You don’t have to like Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan. He’s arrogant, he’s prickly, he’s notoriously difficult to work with and has been known to repeatedly troll his fans for his own amusement. However, when he makes his grand proclamations regarding his band and its associated greatness, you can’t argue with him because he’s able to back it up.
Ridiculous guitar chops aside, the Smashing Pumpkins have always been defined by the ambitiousness of their projects. Double-album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness might have been a bloated double-album, but as far as double-albums go it was one of the best. It’s also commendable that in the 90′s Corgan had the chutzpah to try making one. (plus, every double-album is bloated by its own definition.) It was followed by the collector-friendly box-set The Aeroplane Flies High which was filled with extended versions of the singles from Mellon-Collie. Adore was a dud but highly experimental for its time. The two-parter Machina had its first half released on disc while its sequel was one of the first albums to be legally distributed digitally for free. The Teargarden by Kaleidyscope project was originally intended to be a 44-song “collection” released digitally but instead has been broken up into three sub-albums, Oceania, Monuments To An Elegy and Day For Night (the last of which is scheduled for release in 2015). I guess the only thing that tops a double-album is a triple-album!
Oceania was every bit the epic one would expect from such an undertaking. It had a couple fierce tracks in “Quasar” and “Panopticon”. The title track acted as the requisite meandering jam (every Smashing Pumpkins record seems to have one) and “Pinwheels” played with textures.
This leaves me puzzled by the second release, Monuments To An Elegy. At a lean 33 minutes it is almost literally half the album that hour-long Oceania was. The album, consisting of nine synth-infused rockers with varying levels of pop-affectation, fails to deliver any standout tracks. The heaviest of the bunch “One and All” is the best of a weak selection, as the sleazy “Anti-Hero” is mediocre by Corgan’s standards and the U2-esque “Run2me” is mediocre by anyone’s.
Obviously I’m not expecting Corgan to turn back the clock and try to release Gish again. I was actually a defender of Zeitgest and found plenty to like on Oceania if not all of it. But after repeated listens I was just unable to get into Monuments. I’ll be happy to let it pass me by and will see what next year’s Day For Night brings.
Avid Smashing Pumpkins fans may eat this one up, but to anyone looking to get into the band, there are plenty of better albums to get started on.