Release Date: Dec 4, 2012
Record label: Virgin
Genre(s): Altternative, Pop/Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
All too often we wax nostalgic, inviting the past to creep up on us with admiration. It’s a dangerous method of thinking that Woody Allen negates in his 2011 masterpiece, Midnight in Paris, in which actor Michael Sheen warns Owen Wilson that “Nostalgia is denial — denial of the painful present. The name for this denial is golden-age thinking: the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in.
Despite the frequency of both its adolescent bluster and heavy-handed angst, there’s no denying that Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is the work of a fully matured band. Down to its most diminutive detail, the album revels in the kind of art-rock pageantry that the Smashing Pumpkins were only fumbling toward on Gish and Siamese Dream: elaborate, symmetry-obsessed musical conceits, a romantic mythos inspired by everything from arcane astrology to Mother Goose fairy tales, and numerous poetic and visual allusions to Victorian-era culture, all coinciding with the band’s baroque expansion away from their grungy Sub Pop origins. On paper, it reads like a mess, but the near-mystical and sprawling Mellon Collie remains the Pumpkins’ greatest album, the soaring vision of a band clearly in its prime.
This 1995 double album was a sprawling marriage of alt-kvetching and prog-stargazing – a laser show in a shrink's office. Its audacious scope and emotional wallop allowed seemingly disparate tracks like the delicate miniature "Thirty-Three" and the thrashing "X.Y.U." to seem like natural parts of a whole. The extras on the deluxe box set, particularly the deep-dive instrumentals that flaunt Billy Corgan's guitar prowess ("Fun Time") and cutting-room-floor denizens that reveal pop punch (the sweet, wistful "Pennies"), show how Corgan's mid-Nineties creative peak couldn't even be contained by two CDs.
Billy Corgan hasn't done a very good job speaking on his own behalf over the past decade, so let me feed him a line from the Greek philosopher Pittacus that would make a much better case for his legacy: "The measure of a man is what he does with power. " In 1995, nearly every other band at Smashing Pumpkins' level was in some way turning its back on its audience: Pearl Jam had started their principled retreat from the spotlight; U2 and R. E.
Listening back to this completist’s wet dream over the course of several hours, one is reminded of a time not so long ago when artists spent time crafting full suites of music, not just scattershot singles. Even though hubris sometimes derailed Corgan, when he was at his peak he was one of the last modern masters of the album format. .
In the world that Billy Corgan inhabits, perception is everything. When the Smashing Pumpkins tour these days, they’re still billed as “The Smashing Pumpkins”, despite the fact that Corgan is the only remaining original member, often playing whole sets of new post-Iha material before delving into the group’s extensive back catalog (the divisive nature of these shows was captured rather well in their 2008 documentary If All Goes Wrong), all proving the point that despite the collaborative nature of the band in the early days, the Pumpkins is, are, and always have been the brainchild of Corgan. The only reason Corgan released this year’s quite-pleasing Oceania was because he noted how people weren’t paying all that much attention to his ongoing Teargarden By Kaleidyscope project (which, it should be noted, is where the best Pumpkins 2.
The grandest Pumpkins album, expensive and infuriating and inspirational all at once. Mike Diver 2012 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.
Billy Corgan's deluxe re-release of his entire career arrives at 1995's Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, certainly the band's commercial peak and arguably their creative peak too. It's one of the most extraordinarily ambitious records of its era - a 28-track double album that ran the full gamut from screaming metal ('XYU', 'Tales Of A Scorched Earth') to acoustic lullabies ('Stumbeline', 'Cupide de Locke') via drum machines, orchestras and layer upon layer of fuzzy guitars. Remarkably it worked - the album sold by the bucketload to Gen X'ers bored of the primitive thump of grunge, and crossed over to the widest audience enjoyed by an alt rock band outside of Nirvana's Nevermind, spawning five monster hit singles and essentially ensuring Corgan his place in the pantheon of 90s greats.
With the reissue of the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, you’re going to hear a lot of nostalgic stories from people who were young and impressionable when this album first came out in 1995. So here’s mine: Middle school was a shitty time, and some of the only people who offered a temporary escape were a bunch of strangers in a rock band—this rock band. I’d never met the Smashing Pumpkins, would never see them play in their original lineup—Billy Corgan, James Iha, D’arcy Wretzky and Jimmy Chamberlin had split before I’d even attended my first concert.