Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
First Appeared in The Music Box, September/October 1996, Volume 3, #7
Written by John Metzger
This has been quite a year for the Smashing Pumpkins, and what was supposed to be a transitional effort has turned into a career-defining masterpiece. Indeed, for all its melodramatic self-indulgence, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is one of the best double albums of new material to be released by anyone in a long time. From the opening strains of the beautifully melodic title track to the orchestrated hit single Tonight, Tonight, the stage is set for two hours of ambitious artistry.
Throughout Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, front man Billy Corgan reflects on the passing of his youth and the transitions that have taken place in his life. Success is not without a price, as Corgan croons: Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness, and cleanliness is godliness, and god is empty just like me. Talk about a vicious circle. Elsewhere, Corgan expresses his disgust with being stuck — despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage — yet he's not sure he can escape his dark wormhole.
Even so, there's a hopefulness that appears, too, and perhaps it is rooted in the belief that the transitional nature of the music will help him to break free. True, his optimism is guarded, and it reveals itself sporadically. Yet, Corgan seems to have faith in the knowledge that things can change, even if he isn't quite sure of the path to take — believe that life can change, that you're not stuck in vain. As a result, Corgan reflects upon his life, searching frantically for the spot where his soul stood still.
The music is tight, and the songs are cohesive, as one slides into the next with a deliberate sense of desperation. James Iha has developed into a fantastic guitarist, and he really manages to capture the mood of Corgan's songs. They're not all tear-it-up rockers either, and unlike Today or Disarm, the mellower material carries more weight and interest. Cupid de Locke, for example, is a floating, lofty tune that invokes a style that is reminiscent of The Beach Boys, and this theme reappears later in Iha's Take Me Down.
Towards the end of the first disc, Corgan, although unsure, accepts the changes that seem to have found him — I won't deny the pain, I won't deny the change. As his metamorphosis begins, he wonders if the world will still accept him. Porcelina of the Vast Oceans creeps in and drags Corgan into the slipstream of his subconscious. Iha's Take Me Down drives home the point, as Corgan drifts into the waters of change that surround him.
During the first half of the second disc of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Corgan finds himself reflecting further on his life before deciding to turn off his emotions. He painfully sings: I lie just to be real. I'd die just to feel. Why do the same old things keep on happening? Because beyond my hopes there are no reasons.
As Corgan traverses his life, he realizes he is not understood, and perhaps this is where he lost himself. His memories stir as each relationship flashes back before his eyes.
Throughout the second act, Corgan explores a variety of musical styles, offering glimpses at a sampling of other similarly misunderstood artists such as Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd. In the end, love is the answer as Corgan peers through his window in the Beatle-esque Lily (My One and Only).
Even in this final relationship, Corgan asks: Does she really know who I really am? Does she really know me at last? Iha caps off Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness with another delicate song titled Farewell and Goodnight. Co-written with Corgan, the pair leave the listener with a final thought: The sun shines, but I don't. A silver rain will wash away, and you can tell it's just as well. Goodnight, my love, to every hour in every day. Goodnight, always, to all that's pure in your heart.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 1996 The Music Box