The Smashing Pumpkins’ iconic double album, Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness finally turned 25 this week and its release was an iconic moment in alt-rock history and for me an awakening to a masterful piece of rock music.
The band’s third album which consisted of two 14-track sides, spawned five singles (‘Tonight, Tonight’, 1979, Zero, Bullet With Butterfly Wings and Thirty-Three) and was certified Diamond in America in its first year of release. Mellon Collie has been the only album by the band to top the US Billboard 200 Charts and has sold millions upon millions of copies. It instantly sent the band up to rock stardom in a time where grunge had died and something new and exciting had to fill the void.
The album for me is what both made and killed the band in the sense of their popularity and craftsmanship never reaching the attention of the media and fans in the same way again. I’m a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan who has loved every release by them, but some tend to stop at Mellon Collie and miss out on the band’s vast catalogue. The way this album was recorded was quite different to previous records, with less guitar layering and a better sharing of roles and contributions.
In 1995, The Smashing Pumpkins were one of the biggest bands in the world and potentially the biggest in America and were nominated for multiple Grammy and MTV awards. Whilst the touring and outside events took its strain on the band, this album is definitely one of the last rock masterpieces. It packs such a mixture of sounds, instruments and themes with the two sides of the album representing day and night. Mellon Collie was considered by frontman, Billy Corgan to be “The Wall for Generation X.“
One thing that I’ve always loved is the artwork for Mellon Collie that was created by John Craig, and the iconic lady on the front that was put together using The Souvenir by Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Raphel’s portrait of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The imagery throughout the booklet captures the artistic and celestial themes of the album and I highly recommend giving it a look. The album saw a lot of dressage changes with Corgan sporting his new bald and ‘Zero’ shirt look, which most fans remember him for.
We could sit and decipher all 28 tracks (by the end of recording there were around 55 tracks that would later be found on the Aeroplane Flies High box set), but for those of you out there who aren’t quite familiar with The Smashing Pumpkins and this album, I thought I would pick five songs and discuss why they’re a great gateway into the world of Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness. I furthermore thought I would choose five songs that showcase the album’s variety of sounds and styles.
This song is absolutely balls-to-the-walls nuts and blew me away upon my first hearing. It’s full of such anger and ferocity in all contributed aspects. Corgan screams out constantly and the de-tuned guitars add a gritty and sonic edge that fills the track with anger that’s just been waiting to burst out. The band closed with X.Y.U. on the album tour which would see an extended outro with Corgan dragging the guitar around stage and beating it up to add to the mayhem. There’s a lot of nursery rhyme references in this track which I feel add to the sadistic nature it gives off… also when Corgan screams: “AND IN THE EYES OF A JACKAL I SAY KAAAA-BOOM” it sends absolute shivers down my spine every time.
If there’s a Smashing Pumpkins song you’ve heard, it’s highly likely it’s 1979. The track has a delightful nostalgia to it with the gentle guitar rhythms and Billy Corgan’s soft to soaring vocals. The chorus feels warm and focuses around the idea of adolescence and I think the themes of the track and its relatability is why it resonates so much with Smashing Pumpkins fans. The electronic production and editing in parts of the song is kind of a window to future Pumpkins releases, but also a stand out moment in both rock music and the album itself. There weren’t many big rock singles that sounded like it. The drums add an upbeat vibe that doesn’t rely on any other instrument. That being said, Jimmy Chamberlin’s drumming throughout this record is incredible.
Take Me Down
This is a beautiful and slow finish to the first side of Mellon Collie and sees guitarist James Iha provide lead vocals. The slow percussion and euphoric guitar tones in the background make this for a dreamy and teary-eyed piece. Everything about the track feels so delicate, as if Iha is calling out at the end of his tether and I think it’s a very fitting way to go from day into night in retrospect of the album’s themes.
Here Is No Why
A track that rings out with fuzzy chords and delightful sliding guitar fills call out to the rhythms of previous album, Siamese Dream. Corgan’s vocals feel anguished, hurt and mature as he reflects on how in your teenage years you’re always trying to prove yourself and gain worthiness. He roars out in the later part of the song as the vocals get scratchier and the guitars blare out with a glorious and fuzzy solo. I feel Here Is No Why provides a balance of the rougher and softer moments of the album and is a window into the guitar styles, tones and vocals you’re going to get.
If you’ve ever seen the Simpsons episode Homerpalooza then you’ve heard this song. It’s fast, it’s gritty and cool as heck. The vocal harmonies in the chorus are so dirty and the lyrics stand out massively and so many could be plucked out such as “intoxicated with the madness, I’m in love with my sadness.” The solo in the bridge is crazy with the guitar effects sounding like breaking down computers and the general tone of the guitars are energetically noisy. It’s one of the shortest tracks on the album, but damn does it leave a fiery emotion in wanting more grunge rock. The lyrical themes focus on how self-indulgence leads to emptiness which I think a lot of rock musicians reflect on. If you want a Smashing Pumpkins track to get you pumped up then listen to the outro.
Let me know some of your favourite Smashing Pumpkins tracks and your thoughts on the Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness record. It’s great to celebrate 25 years of a great album, but even more-so to celebrate an iconic and legendary moment in rock music.
Billy Corgan, James Iha, D’arcy Wretzky & Jimmy Chamberlin, thank you.