Sunday, January 13, 2019

NON METAL MONTH 2019: The Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Moar like Infinite BADness amirite lmao

I'm gonna admit something straight away, and that's that I knew practically fuck all nothing about Smashing Pumpkins prior to like last week or so.  I decided that I wanted to cover alternative rock in some fashion during this month, and this was a band that stuck out as one of those hugely inescapable ones from my youth.  You young'uns who weren't around before the internet may not remember how hard it was to randomly stumble upon new music back pre-internet.  You had to put in some serious legwork to find cool shit back in the day.  I was just a kid in the 90s, so it's not like I was involved in the underground tape trading scene, nor could I really loiter around cool record stores.  As such, all I really had to expand my horizons were the radio, MTV, and my mom's collection of metal CDs from the 80s.  So for this reason, I have something of a soft spot for bands that were big in those former two avenues that had some semblance of a rock edge to them (thanks to my maternal diet of Metallica, Anthrax, and Pantera, I always preferred heavy music), so heavy hitters like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and such were big for me.  Pumpkins here, always seemed like something of an enigma in that scene, not just because of their geographical displacement (they're from Chicago as opposed to Seattle) but also because my memory of them was also so much wimpier than their contemporaries in the scene they found themselves lumped into.  I figured hey, I'll give them a shot and explore a band I don't really know anything about as opposed to something I've been intimately familiar with for most of my life.

I picked Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness to review almost entirely because the album cover was familiar to me and because I used to hang out almost exclusively with guitar nerds in the mid 2000s, and they all seemed to love this album regardless of what their preferred genre was.

Little did I know, I was making a terrible fucking mistake.

For example, did you know this album is two hours long??  I certainly fucking didn't!  I didn't know shit about this band!  One of the very few songs of theirs I know is "Today" and I was stunned to learn it wasn't even on this album!  It's got like thirty fucking songs on it, and if you're a fool like me who just looked it up on Spotify instead of digging around local garage sales to find it, you'll also learn the remastered deluxe edition has ninety-fucking-two songs on it and runs nearly six fucking hours.  Six hours!  I did the math, in that span of time I could drive to Green Bay, shit on Lambeau Field, and drive back home.  I could slow cook a five pound roast!  I could 100% speedrun Mega Man X like eleven times!  I could disappoint 270.76 women!  Fuckin' hell, Billy Corgan, did you not self-edit at all when writing this album?

After several failed attempts to sit through this behemoth, I finally managed it and discovered that no, he didn't.  The gargantuan length for an album in this style is bad enough, but the true crime is that it's an overambitious disaster.  Corgan described the album at the time as "The Wall for Gen X", and while that may be true in the sense that pompous navel-gazing dweebs give the album far more credit than it deserves, it couldn't be further from the mark in terms of songwriting.  Roger Waters and David Gilmour may be certified fart sniffers but they can write some engaging tunes, and The Wall has plenty of classic songs that I don't mind listening to.  It runs through many moods and motifs, and overall at least feels like something that was done on purpose.  Infinite Sadness here feels like a distended jam session that was accidentally released as a double LP and only runs through precisely two moods: frustrated hormonal adolescent tantrums and turgid sentimentalist wangst.

When I first drafted this review in my head, I had like six paragraphs worth of complaining ready directed solely towards Billy Corgan's voice.  I wanted to talk about how I legitimately started laughing during the chorus of "Tonight, Tonight" or how his nasal wimpiness made even the more aggressive sections sound like they were being screamed over by a feeble dork, but it's not really necessary.  No, I can sum it all up in one sentence.  "He sounds like a kazoo."  There you go, that's his entire vocal style.  He sounds like a plastic toy that Weird Al frequently utilizes as a joke.  Fuck this guy and fuck his stupid voice.  I remember everybody in the 90s sounding really nasally but I'm starting to wonder if it's just a matter of this dingus tainting my memory, because holy fuck is he irritating.

Musically, like I said, this bloated whoopee cushion is prone to some devastating tonal whiplash.  Apparently the only two things the band knows how to do are heavy, noisy rock anthems and waify, wiggly-necked shoegazing dreampop.  The latter category seems to take up the most time, with two smash singles being ubiquitous Q101 staples ("Tonight, Tonight" and "1979"), while the former category had two other big hits that were inescapable at the time ("Zero" and, possibly their most enduring track, "Bullet with Butterfly Wings"), but if you take those four singles away you're left almost exclusively with half hearted filler regardless of which mood they're aiming for.  I don't remember how "In the Arms of Sleep", "Beautiful", "Cupid de Locke" "An Ode to No One", "Here Is No Why", or pretty much anything else even goes.  It's just a blur of distortion and flittery jangles that leave no lasting impression whatsoever.

There are few hidden standouts here, and most of the other memorable moments are memorable more for their embarrassing cringiness.  Just check out that fucking endlessly repeating "Love is suuuuwiiiciiiiide" part on "Bodies".  As a fan of metal, a genre where lyrics really don't matter, I tend to just kind of tune out the actual words for most things I listen to and just focus on the hooks, but man his whiny bullshit is inescapable here.  There's so much woe-is-me self righteous horseshit here and it gave me secondhand embarrassment.  It made me recoil in horror at the shit I used to say and whine about when I was 15.  You know the dumb saga of Sheldon Noodlespine and Annabelle Gobelcocque that I weave into Arsis reviews?  Yeah that's pretty much the exact same thing here.  You want to know how bad it truly is?  Just listening to all of the "aw shucks my life is just the worst" crap coming from a millionaire rockstar reminded me of how hard I thought I had it as a middle class white kid in a burgeoning boomtown simply because whoever I was crushing on that particular school year (rightly) thought I was a gross weirdo, and that in turn reminded me that oh fuck I used to say shit like this on my Xanga page back in 2005.  The lyrics on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness were so bad that they reminded me that fucking Xanga existed.  I just went back and deleted that shit without reading it.  You'll never find it.  Thank god.

There's really no need for this to be as long as it is, especially considering there doesn't seem to be any thematic intention beyond simple grandiosity.  It would've been really easy (nay, logical) to put all of the rock songs on one disc and the dreampop on the other, but god forbid there's anything approaching tonal consistency here!  Instead it just kinda jumps around everywhere.  The album opens with soft piano intro before segueing into the soft "Tonight, Tonight", which I suspect is supposed to be this grand overture prefacing the journey the album is supposed to take us on, but really it just sounds like a weak muzak with an orchestra shoehorned in.  This wispy nonsense gives way to "Jellybelly", which is an aggressive and surprisingly heavy song with a lot of adrenaline despite the human-oboe hybrid that is Billy Corgan's voice.  That sort of flip flopping sequence of events happens constantly throughout Infinite Sadness, and it happens without any sort of predictable cadence.  Maybe you'll get three light ballads in a row before a rock song, or maybe you'll get the exact opposite, maybe the song will be nine minutes long despite nothing at all happening in it, who knows!

I'm being kinda mean though, because it's not like this is the worst album ever or anything.  There are things I like about it, though I don't think they're the things the band wants to be remembered for.  Maybe it's predictable coming from a metal fan, but it's the odd heavy moment here that tends to stick out, and I think that's because Corgan and Co. really do just seem to be better at crafting noisy rock songs than pleasant dreampop, despite that arguably being their bread and butter considering the biggest hit from this album is "1979".  Nah, for real, "Jellybelly" isn't a bad song at all, it's a fun, go-ahead rock song with some real drive behind it.  "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans" is way too fucking long at 9+ minutes, but that riff that comes in at 2:12 sounds like it just crashes through a wall.  One thing that I noticed while reading up on the band is that Smashing Pumpkins were apparently unique in the scene for A) Disavowing any sort of punk rock lineage that contemporaries like Nirvana and Pearl Jam embraced, while B) being open metal fans in an era when metal was the least cool shit in the world.  Corgan didn't give a fuck about The Clash, but he adored Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, and it shows at times.  This is most exemplified in "X.Y.U." and "Tales of a Scorched Earth".  The former is probably the darkest and heaviest song on the album, a 7 minute monolith of Sabbath-cum-Nirvana stomping darkness, complete with demented and distorted screaming that gives way to a devastating accelerando.  Then there's "Tales of a Scorched Earth" which, honestly, is an obvious filler track, but it stands out for being the most aggressively metallic song on display.  I mean really, that opening riff is one note away from being the riff between the bridge and final chorus on Pantera's "Strength Beyond Strength".  Surely I'm not the first person to notice that, right?  Really, it's so obvious, Corgan even called Dimebag Darrel his favorite contemporary guitarist, this has to be intentional.

But really, there's only one song here that I can ever see myself listening to again, and that's their other biggest hit outside of "1979" and "Today".  Yeah that's right, the terminally embarrassing "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" is a genuinely phenomenal song.  The chorus is iconic, but at the same time there's no doubt that "DESPIIIITE ALL MY RAGE I'M STIIIIILL JUST A RAT IN A CAGE" is just the "CRAAAAAAWLING IIIIIIIN MY SKIIIIIN" for people born five to ten years before me.  I don't even care if it's the Unofficial Impotent Angst Anthem, it works.  I don't know if that whiny voice I hate so much works so much here specifically because it sounds like such a futile rebellion in the first place, but I don't mind it at all this time.  It's probably just because that main hook is fucking incredible.  Not one second of this song is wasted, it's a tightly crafted and hyper focused shot of teenage frustration that explodes excellently.  I don't know why they could never replicate the brilliance of this song, I seriously put it right next to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" when it comes to the 90s rock canon.

As for the light songs, they all sound like nothing.  "1979" stands out for being "that one song with the whirring whale song noise that was all over the radio in 1995" and for at least having a pulse.  "We Only Come Out at Night" is also at least somewhat memorable for endlessly looping refrain and the fact that it sounds like everybody is playing really tiny instruments, but the rest of it is purely filler.  Yes, even "Tonight, Tonight" is a filler song, admit it.  This isn't me being an idiot headbanger, this is me appreciating music of all stripes with the caveat of "as long as something actually happens", which is the album's chief offense.  The crushing length is a problem for sure, but the fact that it's so empty is the biggest reason the length is so killer.  If it was loaded with songs like "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" and "X.Y.U." it would at least have some momentum.  But it's not.  It's loaded with go-nowhere bullshit like "Thirty-Three" and "Love".

There's a decent album in here somewhere, but it's just so bloated with dead air that it takes serious legwork to uncover.  I'm not kidding when I say you could cut out twenty songs and wind up with a decent final product.  If they had focused on the rock songs and only kept two or three of the airy dreampop songs they could have used them as welcome breaks or pleasant interludes, but instead they engorge the album to unreasonable lengths with them and sprinkle it with incongruent blasts of a parrot lashing out against his parrot-dad.  I never thought I'd find myself doing a Bastard Cut for a Smashing Pumpkins album of all fucking things, but here we are.  Try cutting out almost all of the go-nowhere ballads save a few for the sake of variety and switching some stuff around and see how much better the album is this way.  I propose:

Jellybelly
Bullet with Butterfly Wings
An Ode to No One
Zero
1979
Here Is No Why
Tales of a Scorched Earth
Stumbleine
Where Boys Fear to Tread
X.Y.U.

By cutting out... well, almost the whole album, you get a much more cohesive experience.  Axe all the bullshit theatrics, this never needed to be a double album, we didn't need the pretentious string section in the dull and irritating "Tonight, Tonight" or the self-congratulatory fart-sniffery of "Farewell and Goodnight", we just needed some straight ahead hooks and memorable earworms.  "Jellybelly" actually works very well as an opener, and it's a good idea to frontload mainstream-oriented albums like this with all the best songs at the beginning to catch casual listeners' attention, so the lone great track, "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" goes in the second spot.  "Ode to No One", while filler, keeps the pace consistent before delivering a one-two punch of hit singles with the loud "Zero" and the flittery ballad of "1979".  "Here Is No Why" and "Tales of a Scorched Earth" are pretty much only here to pad the tracklist up to ten, but they're the ones I picked because neither of them are agonizingly long and both at least have some sort of bite to them, while "Stumbleine" is just the only other soft song that's at least moderately okay, likely because it's so short, while the final two tracks act as a buildup before an explosion of monumental venom.  There's no fixing how fucking boring most of these songs are, and the fact that of the album's two moods, the angry side is only marginally less dull than the almost uniformly emotional weepiness of the dreamy light songs leaves us with slim pickings for the rest of the album.  Even after cutting out eighteen tracks to make a 10 track single disc, we're still floundering with only three or four truly good songs.  Fuckin' yikes.

I get that this album is incredibly influential and went on to sell more copies than I can ever dream of sneezing at, but the fact of the matter is that it's an incredibly self-important disaster with tons of ambition but very few actual ideas.  Listening to this, you really get the sense that the band thought they were wearing way bigger britches than they actually were, because all of this dead serious grandeur just comes off so fucking hollow and full of itself, especially when the mask slips to show how petty and whiny the lyrics that drive all of the songs are.  Is anybody here familiar with the third Oasis album?  See, that one was also torturously long, bloated with long, repetitive songs written by a pair of egomaniacs on a fuckload of cocaine who thought they were gonna be the next Beatles because they wrote a ten minute song with three key changes in the out-chorus.  Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is kinda similar in the sense that it was primarily written by only one egomaniac in a band hopped up on enough drugs to take out a fucking Titan, trying to write their own version of The Wall or The White Album by virtue of cramming in over two dozen tracks of self-important crying without any editing or self awareness.  The difference is that the general listening public saw right through Oasis's bullshit and laughed them into irrelevance, while Smashing Pumpkins was whisked away on a cloud of endless praise.  I don't get it.  Maybe it's me, but I just don't get it.  This is a distended mess of nothing-songs and I hate almost all of it barring a couple songs.


RATING: 32%

PS - There's really nowhere to put this, but in doing research on this album and the band itself, I came across endless praise for Jimmy Chamberlain's drumming.  I've just gotta ask... why?  He's not bad or anything, but he seems perfectly serviceable and not particularly special in any way.  He just sounds like any regular ass rock drummer to me.  Somebody please explain this to me.

5 comments:

  1. I love this album; when I listen to it, I listen all the way through. I used to cut out some of the ...*cough*... less "essential" tracks like "Cupid de Locke" or what have you, but I think there's something to experiencing the whole damn thing in one sitting.

    I'm not sure what that something is, exactly, and by no means am I recommending anyone else do the same.

    Anyway, no mention of "Thru the Eyes of Ruby"? It's one of the best songs on the album, and it's not wishy-washy bullshit. Then again, you sound pretty ambivalent toward "Ode to No One"...and that's ALSO one of the best songs on the album.

    I feel the same way about Chamberlin's drumming. Always preferred Matt Cameron.

    I dunno, if you ever check out Adore maybe you'll figure it out.

    That "Bastard Cut" is pretty good, actually.

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  2. I remember one of my closest friends recommending this band to me when I was in high school (and wasn't listening to much metal then). Billy Corgan's voice sounds like he's constantly breathing with his mouth on your face and it fucking stinks like ass.

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  3. Siamese Dream is like 5 times better than this one.

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    1. As for the drumming praise, just put some good headphones and listen to the mindblowingly fun drumming in geek usa, cheers.

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  4. SeƱor Blue Balls the AnnihilatorNovember 20, 2019 at 3:34 PM

    This review wasn't even remotely funny. Despite all your rage, you're still just an insufferable reviewer of the most rancid garbage to ever dishonor the music industry. Billy Corgan, whom my brother so eloquently referred to as a "fat bald faggot" is the whiniest piece of shit I wish that I never heard. You say inescapable, it's more like this horrendous audio abomination hunted you down and screeched a lullaby in your ear after it wrestled you to the ground and inserted itself punitively and audaciously up your Hershey highway. You could go nowhere and do nothing in the AIDS-ridden decade we begrudgingly call the 90's except being pelted in the face by the hot mess called alternative rock with The Smashing Buttholes leading that gay rights parade. No cacophonous squawk from the netherworld would hold a lit match to that suicide-inducing clamor. Nothing ever came close to the Colon Colostomy and the Infinite Shittiness with its diluted format making plain water seem like Everclear (not the band, the 190 proof vodka) and the tonsil-ripping, cock-down-the-throat insistence upon its own artistic merits. They were kidding, right? No, sadly, they weren't. This is a haunting memory of the abyss that was the 1990's, where jerking off to Britney Spears wearing her vinyl jump suit in Oops!...I Farted Again was the best way to pass that shitstorm by. I wanted nothing more than to spank my meat against a framed picture of ol' Brit and squirt my manbatter upon it. If not for that, I would have thrown myself into any pipe leading to a sewer plant and suffocated on a plastic bag containing things which are too vile for even my sorry cunt to post here about. I will spare you the damage, good sir.

    "The takeaway here is that some punishment is undeserved and unavoidable. No one, no matter how undesirable, no matter how many lifetime sentences and death penalties they have been charged with for crimes against humanity, should bear this draconian amercement." -some cockgobbler on the internet

    Rating: This is impossible to quantify. Not even Einstein could arrive at an equation to attempt a figure at how worthless this turgid sack of pig shit is. Not Gauss, Euclid, Newton, Euler, Pythagoras, Archimedes and fucking Descartes engaging in a hot, sweaty, grunting exchange of numbers could ever contribute the answer. Don't even try, man. Just think happy thoughts and recede within your shell while a cavalry of ultrasaurs stamps a mass extinction crater into that darling little fuckhole you call an anus.

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