RECORD REVIEW | "MELLON COLLIE AND THE INFINITE SADNESS" BY THE SMASHING PUMPKINS
photo & text by nacrowe
as ive written about before, its been such a colossal bummer watching SMASHING PUMPKINS frontman BILLY CORGAN degenerate in real time over the past decade from a generational talent, cultural force and ALTERNATIVE ROCK elder statesman into a PATHETIC salivating JOE ROGAN and ALEX JONES BOOTLICKER as well as a REACTIONARY, FAR-RIGHT MAGA QUISLING. it really is PANIFUL because his music meant so much to me and so many other people, especially what is arguably considered his greatest achievement, the imaginative and expansive double-album MELLON COLLIE AND THE INFINITE SADNESS (VIRGIN, 1995).
i first heard this album through a new classmate of mine shortly after my move to NIGERIA in 6th grade in late 1995. i remember initially being totally enraptured by the SWIRLING, MAJESTIC fuzzed-out bliss of tracks like "THRU THE EYES OF RUBY," "JELLYBELLY," "TALES OF A SCORCHED EARTH," "WHERE BOYS FEAR TO TREAD," "BODIES" and "AN ODE TO NO ONE." jesus those songs still hold up. CORGAN definitely had a knack for taking a song with intense dynamics and then just pushing it another level or two to the point where the listener is just begging to be left off the rollercoaster. that being said, there are also several melodic mid-tempo songs like "ZERO," "LOVE," "HERE IS NO WHY" and "BULLET WITH BUTTERFLY WINGS" that showcase an almost NEW WAVE level of PLAYFUL tempo dynamics and integration of IDIOSYNCRATIC sonic textures. i believe CORGAN is a genius at creating a compelling sense of atmosphere and texture on the canvas of those less frantic, mid-tempo songs.
but where CORGAN vary much shines is in his ballad songwriting. MELLON COLLIE plays with this idea of MEMORY and NOSTALGIA and a geography that is both real and imagined. i almost think of this album as a place one visits from time to time and becomes reacquainted again with the furniture and the tactile placement of all the decorations. sonically it just has a TRANSFORMATIVE sense of PRESENCE that is unique unto itself and none more so than on ballads like "THIRTY-THREE," "CUPID DE LOCKE," "1979," "TONIGHT, TONIGHT," "PORCELINA OF THE VAST OCEANS" and my personal favorite "BY STARLIGHT." an ex-girlfriend of mine who passed away from OVARIAN CANCER in her 20s when i was in college was obsessed with the later, in fact it was integrated into her personal e-mail address at the time. i know CORGAN has had conflict and much trepidation regarding his voice, much like JIMI HENDRIX, JOHN LENNON and JAMES HETFIELD before him, but in his ballads his unique vocal affectations pays dividends in how it conveys a naked sense of emotional VULNERABILITY and even HOPE.
and i always felt strongly that this sense of VULNERABILITY in his vocals and his song-craft was his calling card as a musician, vocalist and ultimately a songwriter. the idea that those qualities for which i lionized him have metastasized into such a SPITEFUL, SELF-AGGRANDIZING, SOLIPSISTIC, FALSELY-AGGRIEVED MAN-CHILD is beyond DISORIENTATING and DISAPPOINTING. its SAD. i very much wish now he would just go away instead of trying to recapture the past with his current cash-in version of THE SMASHING PUMPKINS.
MELLON COLLIE AND THE INFINITE SADNESS is a landmark release by a great band, but like past achievements by ERIC CLAPTON or VAN MORRISON, i tend to look elsewhere these days out of sheer disappointment into the person CORGAN became.
photo & text by nacrowe
when i moved to NIGERIA in 1996 there were dubbed tapes passing around amongst my middle school peers of this band with a funny i hadnt heard of before called THE SMASHING PUMPKINS. those two albums were MELLON COLLIE AND THE INFINITE SADNESS (VIRGIN, 1995) and its immediate predecessor SIAMESE DREAM (VIRGIN, 1993). my first impression of the band honestly was that voice. frontman and main songwriter BILLY CORGAN has a distinctive whine that is both his limitation and his identifying signature. to me its interesting how so much of his persona as an awkward genius is derived from that voice.
with 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK there lots of nontraditional front-people who broadened what was culturally acceptable. my thoughts immediately go towards that of PERRY FARRELL (JANE'S ADDICTION / PORNO FOR PYROS), RIVERS CUOMO (WEEZER), TRENT REZNOR (NINE INCH NAILS) and COURTNEY LOVE (HOLE) who are all singularly identifiable and effectively one of one. but when i think of CORGAN the figure i am presented with is that of a gangly yet supremely talented midwesterner who is always seemingly slightly outside the mainstream looking in. his band is a neo-PSYCHEDELIC, fuzzed-out POWER POP band with PROG ROCK tendencies as if KING CRIMSON and THE RASPBERRIES had a lanky, colic child and dumped it somewhere outside CHICAGO in the late 60s.
tracks such as "TODAY," "ROCKET," "MAYONAISE," "CHERUB ROCK," "QUIET" and "DISARM" showcase a broad songwriting and musicianship range matched by few of their peers. they also present CORGAN as a disaffected figure who stands outside society, the most perfect encapsulation of GENERATION X dissatisfaction this side of fellow peer KURT COBAIN. during this period it seemed that these projected feelings of PERSONAL ISOLATION and SOCIAL DISCONTENT were directed at those elements of society that sought to restrict youth culture, i.e. the CHRISTIAN RIGHT and REPUBLICANS. this is why in the age of TRUMP it is so disappointing and just disorientating that CORGAN came out to support those neo-FASCIST elements of the ALT-RIGHT. its as if we as an audience had misread his music and creative output for most of our lives. we mistook his intentions and mistakenly took him as being someone with like-minded values. i was wrong.
i am a proponent of separating that ART from the ARTIST but with CORGAN that is extremely difficult due to how much his music affected me as a teenager. i looked up to him in no small part by how great SIAMESE DREAM was and what it represented to me as a teen and now i feel a deep sense of betrayal at his actions. which makes it difficult to listen to his music in general and i have to say, ive largely avoided it in recent years. i find it better to just stick with NIRVANA, PAVEMENT as well as most of the SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK and INDIE ROCK bands of the same era and beyond since at least with those i have a sense of security in knowing that they would never support an autocrat like TRUMP.