a fallout of support from music listeners and we (as in SP fans like me) need bands like this to raise awareness of such a great band.

  15. Posted April 1, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    this is totally unfair to both artists. both versions are great for what they are

  16. David
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Songs often lend themselves to alternate versions and unique takes on songs can still work. While the Civil Wars seem talented, just simply doesn’t work for the song. It doesn’t capture the essence of the song. Maybe it’s the Capo but it sounds like they use none of the original notes from the song and the progression is all wrong. SP proved that Disarm could be played with vary tempos and sounds, but in this case, I feel it doesn’t work. It’s like this band created an entirely new song, and sang the lyrics to “Disarm” to it.

    FYI to the wrote, Jimmy’s last name is Chamberlin with on ‘a’, not Chamberlain with two ‘a’s. It’s a common mistake.

  17. Posted April 1, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    Songs often lend themselves to alternate versions and unique takes on songs can still work. While the Civil Wars seem talented, it just simply doesn’t work for the song. It doesn’t capture the essence of the song. Maybe it’s the Capo but it sounds like they use none of the original notes from the song and the progression is all wrong. SP proved that Disarm could be played with varying tempos and sounds, but in this case, I feel it doesn’t work. It’s like this band created an entirely new song, and sang the lyrics to “Disarm” to it.
    FYI to the wrote, Jimmy’s last name is Chamberlin with on ‘a’, not Chamberlain with two ‘a’s. It’s a common mistake.

  18. Ty
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Of course the Smashing Pumpkins’ version is a lot more rich. It’s “bigger” in the sense that it’s a studio version but “bigger” in general too. It’s meant to be that way. The Civil Wars’ version was meant to be this way. Quiet and toned down.
    Covers are pointless if you don’t try and reinterpret them. That’s the point of covering a song – paying tribute to something you love AND making it your own. They go hand in hand.

    Nobody does “little indie-acoustic sessions” because they’re “cool”. If anything, it’s convenience. You forgot to mention that fact that some people can’t get passed the idea that originality = best all the time. Of course it will, essentially, because without the original, it wouldn’t exist but that doesn’t mean a cover can’t be better, especially with the advance in technology and getting better sound quality.

    But personally, I think this whole putting one on top of the other is ridiculous anyway. I think they’re equally great and there should be an option to say that. But it’s all for fun. No reason to get your panties in a bunch. :)

  19. Andi
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    Nice, CW
    But i prefered SP,
    Do you have another cover for SP, CW?? Please post it… I want to hear another SP’s cover?? “Landslide” would be nice…

  20. Posted April 2, 2011 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    Talented… Maybe. But to take a song that has raw unabated emotion at its core and candy coat it with pretty harmony!? …Sorry I am not buying it.
    Very cute… but save that for a campfire kids. Just listen to Billy’s cover of Alice Coopers “CLONES (We’re All)”. All the emotion and took it to a higher level.

  21. Jeroen
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    Why does it have to be about which is better? They’re completely different renditions of a great song.
    I think the Civil War’s rendition is really good and interesting. I wouldn’t say it’s better, just different. I wouldn’t trade it for the original, but I can appreciate this version nonetheless.

  22. Posted April 2, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I like the cover song too but it is quite hard to recognise the Pumpkins’ version in it because it is so twisted. The girl sings extremely well! Still….The ORIGINAL is my favourite because it has more soul in it and it has better arragement.

  23. Jack
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    If you listen closely, the tempo is what changes the most in The Civil Wars’ version. Yes, the acoustic picking is different, but it’s the tempo that really changes the feel of the song. Both are INCREDIBLE!!!

  24. Gary
    Posted April 3, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Awesome rendition of “Disarm”…they more or less made it theirs…but if I’m to vote for the best, you know it’s gotta be Billy’s tune…I’m sure Billy is happy with their version as well !!!

  25. Posted April 3, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    There is nothing wrong with liking another version of this song! I liked it! It took me to places where SP’s version never took me. That is ok. I love the girl’s voice and the sadness of the song is felt in their version. So, I like them both:D

  26. vag
    Posted April 6, 2011 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    How dare u compare this bad recreation with the original?
    Don’t forget that Disarm was the reason to become a fan of the Pumpkins…..
    respect plz ….and drink or chew something in order to have inspiration to write your own songs

  27. t. drew hardin
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Civil Wars performs a decent off-the-cuff rendition of “Disarm”. Critics need to be careful in their harsh judgments of a duet that otherwise write their own music and do it quite well. In the end, however, give props to Mr. Corgan and Co. for still possessing a well-established fan base and proving it with songs like this one. He just does it better and I am glad he is prowling the Rock scene once again in the 2010′s.

  28. Same Old
    Posted June 1, 2011 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    The Civil Wars are so f’ing over-rated. Average singers, they just look pretty. If the White Stripes hadn’t of disbanded no one would even care about these boring twits.

  29. Posted June 29, 2011 at 4:25 am | Permalink

    The White Stripes are garage rockers, wtf are you talking about? Anyways, I just saw the Civil Wars live and they sounded better than they do in the studio. Average singers? You don’t have to like them but saying they are average singers is absurd. Mostly it is a matter of opinion, but in this case your opinion is wrong. Of course Billy Corgan sings the song with more emotion, the whole premise of this article is dumb because making it better wasn’t the intention of the artist. They only do the cover because they want to do something fun for their shows. You won’t find John Paul White or Joy Williams saying “Your version sucks Corgan” because it is a tribute to him. Which one is better is such a moot point because nobody covers sucky songs. Its the buckness of the original that makes covers so kickass. They’re both good. Long live SP!