As part of our Looking Back series, Spencer Scott revists a ’90s alt-rock double album classic.
Here’s a bit of news: The Smashing Pumpkins’Mellon Collie And The InfiniteSadnesshas just turned 20 years old. That’s right; your teen angst is now old enough to be studying a Bachelor of Arts while getting absolutely smashed on the weekend.
Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness was released on October 24, 1995. Alternative music had firmly arrived in popular culture, with guitar bands ruling the airwaves. Even the death of Kurt Cobain and the first wave grunge movement didn’t seem to hamper the popularity of the broader style, and The Smashing Pumpkins were standing on the precipice after the release of Siamese Dream, an album that ironically landed them the label of “the next Nirvana”.
Chicago’s Billy Corgan and co. went straight from a world tour into the next album, and when the recording sessions for Mellon Collie were done, the band had a massive 57 tracks to choose from – a far cry from the struggles of writer’s block that delayedSiamese Dream. Those 57 songs were narrowed down to 32, and then 28, for the record’s release as a double album (or a triple album if you’re a vinyl fan).
In the history of rock music, most double albums tend to fail when fans ask the question, “Couldn’t this just have been a single album?” Having enough quality songs to justify a second CD (or third; I’m looking at you, Green Day) is where some bands fall flat, but The Smashing Pumpkins had the intention to make it last. Corgan described the album as “The Wall for Generation X”.
It’s fair to say Mellon Collie is Pink Floyd-esque in scope. The Smashing Pumpkins had a way of playing with texture and dynamics that bands are still trying to emulate today. It’sa sprawling album that puts the soft balladry of ‘Take Me Down’ right next to the proto-nu-metal guitar of ‘Where Boys Fear To Tread’.
It also runs the full spectrum of instrumentation: ‘Tonight, Tonight’ features the 30-piece Chicago Symphony Orchestra, ‘To Forgive’ features only one guitar track, whereas ‘Thru The Eyes Of Ruby’ features 70. They even used salt and pepper shakers on one song – texture is everything on this album, and The Smashing Pumpkins knew how to create it.
Even in hindsight, calling the album “The Wallfor Generation X” isn’t hyperbole. The album landed in the middle of a post-grunge haze, and disenfranchised teenagers around the world flocked to it. The record is a little cheesy and self-indulgent, yes, but so is a teenager. This was an albumforteenagers, or at least the teenager inside of you.
Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadnesswent to number one in Australia, going four times platinum in the process. It landed in top ten charts around the world, including in the United States, New Zealand, UK, Portugal and Spain. At the 1997 Grammy Awards, the band got nominated in seven different categories, and won Best Hard Rock Performance for ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’.
The album spawned five singles, including the song above and the absolutely classic ‘1979’. An extended world tour followed, Corgan spending most of this time with a shaved head, silver pants, and the now iconic ‘Zero’ shirt. The Smashing Pumpkins were one of the most popular alternative acts in the world, even scoring a cameo on one of the very best episodes of The Simpsons.
The follow-up to Mellon Collie At The Infinite Sadness was inevitably highly anticipated. The pressure to create another landmark album, combined with interpersonal problems, a divorce, and an unsettled lineup, all led to Adore; an album Corgan described as “a band falling apart”. Critics still had some love for The Smashing Pumpkins, but it wasn’t what their fans where looking for.
Jumping to the modern day, The Smashing Pumpkins are around, but they’re not the same. Corgan is the only original member remaining (besides ‘sometimes member’, the masterful drummer Jimmy Chamberlin). The Pumpkins are still active, at least when Corgan isn’t writing storylines for a B-grade wrestling promotion in the US. They released their ninth studio album Monuments To An Elegy last eyar, and came to Australia as part of the 2015 Soundwave Festival.
But by rock standards,Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness had a pretty quiet birthday. The album already received its mandatory ‘remastered reissue’ back in 2012; a five-disc set that includes 64 bonus tracks and a DVD of two live shows from the era.
Corgan told NME that there would be no anniversary shows, saying “I’ve got absolutely no interest in looking back,” but the consensus seems to be that maybe The Smashing Pumpkins aren’t a band that’s supposed to live in the present.