Words By: Gerrod Harris
Release Date: December 9th, 2014, via Martha’s Music
Yes, even to my surprise, Smashing Pumpkins frontman, guitarist, and lead song writer, Billy Corgan still makes music. It’s been two years since the Pumpkins released their last album, Oceania, and since then Corgan has hosted a pro wrestling show on television and even appeared on the cover of Paws Chicago, a cat owner’s magazine, holding Siamese cats. This opened him up to too much ridicule and I would imagine all too many Siamese Dreams puns. Corgan, along with the Pumpkins, are making their return to music with their newest release, Monuments To An Elegy.
As of the last few years, the Smashing Pumpkins lineup seems to have become a constant revolving door of different musicians, all of which very talented. This leaves Billy Corgan as the only constant dynamic in the band. Jeff Schroeder is as close a second as there is seeing as he has remained in the Pumpkins since 2007. Drumming prodigy Mike Byrne has been replaced by Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee, and bassist Nicole Fiorentino has been replaced with The Killers’ Mark Stoermer. Lee, being preoccupied with the Crüe’s farewell tour, could not commit to an upcoming Smashing Pumpkins tour, so Brad Wilk, of Rage Against The Machine, will join them on tour. According to Corgan however, the only official members of the Smashing Pumpkins are himself and Schroeder.
“Tiberius”, the opening track, starts with a brief, but beautifully sombre piano part (which will return shortly during the bridge section), but is immediately countered by the distorted, contrasting, thick guitar tones Smashing Pumpkins fans would expect. This rocking, 6/8 swaying number leaves me looking forward for the rest of the album. The following song, “Being Beige”, excellently escalates from an acoustic guitar and piano intro paired with Corgan’s voice and an electronic drum machine, into a hard hitting, heavy chorus, where if listening closely, you can still hear the piano from the intro throughout most of the song, giving the song a little more depth. “One And All”, although much simpler and straight ahead as it is predominantly driven by one, larger than life, riff, is a super heavy and fun song to rock out to. “Drum + Fife” is one of the rare songs in all of rock to feature a lead melody played on a flute, and it fits surprisingly well with the powerful drums from Tommy Lee, and the distorted, thick guitar tone. As for my favorite song on the album, it is a draw between “Tiberius” and “One And All”. These two tracks are the most reminiscent of the Pumpkins darker, edgier part of their career.
Monuments To An Elegy does have its weaker moments however. “Anaise” seems to drop the momentum set in motion by “Tiberius” and “Being Beige” with a far too spacious feeling which just doesn’t seem to sit well with the band. “Run2Me” was my least favorite track on the album; led by a rather cheesy synthesiser, and unimaginative guitar, the song seems far too much like Corgan trying to reach a more popular, mainstream audience, rather than appeal to the alternative audience the band plays for. Even the drums and sparse percussion in “Run2Me” were lacking character, making the song sound even more like a modern indie “folk” band, a sound which does not work well with the band (the term “folk” is being used very loosely, but I’m sure you can guess what sound I’m referring to here). The synthesiser is used heavily as a reoccurring line in “Monuments” which I felt ruined a song which featured such diverse emotional changes between the heavy and driven verses, followed by a much brighter chorus. Without the synth, this track would have been far better.
After listening to Monuments To An Elegy, it is apparent Billy Corgan has mellowed with age. Yes, once an angry rat in a cage, his compositions reflect a man much happier than what we are used to. Corgan planned for the album to be “guitars, guitars, guitars, and more guitars;’ but more so on the epic side of things than say, grossly metallic”. While the album featured that trademark Smashing Pumpkins guitar tone; thick, heavy, and distorted chords to the point where note clarity is not always apparent, it seemed to be equally synthesizer driven. Corgan is no stranger to using the synth, but I felt there was just too much of it, and it eventually took away from the album. The album is very hit and miss; the large use of synthesizer often brought the music down, but when the band trades the synth for more guitar, it’s better. By all means, Monuments To An Elegy is not a bad album, but it is less than good. Unfortunately this is a bigger disappointment considering the band has released some of the best albums of a decade! Gish, Siamese Dream, Melon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, and Adore were all phenomenal works, and some of the best to emerge of the alternative rock scene of the 1990’s. Even their collection of B-sides from that era, Pisces Iscariot, is worthy of great praise. Corgan has yet to recapture that magic, with a number of releases throughout the 2000’s which were often mediocre and nowhere near what the fans know they are capable of. Perhaps some of that creative energy left with the departure of original musicians, James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlin, and D’arcy Wretzky. Despite my criticism, and although not at the same level of the bands glory days, Monuments To An Elegy has exceeded many of the band’s releases in the 2000’s, and is certainly an improvement from 2012’s Oceania. I remain hopeful this improvement continues into Day For Night, set to release in 2015.
2: Being Beige
4: One And All (We Are)
6: Drum + Fife