Words by Matthew Thomas. @matthew5thomas. Wednesday 26th April, 2017.
Back in 1995 when The Smashing Pumpkins announced a double album, the media to their panicked record company and their own fans prematurely deemed the LP to be a commercial suicide. Still, to this day, it’s certainly something alternative rock bands did not attempt. It’s widely conceived that double LP releases are usually confined to a greatest hits release to celebrate success, or in some cases, the demise of a band. Oasis springs to mind with ‘Time Flies’. In fairness, there are some very rare exceptions, the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. These bands are all super-league bands who had already reached a level where anything released would sell in their tens of millions.
Released 22 years ago, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness remains a standout album, putting to one side the commercial peak that the band enjoyed after its release, it’s arguably the last big record of the alternative rock era. After Mellon Collie, bands such as Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and the Pumpkins themselves (all of whom have either released music or are either still touring) would struggle to carry the momentum created by Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’.
One of the most varied, far-reaching rock records of the last 30 years, the LP moves from gentle melodies such as ‘Thirty-Three’ to ear-splitting, heavy metal crescendos. Mellon Collie is the masterpiece that wasn’t meant to be. With frontman Billy Corgan aiming to fill the void between himself and the world, Mellon Collie showcases the relentless song writing streak Corgan went on for this album. Similar to other magnificent double albums, Corgan fluctuates between band member and solo artist. What’s remarkable is that, across the album, the quality remains consistently high and the record avoids any ‘filler’ tracks.
Take the single ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’ has developed into renowned, turn to Pumpkins song. The single possess’ a menacing rage, powered by drummer Jimmy Chamberlin’s thundering beats and is topped off with a gigantic dose of intimidating distortion. If you know just one line of the Pumpkins work, it’s more than likely Corgan screaming: “Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage” on the song’s chorus. The one that everybody can agree on and bask in the brilliance of is ‘1979’. A track that is youth-obsessed, it’s one of the few times where secondary school can be remembered fondly.
Tonight Tonight is an emotionally charged rush that can only be described as escapism. ‘Zero’ is a straight up grunge tune and ’33’ is a nostalgic whirlwind. These songs don’t even sound like the same band, let alone the same record. There’s more tolerant, collaborative approach on Mellon Collie compared to Siamese Dream. The famously dictatorial Corgan slackening the creative and productive reins. Both Siamese Dream and 1991 debut Gish had been played, written and performed almost entirely by Corgan and Chamberlin, with guitarist James Iha and bass player D’arcy Wretzky barely adding any creative input.
This record represents a confident band, sensing that they have moved into their own, majestic phase in time. With the band operating at the peak of their powers, they headlined the Reading festival three months earlier with a setlist featuring 75% new material and still had fans and critics craving more. That confidence played big factor in Mellon Collie’s success: its secret weapon was nonsensical ambition and the ruthlessness required to pull it off.
Released: October 1995
1. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
2. Tonight, Tonight
5. Here Is No Why
6. Bullet with Butterfly Wings
7. To Forgive
8. Fuck You (An Ode to No One)
10. Cupid de Locke
13. Porcelina of the Vast Oceans
14. Take Me Down
15. Where Boys Fear to Tread
18. In the Arms of Sleep
20. Tales of a Scorched Earth
21. Thru the Eyes of Ruby
24. We Only Come Out at Night
26. Lily (My One and Only)
27. By Starlight
28. Farewell and Goodnight