The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
There is a fine line between genius and head case. Van Gogh was the first to waver between the two; a talented artist who gave a woman a valentine’s gift worse than cleaning products. Billy Corgan has never gone to these lengths to impress fans of the slightly polished grunge alt rock of Smashing Pumpkins but Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was the best example of Corgan delving between being bonkers and brilliant.
The double album was intended as an ode to himself between the ages of 14-24, an age where he couldn’t make sense of the feelings that were going on inside of him. Infinite Sadness is a eulogy to his former self and a very depressed one at that.
The album opens with a self-titled beautiful piano instrumental which blends into Tonight Tonight – one of the singles off the album – which shows Smashing Pumpkins potential as festival headliners. The double time drums are accompanied by an orchestra and Corgan’s damaged and recognisable voice urges you to “believe, believe in me.” It still has their trademark slick grunge sound but the added layers make for a more mature and varied sound.
The added layers on Tonight Tonight are Corgan through and through. At just over two hours in length, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness can be a challenging listen at times but none so more challenging than it must have been to record it. The wide variety of instrumentation is a factor but so is the guitar overdubbing. Thru The Eyes of Ruby contained 70 different guitar tracks.
However, the band benefited on this record because – despite Corgan’s yearn for perfection and over dubbing – he took a step back on this album. He didn’t record all the instruments himself and there is also a song on the album with only one guitar track (To Forgive)
However, the band has not got soft. Debut single Bullet with Butterfly Wings is one of the greatest angst ridden grunge songs. The fist-pumping chorus of “despite all my rage I am still just red in a cage” means 18 years on it is still an anthem for converse wearing parent haters everywhere. The theme of teenage frustration is also evident on Zero where Corgan’s lyrical theme of wanting what you cannot have screams out to the nerdy boy who fancies the cheerleader (or something)
1979 was received a Grammy for record of the year in 1997 and it shows the Pumpkins at their most reflective and established. The instantly recognisable synths echo throughout and the backing vocals are almost haunting as Corgan sings about feeling lost growing up Chicago.
The album itself – as you can probably tell by the title – is pretty depressing. However, for the variety of genres and emotions on the record, it is easy to see why it is commercially and critically Pumpkins most well received record. It is also the album where Corgan’s irrationality that marred their previous two albums disappeared and enabled him to not just leave a dark period of his life behind but embrace the bombastic genius within.