Playing God
The Smashing Pumpkins: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

popular musicians owe it to listeners not to make double albums. This is especially true in the age of the CD, in which a double album is potentially much longer than a double vinyl album. Attention spans are shorter now, and unless artists have a concept requiring exposition or heaps upon heaps of great songs, listeners shouldn't have to endure increased prices and hours of fat to get to the meat of albums. Whatever happened to "all killer, no filler"? At the very least, artists can follow System of a Down's example, and realize that releasing separate albums not only makes material more digestible, but can also increase sales.

The Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness certainly lived up to the "infinite" aspect. At 28 songs and over two hours, it dwarfed the band's previous studio album, the sprawling Siamese Dream. Balls-out rockers and tender ballads were present as before, but the sonic palette now included pianos, strings, and electronics presaging Adore, SP's Depeche Mode album. The result was an exhausting, forbidding listen. Fans agreed that the album was good, but few people actually sat down and listened to the whole thing. This was a shame; beyond the obvious singles and turgid opuses like "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans" and "Thru the Eyes of Ruby" (nine and seven minutes long, respectively) lay some interesting, heartfelt songs, particularly at the end of disc two.

Here's my attempt to make Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness manageable. In just under an hour, there are 15 tracks. All the hit singles are present, except for "Thirty-Three," which seemed not to fit anywhere without disturbing the flow. Sadly, the Beatles-esque "Beautiful" missed the cut for the same reason. I've omitted conventional rockers like "Jellybelly" or "Bodies," which were live favorites but were "Pumpkins-by-the-numbers" and don't stand up to repeated listens. Thus, the track order is 1/3 rocking and 2/3 not; the non-rocking songs were what made this album interesting.

There are many different ways to sequence an album: a live set, a DJ set, or a "driving in the car" set. The latter approach would have required "1979" kicking things off (imagine—cassette adapter, iPod, "What should we listen to?", "You pick"). But I opted for a combination of live set and DJ set, with track order based on speed, key, sonic quality, and overall flow. Try this out, and see what you think.

1. Where Boys Fear to Tread
2. Bullet with Butterfly Wings
3. Fuck You (An Ode to No One)
4. Zero
5. Here Is No Why
6. Galapogos
7. Stumbleine
8. Tonight, Tonight
9. To Forgive
10. 1979
11. Cupid de Locke
12. Love
13. We Only Come Out at Night
14. Lily (My One and Only)
15. Farewell and Goodnight

On "Where Boys Fear to Tread," the band finds its feet with a Fugazi-esque intro of tentative chords and feedback. Then the curmudgeonly heavy riff drops (Roots-era Sepultura comes to mind). Vocals don't enter until 1:23; right beforehand is a noise that sounds like pyro going off. This song screams "set opener," and band setlists indicate it was indeed a staple to start shows.

"The world is a vampire," sings Billy Corgan on "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," and the crowd roars upon hearing a song it knows. But there's no pause for applause afterwards—the band heads straight into the furious "Fuck You (An Ode to No One)." When the distorted harmonics of "Zero" hit, the band should have the crowd firmly in its pocket (as proof of the power of "Zero," I recently saw the hardcore punk band Evergreen Terrace cover this song live—the moshpit did not flag one bit, and the teenaged crowd sang all the words to a 10 year-old song). "Here Is No Why" followed "Zero" on the album, and it works fine here as a bridge to the slower material that follows.

"Galapogos" is that rare SP epic that's actually interesting all the way through, combining clean and dirty guitars, strings, and some of Corgan's most emotive vocals. Corgan then dismisses the rest of the band for "Stumbleine," an intimate acoustic guitar number. The Pumpkins' acoustic discography is hit-or-miss, as 1994's Pisces Iscariot showed, but this song is cute and head-on-shoulder-inducing.

The band returns with a keyboard player for the signature strings of "Tonight, Tonight," which must be one of the all-time top ten "songs with rimshots." This version of the CD would also include the song's wonderful video, which pays homage to director George Méliès' early silent film A Trip to the Moon. The chorus of "To Forgive" is catchy, but, really, it's here because it's in the same key as "Tonight, Tonight" and thus follows well.

In fifty years, "1979" will be one of the oldies we request when we are alone and wistful in nursing homes. If we don't have memories left, this song will substitute nicely: "Shakedown 1979, cool kids never have the time / On a live wire right up off the street / You and I should meet." "Cupid de Locke" follows, again because of key, and with its arpeggiated harp licks, it's perfect. Who would have guessed that the grungy guys and gal from Gish would write this luscious pop song? "Love" follows, a precursor to electroclash with its dirty guitars and bubbling synths; it wouldn't be out of place on Depeche Mode's Songs of Faith and Devotion.

The set then winds down with three quiet, piano-driven numbers. "We Only Come Out at Night" may be the only sing-along appropriate for both children and drug addicts, while the lilting "Lily (My One and Only)" has an appealing '70's rock quality. "Farewell and Goodnight" closed out the original album, and deservedly does so here—with rare backing vocals from the rest of the band, it's simply gorgeous.

Buy it at Insound!

By: Cosmo Lee
Published on: 2005-08-01
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