It’s weird to think that twenty years ago The Smashing Pumpkins were the biggest rock band in the world and my personal favorite.
What the hell happened?
It should be noted that I now believe double albums are a little overblown and self-indulgent. Aside from The Wall and The Beatles I can’t think of a double album that couldn’t be cut down to one disc and have been better for it (It should be noted that because Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Exile on Main Street fit onto one CD they aren’t doubles in my book). But even considering other grunge-era doubles from NIN and Jerry Cantrell, Mellon Collie comes across as excessively flatulent.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great shit on here. But there’s also some total shit. I appreciate that they (by that I mean Billy Corgan) were trying to branch out and explore new sounds, but this would have been so much better if it were a single album. They could have easily cut the fat and had one of the best albums of the decade. Instead… well.
Disc 1, “Dawn to Dusk,” starts out strong with a string of hit singles. “Tonight, Tonight” is an epic song with strings and one of the greatest music videos of all time. “Zero” blew my mind when I first heard it. I don’t think I’d ever heard a guitar riff comprised entirely of octaves, harmonics and a ton of distortion. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” is still a classic as it’s easy to sing along to and deals with that feeling of helplessness we all get from time to time. And scattered among these songs are some other great tracks. The title-track opener was always a favorite. I’m a sucker for piano and something about opening the album with an piano interlude always struck me as fitting. “Jellybean” is a great fuzzed out rocker and “Here is No Why” has always reminded me of “Ziggy Stardust.” The riffs are a little similar.
And then “To Forgive” stops the rock train in it’s tracks. I remember liking that song as a teenager, but now it just sounds wimpy and bland to me. There are a few good songs on second half of the first disc. “Muzzle” and “Love” are solid. “Porcelina of the Vast Ocean” would be a great tune if it was shorter than 9:20. Some bands can pull off a song that long and keep it interesting, The Smashing Pumpkins aren’t one of them.
It’s interesting to note that among this mostly great disc appears the biggest, steaming-pile-of-shit song to ever appear on a rock record. I defy you to bring me a song worse than “Cupid de Locke.” I know you’re going to try and I’m sure there are a few contenders out there, but I just really think that this is the worst rock song of all time. Definitely the worst of the 90s.
Normally with a double album I may have to break the review into two parts. But this isn’t necessary with Mellon Collie as disc 2, “Twilight to Starlight,” is at best completely forgettable. And at worst, you remember how bad it sucks. There are a few good tracks. Opener “Where The Boys Fear To Tread” has some great guitar riffs, but no hooks or chorus. “Bodies” and “Through The Eyes of Ruby” are both pretty solid songs. “1979” was their biggest hit and is still a staple on rock radio, but it’s not really a good time rocker. “Stumbleine” is a decent acoustic piece.
What’s interesting is that until listening to this album for the review I couldn’t remember anything from the last 3 tracks. And I’m guessing I’ll forget all about them by the time this is published. The band shows signs of life on “X.Y.U.” where they try heavy metal, but they don’t really pull it off. They should stick with hard rock because Corgan’s whiny voice doesn’t sound good when pushed to the breaking point. And what the hell is with “Thirty-Three”? I’m actually embarrassed that the song was a hit single. Now I know how people who lived through the disco era felt.
The most amazing thing about this album is that it was a high water mark for the Pumpkins. It was all downhill from here. They fired this album’s MVP, drummer Jimmy Chamberlain (all because of one OD and one dead touring keyboardist), and their next album Adore was completely forgettable. They still haven’t recovered, but Billy Corgan doesn’t believe that.
If you were lucky enough to not have bought this album yet, don’t.