Album: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Artist: The Smashing Pumpkins
Released: October 23rd, 1995
Highlights: Tonight Tonight, Zero, Bullet with Butterfly Wings, To Forgive, 1979
Billy Corgan envisioned “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” as his generation’s equivalent of The Beatles’ “White Album” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. They were certainly high bars to aim for, but Corgan – always rightfully convinced of his greatness as a songwriter – was fully aware that he could pull off something of the sort. The Smashing Pumpkins’ third work is, however, far removed from those albums. Although its two discs are meant to represent the passage from dawn to starlight, its music hardly evokes that transition, and the lack of an overarching theme (save for Corgan’s usual melodramatic angst and depression) makes it fall short of the conceptual greatness of “The Wall”. At the same time, despite the fact that “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” does show the band stretching their wings past the walls of guitars that dominated “Gish” and “Siamese Dream” and venturing into new musical terrain, it does not quite embrace as many styles as the schizophrenic “White Album”.
However, not being any of those records actually does “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” quite a whole lot of good. Containing two hours worth of material and twenty eight songs – hence making it far longer than the two works that inspired it – the album ends up amounting to a mesmerizing set of rock songs rather than an opera (“The Wall”) or a vicious, ultimately unfocused, competition between two songwriters (“White Album”). It is, undoubtedly, a lot of content, which makes getting through the album’s full length one challenging listen; still, even though it is undeniable the record could have been edited into one amazing fifteen-track piece, “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” is one double album that does not reek of overindulgence. Firstly, because blatant duds are rare (with the shouted “Tales of a Scorched Earth” probably being the sole exception); secondly, because even the songs that are not flawless gems have redeeming qualities, such as one or two strong melodic moments; and finally because the album catches Billy Corgan at such an astounding songwriting groove that the twenty eight tunes offer a nice balance between instant classics and curious experiments.
When The Smashing Pumpkins go loud in “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”, they usually trade the long buildups and instrumental passages of “Siamese Dream” for more immediate tunes, such as the guitar crunch of “Jellybelly” and “Zero”, the explosion of “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, or the highly melodic “Muzzle” and “Here Is No Why”. In “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans”, “Thru the Eyes of Ruby”, and “X.Y.U.”, though, the band expands upon the lengthy nature of their past compositions and builds tunes that are borderline progressive in their complex construction. The album also holds space for gorgeous guitar-centered ballads (“To Forgive”, “Galapogos”, “By Starlight”); grandiose orchestration that is stunningly integrated into sweeping rock (“Tonight, Tonight”); acoustic introspection (the amazing “Thirty-Three” and the merely solid “Take Me Down”); brushes with pop music (“Love”, “In the Arms of Sleep”, and “Beautiful”); violent attacks with overdubbed guitars (“An Ode to No One”, “Where Boys Fear to Tread”, and “Bodies”); piano-based tracks (the title cut and “Cupid de Locke”); and, of course, a moving classic about coming of age where The Smashing Pumpkins integrate Corgan’s sensibilities, a soft guitar riff, loops, and samples (“1979”).
“Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” could indeed have been a better record. Most of its hits, and a considerable portion of its greatest tunes, are found in the first disc, meaning that a more sober track sequencing could have avoided the front-loaded vibe many listeners will get from the album. Additionally, in spite of how Corgan succeeds in connecting to a younger and angry audience via his depictions of pain, broken expectations, and other hurtful experiences, he occasionally veers too far into caricature, uttering sentences that would only have worked as parodies of teenage angst and that will automatically sink a handful of the tracks to some. Nevertheless, “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” is a perplexing achievement, for it sees one of the nineties’ greatest bands and one of the decade’s finest songwriters pour the results of their talent and prolificness into a highly ambitious double album, and – on the way – produce more hits than many artists are able to come up with during their entire careers while also daring to be artistically bold at some points.