"Many cuts from Smashing Pumpkins"
Philadelphia Inquirer - 10/22/95
by Dan DeLuca
That Billy Corgan, he's so outrageous!
Where other alterna-heroes fear to mosh, Smashing Pumpkins' undisputed leader dives right in. He's not afraid of covering Stevie Nicks, or recording with symphony orchestras. He doesn't angst-out over headlining Lollapalooza or worry himself silly that his band is selling too many records.
No, Billy Corgan is not cowed by the rock star within. The potentate of Pumpkindom is willing to embrace the beast. Kurt Cobain may have apologized to the world for his own existence, but Billy Corgan is a world unto himself. "In my mind I'm everyone," he proclaims in the nine-minute spiritual exploration titled "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans." "I'm every one of you."
In other words, Billy Corgan thinks big. Big, big, big. How big? How about the first superstar double studio album of the alternative rock-era big?
Twenty-eight new songs and nearly 120 new minutes of music big?
Would-be masterpiece big?
At once the silliest and most pretentious album title of the year big?
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (Virgin), which comes out Tuesday, is the work in question, and Billy Corgan wants you to be impressed.
It was created by Corgan and his fellow Pumpkins to walk among the ghosts of oversize albums past. (Besides its fearless songwriter-singer- guitarist auteur, the band consists of guitarist James Iha, bassist D'Arcy, and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin). It means to be this Chicago band's Exile on Main Street. Or, more appropriately - since the Pumpkins covered "Landslide" on last year's Pisces Iscariot - its version of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk.
Of course, it's not so easy to be overblown these days, and not just because it's uncool to be ambitious in a decade of downsizing. The logistics of the music business argue grandiosity. Since compact disks can contain over 70 minutes of music, most repackaged old albums fit on one CD.
And then there's the economics. In the CD era, the prevailing strategy for artists unleashing a mother lode of music is to split it into two separate albums. That's what Guns N' Roses did in 1991 with Use Your Illusion I and II, and Bruce Springsteen with Human Torch and Lucky Town that same year.
The Pumpkins' Siamese Dream, fueled by radio and MTV staples "Disarm" and "Cherub Rock," sold more than three million copies, and Pisces Iscariot, essentially a throwaway album, moved almost a million. So, will the masses of Pumpkin fans cough up the cash for a two-CD package? If so, they'll pay less than they would for the year's other big name twinpack, Michael Jackson's HIStory: Past and Present. MJ's two CDs of hits and new songs came with a list price of $32.95; Mellon Collie aims to be an alterna-bargain at $24.98.
Mercifully, Mellon Collie doesn't come equipped with a "story." It's not a concept album.
But all the other signs of portent are present. The two volumes are subtitled "Dawn to Dusk" and "Twilight to Starlight." It opens, of course, with a piano and strings instrumental that sets the tone for an album that buys into the time-honored fallacy that classical music is essentially better than rock and roll.
The Pumpkins parted ways with noted alterna knob-twiddler Butch Vig - who produced both Siamese Dream and the band's 1991 debut, Gish. They have hooked up with British producer Flood, known for providing frightfully dark soundscapes for U2's Achtung Baby, Nine Inch Nails' Downward Spiral and PJ Harvey's To Bring You My Love.
The Flood touches ate apparent. On "Love," and especially on "Tales of a Scorched Earth." Corgan's normally thin, wheedling vocals are intensely processed, giving him that Trent Reznor voice-of-doom authority. And Chamberlin's rhythm beds are sampled, looped and otherwise electronically augmented, to best effect on "1979," a propulsive, almost dance floor-ready reminiscence that's haunted by the specter of death; it's the album's best track.
Considering Mellon Collie is a two-hour record, its individual songs are often not as overblown as in the past: Only the would-be mystical frippery of "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans," the interminable screeching of "X.Y.U." and the dreamy, until the pummeling starts, "Thru the Eyes of Ruby," stretch beyond five minutes.
For the most part, the pointed departures from the Pumpkins' whiny whisper-to-a-scream signature sound are the most successful songs. From the nicely orchestrated, sweetly psychedelic "Galapogos" to the music-hall bounce of "We Only Come out at Night," Corgan and crew stretch their boundaries. And Mellon Collie comes off with a sense of true interplay that's a vast improvement over Siamese Dream, on which Corgan's perfectionism led him to trash many of his bandmates' contributions and to record the parts himself.
Mellon Collie has its pleasures - the lift of the string section on "Tonight, Tonight," for instance, and the raw power of the guitar sound on the Bowie-esque "Here Is No Why." And Corgan's search for communal ecstasy ("We'll find a way to offer up the night tonight," he sings, at the start) is heartfelt.
But Corgan's musings on the possibility of redemption, the loss of innocence and the self-defeat of anger never provide the grand payoff. "God is empty," he squeals, "just like me," and it's the second part of the statement that rings true.
"I fear that I'm ordinary," Corgan, 28, sings too honestly in "Muzzle" - and this album exists mainly to insist that the opposite is true.
There's enough merit in Mellon Collie to argue that Corgan deserves grudging respect. But there are also more than a few songs where the combination of Black Sabbath pummeling and the nails-across-the-black-board vocals argue for simply turning the stereo off.
"After this album, we'll have exhausted the rock route," Corgan told Rolling Stone this year. That's hardly so, but this much is true: Anyone who listens to all of Mellon Collie is certain to be left exhausted.
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