Tuesday, November 27th 2012
Reviews: The Smashing Pumpkins
The re-release of Smashing Pumpkins‘ sprawling 1995 magnum opus double-disc epic Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness follows last year’s Gish and Siamese Dream reissues, as well as this year’s Pisces Iscariot, with a jaw-dropping collection of previously unreleased recordings, rarities and various other goodies in a variety formats. Mellon Collie‘s mid-nineties arrival delivered a seemingly endless stream of smash hits and fan favorites that represented deep colors in the rock tapestry of the time, making this five-CD reissue a breathlessly anticipated release.
And boy, does it deliver.
The set arrives in similar fashion to the deluxe Pumpkins reissues before it, sporting a treasure trove of unique packaging including personal notes, lyrics, new collage artwork, plus a kit for creating your own scenes from the Mellon Collie universe. The bonus content and special features were curated from the band’s archives by band nucleus and frontman Billy Corgan himself, and have been painstakingly remastered for the first time from the original master tapes by Bob Ludwig.
As Mellon Collie registered what was arguably the Pumpkins’ most dynamically excellent creative period (even according to Corgan), the slew of extra content is an unbelievable wet dream for fans.
Corgan explained the backstory on Methusela, just one of many unreleased tracks in the set, in a recent interview with the King Pumpkin: “I would say of all the songs, the one that’s always been very quizzical to me is a song called ‘Methuselah’. There’s a bootleg out there of it, but a really really rough copy of. And in fact at one point I even asked the fan to make me a copy because I thought that I had lost my original demo of it. I thought the tape was lost forever. So we have a fresh transfer of that song and a mix of it. And everyone who hears the song goes ‘Wow, this is areally good song,’ and I laugh and I say yeah, I never even played it for the band or Flood.
“It was one of those things, I got up in the morning, and I cut the song, and I just wrote down… I think the song deals very directly with my relationship with my father, and I think I just avoided the topic altogether. So it’s a song that probably should’ve been on Mellon Collie and Flood would’ve been all over it. And no one ever heard it, so it just sat there in the corner somewhere.”
The song is dreamily pensive, reflective and meandering, a true beauty in a collection of unearthed gems. The guitar and piano chords sweep through in synch, as Corgan looks upon “a wise old man… a wise young fool… a wise young man… a wise old fool,” nakedly surveying the broken relationship between the narrator and his father. “Nothing ever lasts,” he laments, as the song’s bleakness closes in, Billy’s melodies overlapping.
The variations on the familiar are pure fun, a deliciously indulgent trip through the myriad of alternate versions and demos. One can truly appreciate the ethereal beauty of Tonight, Tonight when all you hear are the strings (in the “strings Only” version, of course). A song called Speed follows an accelerated framework for the aforementioned hit, sped up until it explodes into an entirely different, fully-fleshed rocker. The demo for Thirty Three presents the instrumentation in much more of a prominent position, while a psychedelic element to the vocal layering is somewhat distracting.
Corgan brings the weird in plentitude as well, a necessity in such a deep catalogue of the Mellon Collie era – which in itself is a spectacle of kaleidoscopic oddity. The unheard, numbing Knuckles is bizarrely reminiscent of Stereolab, while the Joy Division cover Isolation has a plunky Destination Unknown vibe through a sheen of digi-grind cool. The demo for Eye, meanwhile, is a solo Corgan delivery, the vocals in your face and utterly raw over a distant piano. It’s an air of vulnerable restlessness.
A blizzard of instrumentals is also included, further fleshing out the Mellon Collie atmosphere. Fun Time‘s slow-plunk twangy-lead jam sounds nothing at all like Smashing Pumpkins as we know them, while the title-track song Mellon Collie and The infinite Sadness (Nighttime Version 1) is gorgeous and psychedelic – achingly so. Dizzle centers on lo-fi metronomic chopping countering understated minor chords with a very nice conclusion, meanwhile, as Ascending Guitars delivers on the literal title through a bright rotation of loveliness in a circular riff. Beautiful gets a double-reworking, a driven instrumental after a foggy, digitally chilly rendition, while Chinoise presents a reflective piano piece, rising and retreating, only a minute and change long.
If Josh Homme hijacked Billy Corgan’s mind and hands, we would have a much more suitable context for the crushing vocal-free ride that is Phang. A song featured in clip on the 23-minute Pastichio Medley composition, Phang was featured in two clips of the compilation that arrived on the Aeroplane Flies High box release. It’s cocky, dangerous and muscular – this one could’ve been an album game-changer on the original Mellon Collie release.
Feelium and New Waver are deeper cuts from the Pastichio Medley, the latter a powerful instrumental mix with chopping rhythm and a squealing lead which may as well be a vocal. Another Pastichio clip, Zoom gives a low-end groove feel similar to Nirvana’s Blew – fans will love this instrumental. Speaking of the riff-clip patchwork, there is one particularly chaotic clip on the fifth disc – the Pastachio Medley (Reversed Extras) clip, a numbing blast collection of unused jam fragments in reverse.
Indulgence seeps through, but no complaints are justified on such a dynamically varied collection. Beautiful is just one long and pretty guitar solo, for instance, but that doesn’t mean it’s a throwaway. 1979 (Sadlands Demo) is missing the ethereal magic of the Mellon Collie charm, but the song’s strength shows in its basic form. Blast is the buzzing 90s power-rock instrumental we’d get high to as kids, the bright and dangerous instrumental that served a perfect soundtrack to driving around screaming at the sky like the invincible children we were.
I could do this for days. But you’re better off picking up this monster for yourself. The Mellon Collie magic is thick through the entirety of the collection, a magnificent ode to the power and depth of what many consider to be the most important collection of compositions the Smashing Pumpkins ever released.
The Mellon Collie reissue arrives Dec. 3. Preorder the album and keep up with the Smashing Pumpkins at their official site.
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