Smashing Pumpkins’ third studio album was their first to top the Billboard 200, with a number one debut on the week of October 24th, 1995. It spawned five singles and was certified Diamond by the RIAA.
Mark: Ah yes. The overstuffed double LP. I remember the release of this album much more vividly than the other Pumpkins releases. The video for “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” was in heavy rotation on Much Music and “1979” became inescapable for, like, years. Given that I was learning to play guitar at the time, “Butterfly Wings” and “Zero” gave me more reason to be interested in this band than I had been given previously.
I still wouldn’t go ahead and buy this album, though. It tended to be a little more expensive than other Compact Discs, and there was always something else to buy. This was around the time that I got heavily into Weezer and just before I got heavily into Korn & Deftones, so I guess the Pumpkins’ pretentious opus wound up falling through the cracks.
To this day, I still haven’t heard the whole album from front to back. This changes now.
Double albums are a funny thing. I don’t care how big of a fan you are, there’s no way every song on this collection is a keeper. For years I have held the opinion that there isn’t a double album in existence that wouldn’t have been better served by just grabbing the best tracks off of both sides and crafting one LP out of it. Double albums are really just an exercise in self-congratulation.
And if there’s one thing that Billy-o loves to do, it’s self-congratulate.
No more stalling. Let’s get into this thing. This is going to be long and to make things even longer, I’m joined again for this post by my friend (and SP expert), Shaunna! Shaunna made doing a Siamese Dream review much less of a slog, and given what we’re getting ourselves into today, I am delighted to have her on board!
Shaunna: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was the first proper Smashing Pumpkins album that came out when I was a certified Pumpkins fan. And we’re talking “fan”-is-short-for-fanatic standom. I’d bought 1993’s Siamese Dream in summer of ‘94, followed by the 1994 B-sides and rarities compilation, Pisces Iscariot, and then worked my way backwards to Gish. I was full-blown obsessed, constantly looking for magazine articles, newspaper clippings and cuing up the VCR with a blank tape every time I surfed between MuchMusic and MusiquePlus (a rare privilege of spending my formative years near the Quebec border). I rewatched their VHS concert video, Vieuphoria, on pretty much a weekly basis. To my young teenage self, there was no better drummer than Jimmy Chamberlin, nobody more stylish and cool than D’Arcy, nobody hotter than James Iha and no better songwriter – nay, poet! – than one William Patrick Corgan. And of course, no bigger fan than me.
MCIS dropped during my second month of high school and it shockingly catapulted them into becoming the biggest band in the world for a couple of years. When the Infinite Sadness tour eventually came to Ottawa in September 1996, it was my first concert. It’s not my favorite Smashing Pumpkins album, but it definitely played a key role in my teenhood.
Yes, this will be long… but I’m excited to see where it takes us!
Disc one – Dawn To Dusk (lol)
Already pretentious as hell!
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Mark: Album kicks off on a decidedly not-rock note with a lengthy piano intro. You can already feel Billy’s desperation to “transport the listener to another place”. This piece sort of floats in one ear and out the other for me. The mellotron sounds that swell in are fairly nice. I can’t imagine this track being listened to outside of the context of the album as a whole, and I can’t imagine having the time to listen to a whole double-album front to back more than a couple of times, and that’s only if you really really loved it. I don’t love this! But I also didn’t hate it.
Shaunna: This ditty is awesome. It sets the mood all in serene moons and stars and prettiness. All the casual fans who bought the album listened to this one, since it was the first song. Actually, a lot of those people would tell me that they wanted to walk down the aisle to the song someday, which I thought was pretty rad! But then again, a girl in my class had said Firehouse’s “Live My Life For You” was going to be her wedding song, and I’d be willing to bet good money that she probably forgets that conversation, as well as the song!
Mark: I’ve gotta say, this song was an enormous smash hit and I have always fucking loathed it. Hahah. It is half of the reason that I’ve always considered myself not a Pumpkins fan. I thought the video was boring and the song does not rock. I also thought that the song really laid bare just how whiny and grating Corgan’s voice could be. And I still think that. It is peak whiny Billy.
Listening with grown up ears, there’s a lot to like about the production. The string arrangement and propulsive drum march sound appropriately epic. That little guitar picking part during the “believe in me” section is very nice. It is still way too theatrical for me to fall in love with, and Billy is out of control on this one. I’m so, so glad that he didn’t get into acting after all of this.
I don’t think I’ve ever really appreciated the influence that the Smashing Pumpkins must have had on the vocal approach of the emo music that exploded in the late 90s and early 00s. The guitar and voice sections sound emo as fuck.
Shaunna: This song is a grandiose banger and I can completely see why people who didn’t love the Pumpkins might have loathed it. But I loved it, and still do! I got to see them in their hometown of Chicago eventually, and when he sang, “and the embers never fade/ in my city by the lake,” the whole crowd cheered real loud. Shout out Lake Michigan! Also, “we’ll crucify the insincere tonight” was such #relatablecontent for me, The Outsider just like Billy lmao. And you’re right, Mark – this song was total inspo for theatre kids and eventual emo bands across the board. There definitely wouldn’t be a “Welcome To the Black Parade” without a “Tonight Tonight.”
Mark: Now we jump into rock music, somewhat incongruously. “JellyBelly” is a pretty unremarkable riff-fest off the top. If I’ve heard this before, I truly don’t remember it. I actually also feel like this recording sounds bad. I thought that maybe it was just this YouTube video, but I went and found the track remastered on Spotify and it only sounds a little better. Like I’m listening to the band from inside of a tinfoil tent or something.
It almost seems like they wanted to throw a bunch of drop-D riffs at the listener just to remind them that this is an alt-rock band. There are better tunes on Siamese Dream and better songs on Gish than this one. Am I missing something? This isn’t good!
Shaunna: Opening with, “Welcome to nowhere fast/nothing here ever lasts,” Jellybelly is pure teenage angst in a bottle. Apparently it’s a riff inspired by Robert Fripp? I couldn’t tell you much about that because I don’t know her, but it slaps! Jimmy Chamberlin gets to drum all over this one, too. The recording is def muddy and I’m not sure what Flood and Alan Moulder were going for there. It’s not my fave, but it’s not a skip for me either. Oh, and “living makes me sick/so sick I wish I’d die”? Honestly, put it on my teenage tombstone.
Mark: See, this is good. Instantly hooky and memorable riff that is also fucking mean as hell. Every section rocks. Even the vocal approach fits like a glove. The guitar tone in the solo is fucking bananas. Best of all, the song is only two and a half minutes long. I cannot come up with a single bad thing to say about this song. Absolute banger. God tier. Might be their best song.
I said it.
Also, the lyrics are hilarious. I love this song.
Shaunna: “Zero” fucking rocks. It has a great riff, a fun, exaggerated vocal performance, perfectly angsty lyrics (“god iz empty just liek me!!1”). And D’Arcy had a brown wig on in the video, so that was hot. It’s a great pop song tbh, verses and choruses all just go together and ugh. Fantastic song! I wouldn’t call it their best song, but it’s definitely their most underrated hit. I like it more with age!
Here Is No Why
Mark: I have no memory of this tune, but the guitar tone is nice from the word go. Verses are pleasant enough, and I quite like the main guitar figure. Pretty solid alt-rock chorus and a very enjoyable guitar solo section that leads into an extra rocked-up chorus… this isn’t bad at all. It’s no “Zero”, but I found a lot to like here. It’s not going to be the most memorable song on the album and it makes sense that it wasn’t a single, but as an album cut, “Here Is No Why” is a pretty good one! Things are looking up!
Shaunna: I LOVE the blatant glam rock homage this song has, both lyrically and musically! Here Is No Why is about Billy looking back on himself as a teen and aspiring musician. You can find videos of him with teased hair and eyeliner from back in the day. “Mascara sure and lipstick lost/Glitter burned by restless thoughts/of being forgotten” are some of my favorite lyrics in Pumpkinland. Anyway, it’s sub-Ziggy Stardust for most, but I give Here Is No Why major props because it’s so rare that Billy pokes fun of himself, especially in his songs!
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
Mark: It is very difficult to objectively listen to a song that you’ve already heard roughly 3,000 times. My gut instinct is that this song still rips pretty hard, but my feelings are also wrapped up in the fact that it is incredibly hilarious. It has one of the funniest choruses of the entire 1990s. “The Thong Song” also came out in the 90s.
Pulling back for a moment, I must admit that the guitar work on this tune is absolutely tremendous. The riff in the verse (and into the pre-chorus) remains so incredibly distinctive and probably so foundational for legions of teens learning to play at the time. Those bends in the bridge section? Sick as hell. The song is also extremely propulsive, an excellent showcase for the band’s drummer and a very sharp employment of 90s quiet-loud-quiet dynamics.
Anything I could nitpick about this song, I would do so only because things about it are funny/silly, but those things are actually so funny/silly that they make the song better because of it. Also the video. Funniest shit I’ve ever seen.
This song is still great.
Shaunna: BWBW was the huge hit that it was because of its pop structure through its RAWK filter! All of the Billy specialties are in the lyrics – angst, biblical overtones and the song title is nowhere to be found. You know how Max Martin reinterpreted Yeah Yeah Yeahs’s “Maps” as Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone”? Would LOVE to hear his take on BWBW!
This video was cool – everyone was just sexy and dirty in it, and rocking out. And by “everyone was just sexy” I’m obviously just referring to James and D’Arcy lol. This was the last video Billy filmed before debuting his shaved head during their October 1995 Saturday Night Live performance of the same song.
Mark: Again, guitar sounds great off the top on this tune. Vocals are a bit on the breathy side, but song is melodically solid in both verse and chorus. “To Forgive” is definitely an album track. Nothing special, but a pretty reasonable way to cool things down after a trio of rippers. Some nice production flourishes here and there. The swelling strings are done with much more subtlety than those found on “Tonight Tonight”. This tune is firmly… okay.
Shaunna: “To Forgive” has always been a skip for me. Listening today with fresh ears, there’s a lot to like in the different guitar parts, with what I’m assuming are fancy pedals. Billy’s vocals are back to the Siamese Dream-era feminine tones for part of this, which is my preferred of his range. It’s all very… nice. But I’ve just always found this one kinda boring compared to the other ballads on the record.
An Ode To No One
Mark: The only reason that I know this song at all is because The Armed did a cover of it. Listening to them back to back… I think The Armed did a better job. Hahaha. I don’t think that the song is anything to write home about, to be honest. Some decent chugging going on. I know that this is supposed to be a ballsy, “attitude” number, but it only really starts ripping at the end. The production also sounds a little rougher than some of the other “heavy” tunes. Was this album recorded in more than one studio, and then cobbled together later?
Anyway, this song is also titled “Fuck You”, but maybe it should have been titled “An Ode To The Skip Track Button On My Discman”.
Shaunna: I’d say that for the majority of Pumpkins fans – especially the ones who are still active stans, post-Y2K (who very much need to discover music made after they graduated high school for god’s sake!) – their fave tracks are the RAWK tracks. Me, I was more into the ballads, the ethereal, gothy, shoegazey, dreamy ones and the ones that I thought were “deep.” Anyway, suffice it to say, “Fuck You” is not my favorite, but I like it more than most of these types of songs because it’s metal as fuck at points. It also has what might be the most disgusting visual Billy ever wrote – “Vaseline afterbirths.”
Mark: Begrudging respect to the giant phaser effect that is suffocating this track! Bold move! Extremely distracting!
The verses of “Love” have a forgettable chug to them, but the chorus has a decent hook. The guitar solo section is laden with some pretty interesting effects, and the track features some burbling electronics that I believe will be more of a thing on the bands next album.
This is an album track if I’ve ever heard one. The vibe is decently sinister, but the whole thing feels half-baked.
Shaunna: OMG FLOOD I LUV UR WORK! Love is basically U2’s “Numb” (remember the one The Edge sang? I highly recommend the Beavis and Butt-head video!) with Billy being super fuzzy and nasal-y on top. This was when rock bands were incorporating “technology” in their music, or whatever. I liked “Love” a lot when I was a kid, but as an adult, it’s kinda just repetitive filler to me. Billy’s voice grates, yo. I’d rather listen to “Numb” tbh.
Cupid De Locke
Mark: I actually like this one! The repetitiously syncopated twinkling instrument (is that a harp?), bendy guitar noodles and mellotron all lend to a great vibe. Good verse, good chorus and OH SWEET HEAVEN WHAT IS THIS SPOKEN WORD PART??? Hahahahaha, holy fuck did they ever blow this one! This song was going so well and then Billy comes in and starting mumbling bad poetry about star-crossed lovers. Hahaha. I can barely believe how bad this got.
At least when Eddie Vedder does spoken word trash, it’s usually for the duration of the song or just at the beginning of the song so that you can hit skip. Bringing in a spoken word section at the end of an otherwise fine song feels hilariously self-destructive.
Corgan must have been unbelievably up his own ass to think that this could have been a good idea. Sad!
Shaunna: Now this is more how I like it!!! A pretty ballad with flowery, pretentious lyrics with all sorts of chimes and twinkles! This song is soooooo me! This song is so romantic! I actually love the spoken-word bit at the end because it’s like when the guy with the bass vocals in an R&B boy band does that whole “Girl… baby don’t leave…. give me just one more chance” thing before a song’s climax. Edible Epiphany: was “Cupid De Locke” partially inspired by Boyz II Men?
I liked “Cupid De Locke” as a kid, I love it as an adult!
Mark: Another snoozer. Nice guitar work. If you’re a fan of Breathy Billy, you’ll probably dig this. I feel as though I would like this song well enough in the hands of of a different vocalist. Sure seems to be a lot of mellotron on this album.
“Galapogos” isn’t super unlikable, nor is it super compelling. It builds to a big (but not too big) climactic chorus. I dunno, this song kind of just came and went.
Shaunna: Agreed, Mark. Snoozer, one hundo p. “Galapogos” is one ballad that stans seem to love, but it’s never been for me. It’s got some sweet lyrics like “hold me for goodbyes/and whispered lullabies/and tell me i am still/the man i’m supposed to be.” Soooooo vulnerable! Billy is still very fully full of feelings on MCIS! His singing is too harsh on this one, though. With lusher vocals, “Galapogos” could’ve been an all-timer
Mark: Oh, hey. I’ve heard this. So this one is at least kind of memorable, I guess. I’m trying to pin down why as I listen. Because it seems like just a mid-tempo plodder to me. Like, the alt-rock version of a generic three-chord campfire strummer.
I wonder if there’s some deeper thread to all of this that I’m missing. I’m not paying close attention to the lyrics on any of these tunes and maybe that’s where the “genius” lies? This is supposed to be a concept album, right? I don’t have time to figure out what the story is. Maybe I’ll take a look at a summary of the album’s concept and talk about it later on…
LOL @ the rock and roll ending to “Muzzle”, btw. Haha. Wow.
Shaunna: “I fear that I am ordinary just like everyone” is basically an SP fan mating call, it’s so embarrassing. But sooooooo relatable when you’re 14!
“Muzzle” is basically the Pumpkins’ “Surrender,” and honestly these Cheaper Trick songs are the funnest ones to sing along with at shows. Jimmy’s drum fills are fucking musical flair! To me, the end just feels so victorious and cathartic. I dunno. I’ve always loved “Muzzle” and I always will. I felt so betrayed when my high school sweetheart quoted “great loves will one day have to part” from “Muzzle” when he dumped me, but now I have a sense of humor about it.
Porcelina of the Vast Oceans
Mark: Wow, dumb name. Wait, what the fuck this song is almost 10 minutes long?!
Mostly nothing happens for the first two minutes, which I guess is a thing that you have to do if you think you need to put out a double LP for some reason. There’s a bit of a furious explosion of guitar riffs and then it settles back into an extremely long and spacey first verse. I understand that this is intended to be a sweeping, swooning epic… but it’s not working for me.
I think that the riff in the choruses that lands between the vocal lines is pretty tasty, though. And the rocked-out climax has some pretty great drumming on display. Then it just noodles into oblivion on the outro.
There’s no great reason why this tune couldn’t have been edited down to five minutes.
Shaunna: LOL, Mark, I love 10 minute songs! Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version) (10 Minute Version)” has been in heavy rotation around my apartment these past few days, and it gives me a similar feeling of unhinged, unabashed regression that listening to Smashing Pumpkins as an adult gives me, and it’s gorgeous!
If MCIS is alt-rock’s Use Your Illusion, then “Porcelina” is definitely Mellon Collie’s “Estranged.” Bringing back my beloved quiet-loud-quiet epic format from my fave Siamese Dream songs, “Soma” and “Hummer”, as well as the beloved B-side, “”Starla, “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” is equal parts ethereal and cock rock.Plus, Axl swims with dolphins in the “Estranged” video, so there’s a whole water thing in common. Funny enough, “Estranged” is waaayyyyy more angsty than “Porcelina”. Like, Axl’s literally singing “I wanna drift away and diiiiiiiieeeeeeee!!!” Meanwhile, Billy’s singing about Courtney Love as a mermaid, or something.
Take Me Down
Mark: Wow, the vocals on this are really different. And nice.
Oh, haha. I just looked it up and it isn’t Billy singing. HAHAHAHAHA.
Okay, maybe James Iha should have sang more of the Pumpkins’ songs. This tune is pretty nicely produced and sounds distinctly non-Pumpkins-y. It’s got the feeling of a classic 70s vocal ballad or something. A very sweet tune! I like this.
Shaunna: Very pleasantly surprised you’re into “Take Me Down”, Mark! James Iha chills us all the fuck out with an alt-country-influenced ballad. The pedal steels really show you how important the dude is to this band. Oh, and all of his songs are about being in love, so in addition to looking like a model (and even walking Anna Sui’s runway!), he was romantic as hell! And he was known for his funny and witty quips onstage and in interviews! Funny, hot and romantic? No wonder dude was my number one teen crush. Still would!
Disc Two – Twilight to Starlight
Where Boys Fear To Tread
Mark: Wow, this is a fuck-around beginning to a song that would make Pearl Jam blush. The riff that eventually locks in is pretty sick, though.
I like the vibe that this song hits, but I feel like as a tune it is a little half-baked. It sort of sounds like a first draft of what “Zero” would eventually become, especially in the vocal cadence. It sounds tossed-off, but not in a good way. This should have landed on the cutting room floor, dudes.
Shaunna: Agreed, Mark. This song is more of a vibe than anything, and definitely half-baked. I wonder if maybe sometimes he put obvious should-be B-sides on the albums and demote superior tracks to B-sides. That way SP could have that coveted “Well, actually, their B-sides are better” status. Which equaled more $$ in single sales, and later box set sales. Billy is a sensitive-ass Pisces, but above all else, he’s a capitalist!
Mark: I came into this hoping that this was a cover of the Drowning Pool song, but then I remember that this album came out like three years before Nu Metal blew up.
Again, I like the riff and the vibe. The guitars are droning like a swarm of angry bees. The vocal melody (and performance) seem really half-baked on this track, which is a shame because song itself sounds pretty great to me. It’s strange, because some of the lines are working for me and some of them sound unfinished.
The break in the middle of the song that sees the full band give way to a warbling guitar strumming along with the vocals sounds great. I’m really close to liking this song a lot, but I feel like it could have just used more time and development.
Shaunna: Bodies is a cool song. The lyrics are visceral and even though I’m not super into Billy’s “RAWK” voice, the screaming is sick as hell. It’s a 28-year-old married man yelling “LOVE IS SOOOOOWWWICIIIIIIIIIYEEEEEDE!” but it works. It rocks, and it’s another one that’s fun to see performed live. Chino from Deftones even performed it with them a few years back!
Mark: Oh, I’ve heard this. A nice enough ballad. I like this more than “Tonight Tonight”, but the stripped-back arrangement in comparison makes it rely even more heavily on a pretty intimate vocal performance from Billy Kornagain, which means it doesn’t really totally work for me. This is a preference thing, I think, as I know that there are folks who love this guy’s voice. I like it sometimes. I specifically like it when it’s buried in the mix. Hahaha.
Ah well. There are some really nice passages in “Thirty-Three”, and the piano/guitar interplay is never overbearing or overblown. I would like to hear someone cover this song.
Shaunna: Here comes another Jesus reference! You know how people are like “Is this Sufjan Stevens song about God or about being gay?” For Billy, you could ask “Is this song about Jesus or about comparing yourself to Jesus?”
This is a very pretty song and a bit of an unconventional ballad. There’s mystery, passion, desperation and hopefulness in the lyrics. Probably my personal favorite music video, too.
In The Arms Of Sleep
Mark: I actually really like the acoustic guitar backing track w/ what sounds like an electric e-bow floating around overtop of it. This song is solid enough, to be honest. It’s not structured quite how I expected, and I’m not sure what I would call the “chorus” or “verse”, but that’s honestly kind of refreshing. Some of the passage have reasonably memorable vocal hooks, and the arrangement is overall pleasant to listen to.
Again, my biggest issue is with the vocal take itself. So much of Billy Cogran’s singing just sounds like bad acting to me. The amateur thespian who thinks he’s totally crushing it on the community theatre stage.
Shaunna: In The Arms of Sleep is my favorite song on MCIS. Ballad? Check. Feminine vocal register? Check. Romantic lyrics? Check. Pretentious, but earnest? You better believe it! Taylor Swift should cover this one without changing the “she” pronouns and cause a ruckus. That’s what I did when I covered it in high school! Edgy, amirite? Speaking of edgy, how about this lyrical passage: “she comes to me like an angel out of time/ as I play the part of a saint on my knees.” Is ITAOS Smashing Pumpkins’ version of “Freak Me” by Silk?
Mark: Look, I’m not crazy enough to say anything bad about “1979”. It’s probably the best song that the Smashing Pumpkins ever released. Every section is memorable, and it has a casual, easy hook that still sounds great. It features what is maybe the least irritating vocal track that Corgan ever recorded. Wow, even this video holds up well. It felt strangely nostalgic when I was a teen, and now that I’m an old geezer, there’s a double-layer of nostalgia that is kind of freaking me out.
Very close to a perfect song. I don’t think it’s even controversial to say it.
Shaunna: What a fucking hit. Perfect pop song, deadass. Put together with its adorable and relatable video showing teenagers having fun and being suburban, and that’s an MTV smash. Though “Tonight Tonight” won Smashing Pumpkins their lion’s share of MTV VMAs, 1979 is truly their most memorable video.
Tales Of A Scorched Earth
Mark: Hahaha. Pretty fun metal riff that sounds like it was recorded inside a tin can. This honestly just sounds like a band jamming to some undercooked drop-D riffs, and the production is bad. How many different studios was this collection recorded in?
Outside of some nifty lead guitar squeals, this track is almost the definition of “filler”.
Shaunna: TOASE is just a tantrum going through a garbage disposal. Hard pass.
Thru The Eyes Of Ruby
Mark: Goddammit, another seven-plus minute song.
Wow, great fucking opening, though. Cool chord progression and the band sounds huge. A very pleasing verse section featuring a great sense of space and a good, sparse vocal melody. Actually, from a songwriting perspective, this song is doing it for me more than many of the other tunes on this album.
The length is perhaps not entirely something that I can get on board with, but I can totally see that it is at least in part that they’re letting the song breathe in a way that works. There’s an ebb and flow at play that allows the band to build to a pretty satisfying crescendo. Then the last two minutes of the song’s length is an instrumental cool-down outro, which involves an entirely different musical theme entering the fray after the original arrangement’s fade-out. It’s a nice passage, but I probably would have left it out for the sake of brevity.
Great tune, overall. A really pleasant surprise.
Shaunna: “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” is a fan-favorite loud-quiet-loud epic, complete with overwrought lyrics and a pretentious nonsense title. Count me among its fans!!! If “Porcelina” is MCIS’s “Estranged”, “Ruby” is its “November Rain”. Okay, actually this is more like MCIS’s “Coma”. Don’t get me wrong, I love a long SP song, but making them into top ten hits? That’s strictly Guns N’ Roses and Meat Loaf territory.
Mark: “Stumbleine” is centered around a very pretty acoustic guitar figure. Given how much of this collection is produced to the nines, it is kind of refreshing to hear something this stripped back. It appears to just be an acoustic guitar and single vocal throughout.
The song is fairly decent, if fairly par-for-the-course Pumpkins songwriting. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, which is good, as the arrangement starts to lose my interest by the end of the song. A nice enough song, though. Again, the central guitar lick that starts off the song is extremely my shit.
Shaunna: Never really liked this one as a kid, but I’m really enjoying it right now. I was so precious about “deep” lyrics back then, and “Stumbleine”’s lyrics are pure nonsense. But that’s something I can deal with so long as he’s singing in his pretty voice on this record.
Mark: Another seven minute song. Fucking hell.
Great riff, though! Menacing grind punctuated by some sick string-bending spikes. “X.Y.U.” sees the band in an aggressive mode that seems extremely rare. Am I going to forgive another song for crossing my red-line of “No song needs to be over five minutes long”? The band gets heavier here than I think I’ve ever heard them.
The Pumpkins seem pretty comfortable churning out your typical heavy 90s-alt riff, and sometimes they reach a little deeper into their heaviness toolkit than others, but this track is fairly unhinged. In terms of vibe, it’s totally got me. I’m not sure that I love the song, but the performance is a lot of fun.
The half-time doom riff that comes in at around the five minute mark is hilarious and was probably so fun to play. The noise freak out that follows isn’t, like, “Endless Nameless” legendary, but it’s pretty great!
“X.Y.U.” seems really unpolished in the best ways. The tempo is all over the place and the guitar work is uncharacteristically loose and wonky. It’s a lot of fun.
…This song should have been the secret 99th song on the single-disc version that this record should have been.
Shaunna: The bro contingent of SP stans – the ones whose other favorite band is Tool – looooooove “XYU” (Ex, Why You? – get it??)! And it’s easy to understand – even I was a fan of its sinister vibe and metal sludge as a kid. But holy fuck, lyrically, it’s hella misogynistic! Billy tells the story of being a fuckboy and using a chick he calls both “dull” and “crazy” for sex. Yiiiiiikes!!! Thankfully, I stuck to the indie nerd-contingent of SP fanboys for my own ill-advised inter-fandom dating.
We Only Come Out At Night
Mark: The blurpy drum machine and auto-harp sounds that underpin this song are goofy as hell, but sort of work nicely with the song, which is sort of the Billy Corgan version of “Yellow Submarine”. Like “Yellow Submarine”, this song sucks. It probably has its proponents, but I they can start their own blogs to talk about it if they want to. This turd should have been ditched.
Shaunna: “We Only Come Out at Night” is goofy as hell. Something I realized recently was that the reason I could handle The Cure’s goofier songs, but not the Beatles’, was because at least The Cure’s goofy songs were about being horny. This song just sounds like Billy trying to make sure he has material for a Sesame Street guest spot, preferably with The Count.
Mark: Another atypical arrangement that isn’t doing it for me, “Beautiful” features layer upon layer of production flourishes that kind of smother the song. There are some nice chord progressions and vocal melodies at work here, but I don’t like the way that the vocals are performed at all. I think that there’s a good chance that I’m Pumpkins’d out and not properly judging this song on its own terms, but I think that given that it’s song, like, song number twenty-five of twenty-eight, this fatigue is an appropriate reaction to the listening experience of this album, and my dismissal of this song is valid and warranted.
Shaunna: I love this song!!! Billy in his lower, mumbly register, harmonizing with D’Arcy’s imperfect choirgirl vocals. It begins in a groove along to smooth chirps, chimes and pianos and it is a fucking vibe! There’s a “nah-nah-nah” bridge with some sitar flourishes that’s pretty Beatles-y, but in a good way. Though I will say the better Billy and D’Arcy duet is definitely their cover of Blondie’s “Dreaming” on the The Aeroplane Flies High boxset.
Lily (My One And Only)
Mark: Now they’re just fucking around.
I might think that this is cute on a shorter album. Actually, alright. This song is sweet enough. The gentle swing of the bass & drums marries up well with the piano, and the vocals have a plaintive feeling of longing that works well enough with the material. It’s a bit of a pastiche, but an entertaining one. This tune is very sweet, but not spectacular.
Shaunna: This song’s goofy af. It’s not a skip, and it’s not a fave. Again, a nice moment where Billy isn’t taking himself too seriously.
Mark: I dig the distorted, warbling organ that opens this track. And I hate the way that he sings the opening line, haha. Wow, yuck.
Otherwise, this is a fine singer-songwriter showcase that finds the band in a dreamy, languid mode. It’s a gentle presentation of the song, with some neat distorted elements joining in as the song concludes. Pretty nicely done. It’s solid enough writing, and well-performed overall.
I’m sorry to keep hammering this home, but Jesus Christ, you must have really had to have been a huge fan of this band to listen to this thing from front to back. Even the better songs are getting to be like sandpaper to my ears at this point.
Shaunna: “By Starlight” starts like a New Order song, then leads into a lush and romantic ballad. I was obsessed with all that stars and moons shit when I was a kid, and I’ve kind of re-embraced it in recent years. Unfortunately, this song actually just gets exhausting at the end. Weird, I used to love this one!
Farewell And Goodnight
Mark: I was pretty worried that they would end this collection with another 7+ minute song. Instead it’s just another four-minute “gentle boys” song. I haven’t really been following the “story” that this album is trying to tell, but I definitely get the sense that it’s reaching so hard to be romantic, it’s dislocated its shoulder and elbow.
Is the whole band singing on this one? That’s kind of nice to hear. They’re all at least as good at singing as Billy, so getting some variety doesn’t hurt the song. There are also some really nice and interesting harmony lines that weave through this tune.
This is, like, five or more low-energy songs in a row, though. It was probably intentional as a part of whatever day/night cycle this album was trying to portray, but as a listening experience this thing really starts to drag by the end. It ends with a whimper, friends.
I like things that bang.
Shaunna: Billy sounds like Big Bird on this. Fortunately, James, D’Arcy and Jimmy all lend a hand with vocals. I’m especially fond of James’s higher-register harmony vocals on the choruses. It’s a cute, pure-hearted lullabye and feels kinda cathartic as an ending? MCIS was their most collaborative album, and “Farewell and Goodnight” is great proof of teamwork making the (Siamese?) dream work.
Mark: To wrap this up, I will come out first and explain what didn’t surprise me about me about this record. I am not surprised that I think it is far, far, far too long. And while I know that things like this are a matter of opinion by nature… I think that I am right. The good material here would be better served by being a part of a shorter collection, and whatever large-scale strategy there was to tell a story here isn’t compelling enough to overcome the fact that this thing is just drowning in material that varies in quality. So much of it winds up being just okay, and that winds up being to the detriment of the stand-out material.
Okay, so that is the bit that was obvious to me going into this and remains obvious to me as I finish up. I would have been truly surprised if this wasn’t the case, because I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard a double album where this wasn’t the case. Point me to one if you don’t feel the same.
To end things on a more positive note, there were plenty of surprises for me in listening to this. The biggest surprise to me was just how much I liked a lot of it. I knew that there were a handful of good singles on this album, but I genuinely like a lot of these songs, and more than I would have expected given my overall opinion about The Smashing Pumpkins.
Some of these songs really rock harder than the previous two albums, and many of the songs feature very strong songwriting. The production is all over the place, but there are tunes on this that sound pretty amazing. There are obviously rockers on here that sound huge, but some of the more understated tracks are arranged in ways that are very surprising and clever.
I’ll never really like Billy Corgan’s voice, but I think that if this had been whittled down to one disc, it might have been my favourite record of theirs. And I already liked Siamese Dream more than I had expected.
As an experiment, I’m going to make my ideal one-disc version of this record. I will call it A Very Good Smashing Pumpkins Album. Let’s do a tracklisting:
- Bullet With Butterfly Wings
- Here Is No Why
- To Forgive
- Take Me Down
- Thirty Three
- Thru the Eyes of Ruby
- (Hidden Track) X.Y.U.
There. Now we’ve got The Smashing Pumpkins’ best record! Not a terrible song on there! It’s also the officially recognized best number of songs for an LP (10 w/ optional hidden 11th track). It’s a shame that I wasn’t hanging around with the Pumpkins when they made this album, because I really could have helped them. But alas, I was thirteen. And from Canada.
Here, I made you a Spotify playlist of A Very Good Smashing Pumpkins Album.
I’m actually going to listen to this from time to time! There’s a really good album hiding in Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness! A good enough album that if I continue on to review their subsequent releases, I feel pretty comfortable saying: It’s all downhill from here!
Shaunna: So, I loved this album as a kid but had become increasingly less fond of it in adulthood. For me, Siamese Dream is god-tier and Gish is chock full of fantasticness. But looking back, I was just so happy to have 28 songs by my favorite band! And when the B-sides came out? That was another 25 or so songs! MCIS is in no way a masterpiece, but it isn’t quite a disasterpiece either. The amount of filler on MCIS is completely bonkers when it comes down to it, but most of the songs have at least some melodic and songwriting redemptive qualities (except TOASE. I really hate TOASE).
Here’s my A Very Good Smashing Pumpkins Album track list. I’m doing 14 tracks to break it exactly in half, while resisting the temptation to replace everything with B-sides (I’ve said on occasion that my second-favorite Pumpkins record is the 1979 single).
- Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
- Tonight Tonight
- Here Is No Why
- In the Arms of Sleep
- Thru The Eyes of Ruby
- Cupid De Locke
- Porcelina of the Vast Oceans
- Take Me Down
Since I keep going on about B-sides, here’s some of the best from MCIS:
Set The Ray To Jerry
The Last Song
Mark, you’re right with your assessment – it’s all downhill from here. But I’m willing to do Adore and Machina: The Machines of God (LMAO) if you are. Anything post-Y2K doesn’t count!