The Smashing Pumpkins
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Review By Gary Graff
Don't tell Smashing Pumpkins modern rock is a modest endeavor. The Chicago quartet hit big with its 1993 sophomore album, Siamese Dream, and now the band is thinking big. Real big. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is a sprawling, engaging 28-song album spread over two CDs. Bruce Springsteen and Guns N' Roses have previously released double compact discs, sort of: they opted for two separately sold CDs, avoiding the high price tag of a combined set. But the specially priced Mellon Collie may single-handedly redefine the term "double album" for the CD age.
Beyond commercial considerations, the sheer length of Mellon Collie also sets a new standard of expression. The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street, arguably the best double album ever, fits comfortably on a single CD. Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan and his mates indulge us with over two hours of new music. Pretentious? To a degree, but Mellon Collie supports the Pumpkins' bold ambitions, taking the conventions of the group's first two albums and nudging them in new directions. It isn't exactly Exile, on which every song was a distinct sonic adventure, but Mellon Collie does make a case for Corgan and the Pumpkins' ability to deliver an impressively large batch of winning songs. You want metal? Mellon Collie clocks in with the stomping "Here Is No Why," the tempo-shifting "X.Y.U.," and the industrial-tinged "Love." Punk? Try "Zero," "Fuck You (An Ode to No One)," or "Bodies." Pretty, string-laden love songs? The Pumpkins give you "Thirty-Three," "Lily (My One and Only)," and "To Forgive." Nine down, nineteen to go.
The songs that really soar are the ones that mix and match those elements. The first single, "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," flutters through moody, mid-tempo verses before rocking out in the choruses. "Galapogos" counterpoints sweet strings with dramatic bursts of guitar, while "1979" mines a surging, Sonic Youth-style groove propelled by Jimmy Chamberlain's hiccuping high-hat. Then there is the nine-minute opus, "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans," a mood-swinging epic with light polyrhythms that evoke a kind of watery atmosphere.
Speaking of moods, Corgan's fly around Mellon Collie like random bits of emotional shrapnel. On "Bodies," he laments that "Love is suicide"; one song later, in "Thirty-Three," he counters that "love can last forever." "In my mind I'm everyone," he declares in "Porcelina," but these songs clearly reflect Corgan's personal angst; it's not called The Infinite Sadness for nothing. Mellon Collie does end on a happy note: a pair of trippy, psychedelic love songs ("Beautiful" and "By Starlight") and the sweet lullaby "Farewell and Goodnight." Nit-picking Mellon Collie doesn't yield much; the occasional stumbles barely make a dent in its twenty-eight-song stride. Give the Pumpkins their due: they shoot big, and on Mellon Collie, they score. --Gary Graff
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