The Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
On October 23, 1995, "The Smashing Pumpkins" released their third studio album "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness".
It is unbelievable that more than a quarter of a century has passed since the release of this album.
It may not be the band's greatest album in our humble opinion, but it's undoubtedly its artistic highlight, the flagship, a stunningly beautiful work divided into two parts, "Dawn to Dusk" and "Twilight to Starlight" and featuring 28 songs spanning two full discs, Or three vinyl albums.
It's amazing to think what a change the band has undergone since the process of creating the previous album "Siamese Dream". The band was then in such a big slump that threatened its existence and even caused Billy Corgan suicidal thoughts. To understand how deep the crisis was in the previous album, you are invited to read the short review we wrote about it.
And now, just two years later, the band is already in a completely different place, at the pinnacle of its creation. It functions as one complete organism, as a well-oiled machine that is part of a production line of transcripts and music.
The album "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" is the result of a crazy creative outburst by the band. Unlike the previous album, this time "The Smashing Pumpkins" worked as a cohesive band, with a significant contribution from all members and especially from guitarist James Iha and bassist D'arcy Wretzky, this is different from what happened on "Siamese Dream" which was on the verge of a Billy Corgan solo project. True, all but two of the album's songs were written by Corgan, but all four members were part of the creative process and contributed to the result. The only two songs not written by Corgan are the song that seals the first disc, "Take Me Down" written and sung by James Iha, and the song that concludes the entire album "Farewell and Goodnight" written by Corgan and Iha and sung by all four members of the band.
To understand the size of the creative burst that the band experienced, we will note that the recordings of the album ended with 57 finished songs, of which only 28 were selected for the album. This is an insane amount of songs most of which were left out of the album and released about a year later as part of a 5-disc box released by the band called "The Airplane Flies High". Another amazing statistic is that one of the excerpts from the box called "Pastichio Medley" which is 23 minutes long is actually a medley of dozens of riffs composed after the release of "Siamese Dream" and put together into one extra-long track. Just think what the band could have done with the same raw material of the dozens of riffs and how many more songs could have been developed from them.
Billy Corgan intended to create a double album inspired by the Beatles' "White Album". He felt that the band's musical direction on the first two albums had exhausted itself and wanted to create what he would later call "Pink Floyd "The Wall" for Generation X". To reach such a level of writing, Corgan asked his bandmates that their approach during the creative process will be as if it was their last album as a band.
In addition, he decides to leave producer Butch Vig who produced the band's previous albums, and team up with producers Flood and Alan Moulder, who have worked with "My Bloody Valentine", PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, "U2", "Depeche Mode" and "Nine Inch Nails". Corgan explained that after the hard work with Butch they became so close that it was clear they would think and act similarly. Billy Corgan thought that at this point it was a disadvantage that prevented thinking "outside the box" and the band's musical development.
The choice of Flood and Alan Moulder proved itself, as on the one hand they took the band to distant and different districts and on the other hand preserved their basic DNA. During the recordings, Flood insisted that the band will take enough time each day to improvise and write songs, which inevitably affected the sheer amount of songs written on these sessions, as well as the quality of the writing, as the improvisations led to a huge variety in musical styles.
"Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" was designed in such a way that the first half represents the day (Dawn to "Dusk") and the second half the night ("Twilight to Starlight"). Billy Corgan rejected the idea that it was a concept album, but noted that the album was based on "the intense pain of human existence." In any case, the songs on the album are conceptually understood as a symbol of the cycles of life and death, so there is still a connecting thread that unites the entire work into one complete fabric.
Musically this album is very diverse compared to previous albums and combines several genres. The diversity was also reflected in the use of additional musical instruments such as pianos, synthesizers, harps, guitars, and even strings. During the recording of the album, the guitars were tuned in some of the songs at half-tone down and in another part like "Jellybelly" the first string was tuned down in what Billy Corgan called "Grunge tuning".
But beyond the diversity of musical styles and instruments, this album is more than any, a production album. Compared to previous albums, a greater combination of samples, electronic loops, and overdubs has been used. For example, the song "Thru The Eyes of Ruby" contains about 70 layers and recordings of guitars incorporated into the song.
As for the album itself, from the moment the needle falls gently onto the vinyl, the listener is sucked into the musical piece. We open "Dawn to Dusk" in a melancholy atmosphere and also tell the name of the instrumental track "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness". We must point out that when we first played this track, we were sure it was a mistake. We thought we were listening to an outtake that was left out from one of the albums of "This Mortal Coil" or to any album of a gothic band from the label "4AD". The piano fitted with the Baroque illustrations that appear on the outer and inner cover and we just felt like we were passing into another period in time.
To understand the magnitude of the impact of Flood and Mulder's production, you must listen to the demo from the extended version of the album. "Mellon Collie" was also originally a quiet piece, but it was played on an electric guitar and just sounded different, lacking the atmosphere that the piano and meticulous production gave it.
The melancholy atmosphere of the opening track is sporadically scattered throughout both parts of the album, as if to remind us that although it is not a concept album and even though there seems to be only a loose conceptual connection between the tracks, we still deal with a work that should be treated as a whole. This atmosphere exists in pieces like "Take Me Down" with the howling electric guitar and the vocals reminiscent of Neil Young, it exists in the trippy "To Forgive", in the sleepy "Galapogos" and more.
Listening to this album is like cruising with a ship on the high seas. From time to time the sea "bursts" and the ship glides comfortably on the water as in the songs "Thirty-Three", "In the Arms of Sleep" or "Stumbleine" and sometimes a storm occurs and the ship swings between formidable waves in stormy water as in "Jellybelly", "Zero" or "Tales of a Scorched Earth". These drastic changes in the state of the sea only intensify the enjoyment of this shaky voyage and the immense sense of satisfaction when at last this musical ship arrives at a safe shore.
Five singles were released from the album. The first was "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" written by Billy Corgan about the pain that accompanies the life of a rock star when the words "the world is a vampire" describe Corgan's feeling that everyone wants something from him. This song won the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance and is also the first "Smashing" song to be ranked in the Top 40 in the Billboard 100 Hits chart. It is interesting to note that Corgan initially wanted the song "Jellybelly" to be the first single, but eventually, he chose "Bullet" because he thought it was a more "catchy" song that would sell better and represent the album better.
The second single released from the album is "1979" and it deals with the transition between childhood and adulthood. It was the last song written for the album, Billy Corgan asked to put the song in, at the last minute, because he thought it had potential and the producers gave him 24 hours to finish writing, so that the song could be included on the album. Corgan drove home and at night finished writing the lyrics when the song was recorded the next day.
The third single "Zero" is the first song written for the album and it describes Billy Corgan as a very apathetic person who has a very hard time expressing emotions. The recording of this song combines no less than six channels of rhythm guitars and two channels of 12-string acoustic guitars. Unlike the rest of the singles, this song was released as part of an EP that includes six b-sides and one medley called "Pastichio Medley", which incorporates no less than 70 song parts from the album's sessions, along with excerpts from songs included on the album.
The fourth single from the album "Tonight, Tonight" was written by Billy Corgan as a homage to the band "Cheap Trick". Here, too, the lyrics refer to Corgan and the difficult childhood he went through, but the closing words of the song are full of hope and optimism: "The impossible is possible tonight." The song is accompanied by the "Chicago Symphony Orchestra "which includes 30 strings and was originally written on scale C but since that scale was high on Billy Corgan's voice it was eventually performed on scale G. It is interesting to note that the mysterious and amazing clip for this song won six MTV Awards.
The last single released from the album is "Thirty-Three" and is the first song that Corgan wrote when he returned home from a tour that accompanied the previous album "Siamese Dream". He used a drum machine while writing and claimed the lyrics just spilled out as he played the song. Billy Corgan called it a "simple country-oriented song". The guitars are tuned half a ton down and the drum machine that is heard in the recording is taken from the first demo that Corgan recorded at his house because Corgan did not remember how to recreate that beat.
It should be noted that the band intended to release the song "Muzzle" from the album as the last single, but in the end, they didn't and it is not clear exactly what the reason was. The intent can be learned from the fact that the song was released to radio stations around the world. In light of the broadcasts on radio stations and although not released as a single, the song reached number eight on the "Modern Rock Hits" chart and tenth place on Billboard's "Popular Rock Hits" chart.
The album "Mellon Collie" may not be a masterpiece, but it is definitely an ambitious and inspiring musical work, which is very unique compared to the genre and period. In our humble opinion, this is the best album of the "Pumpkins" if the albums are treated as one complete work. True "Siamese Dream" definitely gives it a fight but for us "Mellon Collie" wins by points.
For listening to the extended version of the album: Spotify, Apple Music