WHEN it comes to double albums they can be one of two things; fantastic, or a flop. Fortunately for the Smashing Pumpkins, their third studio album was the former, and thankfully, as tensions in the band were sky high after the release of Siamese Dream. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is widely regarded as one of the best double albums ever made. Its mixture of grungy guitars and lighter, alt-rock numbers is used to demonstrate the transition between sunset and sunrise.
With its turn of the century artwork and music video direction, the album begins by fittingly enough with the opener (simply named the same as the album), a smooth instrumental number with some lovely piano playing, and the track ‘Tonight Tonight’. One of the best songs on this album, ‘Tonight Tonight’ throws some great, simplistic alt-rock music with the lush tones of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra brilliantly clashing with Billy Corgan’s own nasally vocals. But just when this track has taken us to heaven and back, we’re plunged into ‘Jellybelly’, one of the grungiest tracks on the album. This track makes even Nirvana’s earlier material sound like light, and introduces the listener to another side of the album.
Indeed, the first half of this album contains some heavy bangers that reinstate the Pumpkins’ heavy attitude that was exhibited on Siamese Dream. Songs like ‘Zero’, ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’ and ‘An Ode To No One’ that hold some explosive riffs that border on heavy metal. They’re dynamite songs, but the real surprise comes when you transition from, say ‘An Ode to No One’ into ‘Love’, a largely electronic number that has a chugging bass and drum beat with Corgan sounding like he’s singing down a phone line with a bad connection. And then from there you go into the, quite frankly, beautiful ‘Cupid De Locke’, with an enchanting harp rhythm and minimal guitar work. And it’s these curveballs that make Mellon Collie… a successful double album. It’s all very well having an album of heavy numbers, it worked fantastically on Siamese Dream, but risked becoming boring on a double album.
With part one closing with the wonderfully epic ‘Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans’ and the James Iha sung ‘Take Me Down’, side two takes to the stage. Lovingly named ‘Twilight to Starlight’ (after part one’s ‘Dawn to Dusk’), this side doesn’t perhaps capture the imagination as much as its predecessor. The trend of switching from grunge gusto to tender numbers continues, but seven minute long numbers ‘Thru the Eyes of Ruby’ and ‘X.Y.U.’ drag this side back, both being heavy, long winded, solo-ridden numbers that aren’t expertly placed for a double album.
That’s not to say that this side is without some totally fantastic tracks. ‘1979’ is another one of the best songs the Pumpkins have ever done; with Corgan’s vocal loops and the very chilled, yet very summery guitar riffs, it fits perfectly into any youthful 90’s mix. ‘Stumbeline’ is a simple, stripped back song that intersects to two monolith seven minuters, and then there’s the weirdly rhythmic ‘We Only Come Out at Night’. With a final number fittingly titled ‘Farewell and Goodnight’, the album draws to a close, an eclectic mix of hard, soft and twisted rock.
Mellon Collie… might be the Pumpkin’s magnum opus, but it massive length and bulky later track weigh it down. There are some killer tracks on this album though, enough to bring the band to the mainstream and keep them there for a few more years. After Mellon Collie… their lineup and style would begin to change, and this album represents what could probably be considered as the last of the true Pumpkins. And like the Smashing Pumpkins, it’s loud, it’s twisted, it’s faulted, but exciting nonetheless.
You can follow Andrew on Twitter.