SMASHING PUMPKINS

"Monuments to an Elegy" (BMG; 2014)

Reviewed by Jeff Rogers

To date, Smashing Pumpkins isn't a band that has had much exposure on Rough Edge -- this is only the third disc to make it onto the black background. These guys have been around a while and, even though they at times show hard rock tendencies, they don't really get mentioned unless you're using the word "smashing" when talking about metal guitars or drums. Nonetheless, I've dug some of their stuff over the years. This disc was released at the end of 2014 with another disc, "Day for Night," that will be released early 2015 as an ongoing project entitled "Teargarden by Kaleidyscope" that was started in 2009. "Oceania" was released in 2012.

There are some cool tracks: "Tiberius," "Anaise," "One and All," "Drum + Fife," "Monuments," and "Dorian." There are also some tracks that can be skipped because they either fall flat or just slip into that sappy Pumpkins sound that we've all heard.

The band is pretty much a shell of who they used to be now featuring Billy Corgan - vocals, guitar, bass guitar, keyboards and synthesizers; Jeff Schroeder - guitar. They did have a studio drummer come in to keep the beat though -- Tommy Lee of Motley Crue (yeah, I was kinda shocked too).

For more information, check out http://www.smashingpumpkinsnexus.com/.

"The Aeroplane Flies High" (Virgin; 1996)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter



This box set of singles and outtakes from the prolific sessions that produced "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" is a broad look at a band at the peak of their creative powers. The box set is basically the five singles released from "Mellon Collie" with additional B-sides, outtakes, and covers.

The songs on the "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" single are basically all cover tunes. James Iha's "...Said Sadly," while reigning in the band's power, is a bi-polar look at love and insecurity. The near-verbatim cover of The Cars' "You're All I've Got Tonight" is a delicious and sensible romp through an '80s pop classic. "Clones (We're All)" is a rapid ditty of crunchy guitar pop. The Cure's "A Night Like This" maintains the mood of the original, yet is a little flat. Missing Person's "Destination Unknown" is an even more mechanized version than the original - it is very interesting to hear Billy Corgan singing Dale Bozzio's lyrics. The twisted rendering of Blondie's "Dreaming" is an aurally refreshing and exhilarating treat as it gets a full electronic effect.

The five b-sides on the "1979" single are wonderful little pop ditties that make you realize that the Smashing Pumpkins could have huge hits without distortion and explicit fury. "Ugly" is a retort to the band's critics that hides its maelstrom of fury under a stealthy sheen. "The Boy" reminds the listener that the power of love can be overwhelming. "Cherry" describes the longing for a love that makes the adventure of human relationships a vital life experience. With the heartfelt "Believe" James Iha gets the spotlight to display his penchant for songs about the hope of love. "Set The Ray To Jerry" has a U2-like quality; the rumbling bass belies the high-pitched notes on top. The restraint shown on these tunes could provide a wealth of musical lessons for anyone interested in making good music. These are the kinds of pop songs that are so well constructed and beautiful that it makes you wonder where Billy Corgan gets his rage.

The "Tonight, Tonight" singles are even more subdued than the other material in the box set. "Meladori Magpipe" is a folky departure for the Pumpkins that is exemplary for the way it integrates slide guitars into the Pumpkins sound. Even the understated "Rotten Apples" has a calm quality despite the serious subject matter. The acoustic "Jupiter's Lament" allows Corgan to use the experience of separation for optimal effect. "Medellia Of The Grey Sky" fails to deliver anything of substance, but I'll blame that on the demo quality of the production. "Blank" is a song about how complicated our relationships become because we have so much baggage in our personal histories. "Tonight Reprise" is just a solo acoustic guitar performance from Billy Corgan in which the vocal has enormous weight.

The b-sides on the "Zero" single are more in the vein of what everyone is used to hearing on the radio when the Smashing Pumpkins dominate the airwaves. "God" is a distorted blast of helplessness while "Mouths Of Babes" is a charged number that could easily fit on "Siamese Dream."  "Tribute To Johnny" is an instrumental that takes the Pumpkins in a more funky direction while "Marquis In Spades" rails against vanity. "Pennies" is a more subdued number in the vein of "1979."  However, the jumbled mess of "Pistachio Medley" is the most revealing effort on the disc. The tune clocks in at nearly 26 minutes; it is a patchwork of snippets from seventy-two recorded segments that were derived from the "Siamese Dream" and "Mellon Collie" sessions. Despite the fact this "song" is largely annoying due to the compacted nature of the samples, it does provide an insightful look at a band in a creative state - it's an eye-opening look at a four individuals bearing its collective soul to the audience. It also has the best heavy riffs of the box; it makes you wonder how these neat little ideas weren't realized during the recording process.

The b-sides of "Thirty-Three" are the box set's grab bag. "The Last Song" is a piano number that accepts the termination of a relationship. "The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)" stomps in a slow and methodical fashion; the lyric "disconnected by your smile" has the imposing weight of relationships having gone sour. The disc picks up again with the bristling "Transformer" that recalls the loud/quiet of the debut disc. "The Bells" is yet another tune penned by James Iha that speaks adoringly of love and all its trappings. "My Blue Heaven," an old show tune that sees Corgan giving the song a Billy Joel-type of vibe, is a sensible way to end a box set.

Overall the box set is not as appealing as the heavier material found in the Smashing Pumpkins catalog, but it gets a higher rating from me due to the strength of the affecting songs. The great emotional impact alone makes the box set an achievement.

The liner notes and lyric sheets are fantastic. The photos included with the box set show the band in a playful mood that belies their perceived image.

The Smashing Pumpkins are Billy Corgan, James Iha, D'Arcy, and Jimmy Chamberlain.

For more information, check out http://www.smashingpumpkinsnexus.com/.

"Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" (Virgin; 1995)smashmell.jpg (10576 bytes)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

"Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" is an ambitious two disc set that established The Smashing Pumpkins as rock giants. The Smashing Pumpkins shoot for the stars on this sprawling document and somehow manage to achieve decent results even if they didn't reach their intended target.

Musical ground covered on the two disc set includes metal, punk, industrial, pretty and moody pieces, and many combinations thereof.

Disc One opens with the title track, a somber piano ballad that sets the mood appropriately enough. The quiet and intoxicating "Tonight, Tonight" with its subtle cries of "believe/believe in me/believe" are immediately suppressed by the brisk and blistering "Jellybelly" which laments and growls the line "welcome to nowhere fast/nothing here ever lasts." The immediacy of "Zero" reveals the main character's greatest fault ("I'm in love with my sadness") without being too overbearing.  "Here Is No Why," with a more classic hard rock groove, adds a '90s touch to the old Boston sound. The menacing "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" still has an urgency even after repeated listens. "To Forgive" is a quiescent ode of regret. The explosive "Fuck You (Ode To No One)" practically cuts the skin in its insistent defiance. "Love" has an energetic bouquet of vibrant, sonic landscapes while the watery "Cupid de Locke" wonders about the role fate plays in our romantic lives. "Galapagos" hides its fury under subtle arpeggios and "Muzzle" bristles with nervous desperation. "Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans" is an expansive and off-center journey which is as satisfying as anything on the two CD set. The understated "Take Me Down" closes disc one with a rather upbeat feeling.

Disc Two starts of with "Where Boys Fear To Tread" and it is a powerful statement of promises never kept. The droning "Bodies" laments that "love is suicide." The sweet "Thirty-Three" takes its rendering of commitment quite seriously. Not one to shy away from the emotion of desire, "In The Arms Of Sleep" provides Corgan's take on this haunting emotion. The enchanting "1979" never fails to disappoint. "Tales Of A Scorched Earth" is a ferocious blast and the near psychedelic intro of "Thru The Eyes Of Ruby" gives way to a classic Pumpkins riff. The tranquil "Stumbline" allows the band to integrate a bit of surrealism into the musical progression. "X.Y.U" begins with a dirge-like progression before speeding into frenetic and chaotic fury. As a low-key romp, "We Only Come Out At Night" works as a piece that figuratively suggests vampires and dark shadows yet metaphorically relates the stage experience to the listener. "Beautiful" and "Lily (My One And Only)" continue the run of reserved songs while adding a more heartfelt dimension to the lyrics. "By Starlight" and "Farewell And Goodnight" close out the second disc, and the musical adventure, by re-introducing the self-doubt and confusion of love's place in Corgan's life.

Corgan explores every nuance of his emotions and has made an art form of self-loathing and self-doubt albeit with a level of introspection not seen anywhere else in music. Corgan seems to be describing the trials and tribulations of growing older - a destiny he seems to hate. Corgan also seems to be fighting with his own perceptions of love and its place in his life.

But let's face it - Billy Corgan is as complex an individual that you'll find in music today. The intent of "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" is impossible to summarize - as a consequence I have no desire to fully discern let alone explain his motives (I'll leave that up to you, good reader). Attempts to understand Billy Corgan can only be futile; Corgan's constantly evolving contributions to music will stir debate for years to come.

The tone of the disc is a bit dense at times; I found it difficult to listen to during the first couple of go -arounds. The Smashing Pumpkins can be accused of over production, but they cannot be accused of excess production. However, subtlety is actually Billy Corgan's strong suit and the disc reveals itself upon repeated listens. Almost every track has an undercurrent of tension and release that is impossible to define yet rewards the disciplined listener (rather than the casual fan).

The Smashing Pumpkins have taken great care in refining the loud/quiet juxtaposition that they helped create with their debut disc "Gish."   Clearly evident are the classic rock influences of the bands The Smashing Pumpkins grew up listening to such as Cheap Trick, Boston, and Black Sabbath. Also, the band takes a punk rock do-it-yourself attitude and have created a record as grand as it was designed to be. It's easy to imagine the sheer length of the two discs as a "punk" statement to the rest of the world.

The band is Billy Corgan on guitar and vocals, D'Arcy on bass, James Iha on guitar, and Jimmy Chamberlain on drums.

"Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" was produced by Flood (U2, NIN), Alan Moulder (The Jesus & Mary Chain, Swervedriver, My Bloody Valentine), and Billy Corgan.

For more information, check out http://www.smashingpumpkinsnexus.com/.

Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

 

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Copyright 2015 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 05 Nov 2017 10:28:13 -0500 .