Band: The Smashing Pumpkins
Album: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: If you listen to the throbbing mass of Pumpkin fandom, this album is "Sticky Fingers," "Dark Side of the Moon," "Revolver" and "The Wall" all rolled into one. This, of course, is nonsense. MCIS is a picture of ego, though I'd suggest that ego isn't the worst thing in the world. The album has its highlights but is not some epic masterpiece.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: See above.
Best song: "Zero" has a great riff, but is lyrical nonsense.
Worst song: "Fuck You (An Ode to No One)" is dumb.
Is it awesome?: Not really, but it's better than I remembered.
"Alternative" is an odd term and one that lost, basically, all meaning during its run. By definition, it has to be the non-dominant form and, clearly, "alternative" was the dominant form of music for much of the 1990s. "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" was the height of pomposity for alternative music.
Like all double albums, the record bites off more than it can chew, but, MCIS is a wonderfully post-modern look at double albums. Taking elements from many of the classic double albums of the past, it reprocesses a lot of concepts record buys know and love. The goodbye/goodnight track reflects the White Album, the opening overture-type song is "Tommy"-esque, the concept of life and death reflects a non-double (but a classic concept album) in "Dark Side of the Moon" and the nihilism often played out in the lyrics reflects "The Wall." In fact, Corgan himself called the record "The Wall for Generation X."
In short, MCIS is, like "The Simpsons," a reflection of much of what has been stuck in our heads as music buyers.
With that said, let me lay out some of my feelings in a single paragraph, as I did in an e-mail to some friends last year:
I have to say, I like "Siamese Dream" some (specifically, the singles), but the masturbatory nature of Billy Corgan's writing just bugs the hell out of me. I specifically mention "Zero" as his last good composition largely because I only like that song and "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" as decent tracks from the disaster that is "Mellon Collie." It's a double album (almost always a mistake, as double album=lots of filler), but it also has the wannabe nostalgia of "1979" and the symphonic nonsense/whinefest that is "Tonight, Tonight."
The piece on this project that garnered the most on-topic comments is "Siamese Dream," which entirely proves my point that Smashing Pumpkins fans worship the band to a larger degree than most bands. To sum up, I once wrote a column calling the fans of certain bands 'fanboys' and mocked them for it. The bands were Nine Inch Nails, Tool, Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins. When I wrote said column in college, I got tons of hate mail -- more than I'd ever received.
The funny thing, of course, is that I praised "Siamese Dream." Despite it being an arena-rock record, it has ridiculously good hooks, including a song I diametrically oppose (lyrically), but love to sing.
Smashing Pumpkins, at this point, is mostly in the past. No one claims that Billy Corgan -- well, I'm sure someone does, but I don't want to meet this fictional person -- is currently making good music. The band's best work is clearly "Siamese Dream" (though some would say MCIS is the band's best work) and "Siamese Dream" was released 15 years ago.
But, like a lot of artists who still exist in the past -- despite dragging a rotting a corpse of a back catalog around -- the Pumpkins have their defenders. It's tough to criticize their top work without getting hit by the fanboys and fangirls. Criticizing their bald genius is akin to stomping on these morons' collective foot.
And maybe I do hold Corgan's most self-indulgent moments against his better work. MCIS isn't the worst thing I've ever heard, to be honest, and there are decent songs on it. It raises a pretty simple question: How much should we hold our annoyance from an artist against said artist's work? How much should our separate the people from the music?
It's difficult, certainly. Billy Corgan annoys the hell out of me and his fans are even worse. His conceit that he's the greatest songwriter in this planet's history makes me want to punch him in the head. That his fans suck it up bugs me even more. They act like he's a great producer when all he's ever really done is -- gasp! -- hook up a flanger and Superfuzz and layer guitars. Oh my! I've never heard Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Kim Thayil and every other fucking guitar player -- save for Kurt Cobain -- do the same thing.
Also annoying is Corgan's whining voice. Sounding like someone with his nuts in a vice, Corgan's pitch is somewhere above a cat being slaughtered as he screamed "And I still believe that I cannot be saved" at the end of "Bullet With Butterfly Wings."
This is all without mentioning Corgan's obnoxious lyrics. His pseudo-nihilism is both annoying and rampant through the record. Two of the record's biggest singles -- "Zero" and "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" -- are almost nonsensical in their angst. "Fuck You (An Ode to No One)" is probably as much a nod toward Corgan's critics (Hello, Mr. Albini!) as it is inner monologue.
With all that said, MCIS isn't a terribly offensive record. Taken as a whole, it's bloated and annoying. The whole concept of Corgan trying to place the life cycle into an album makes me want to smash all my CDs. But, taken individually, the songs have their merits.
"Tonight, Tonight" is not as terrible as I remembered it last year. The CSO's strings are beautiful and actually work with Corgan's voice more than the band does. "Here is No Why" is pretty little riff and the duel fake Nietzschism of "Zero" and "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" is built on wonderful riffs. "1979" has cool samples and is a decidedly not-Pumpkins record.
Like all double albums, the record would be best-served to be cut down to one disc. There are about five or six good songs on the record and a whole lot of filler.
It bugs me to even remotely endorse this album, but there are some good songs on it.