The grandest Pumpkins album, expensive and infuriating and inspirational all at once.
Mike Diver 2012-12-11
Billy Corgan doesn’t do small gestures. The Smashing Pumpkins’ ringleader – and the circus analogy is apt given this band's history – desired a debut that’d find its place amongst the greats. But although 1991’s Gish was certainly bold, it was 1993’s Siamese Dream that elevated his band to the global stage.
And how to follow up one prog-pop-rock odyssey? With another twice as long, naturally. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness: the title’s clunky, but it’s got nothing on the contents. Split into ‘Dawn to Dusk’ and ‘Twilight to Starlight’ discs, its 28 tracks are actually the result of a substantial editing process, the band having recorded over 50 for potential inclusion.
Which goes some way to explaining the epic scale of this reissue. Amongst its 64 extras are a strings-free Tonight, Tonight and an acoustic version of Thru the Eyes of Ruby. These rough(er) mixes and skeletal(ish) sketches are interesting insights – but only a true fan will resist the lure of the skip button.
Corgan argued 1995’s double-disc effort wasn’t a concept album, but there’s certainly a thematic backbone, which the frontman summarised as a farewell to his youth. The impudence of a title like F*** You (An Ode to No One) can only come from regression into teenage angst.
Stylistically, Mellon Collie is all over the place. Building-razing rockers rub shoulders with piano ballads, heartfelt confessionals with overblown bombast. It showcases this band at both its best and worst; and such is the variety that no two fans are likely to have the exact same favourite tracks.
Lead single Bullet With Butterfly Wings is raw and rugged; while the woozy, romantic Lily (My One and Only) is a track of real tenderness. The charming 1979, the final song recorded for this album, almost didn’t make the cut at all – which would have been madness, as it’s brilliant.
Stumbleine is a bare-boned voice-and-guitar piece, but the ugly squall of X.Y.U. threatens to pop one’s speakers irreparably. The electronic thuds of Beautiful, meanwhile, foreshadow the digital design of 1998’s follow-up LP, Adore. The best track remains Tonight, Tonight – with its string section present, it’s almost untouchably perfect.
Mellon Collie is no masterpiece, but its ambition is clearer than anything else Corgan has ever been involved with. It’s the grandest of Pumpkins gestures, expensive and infuriating and inspirational – and just occasionally capable of tossing the listener around like a ragdoll.