Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (1995)
In a discography full of overwhelming and overblown albums, nothing else by the Smashing Pumpkins matches the dizzying and gloriously overstuffed heights of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Occasionally described by Corgan as “The Wall for Generation X” and also identifying The White Album as a touchstone, the ambitions of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness are clear : Siamese Dream would be the album that broke them to the world, but Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness would be their masterwork, the one that looked back to the most extreme accomplishments of the classic rock firmament to seek inclusion into that same firmament. In the years since, Siamese Dream has probably lived on as the single most important album in the Smashing Pumpkins’ career, but that’s not to dismiss what the band intended to do with Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, or the fact that they actually achieved it. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is a massive album, one that demands a lot of time, investment, and attention from the listener. It was also a massive album, period : earning the band some of its biggest singles, going on to become certified diamond by the RIAA. Just like the albums it aimed to emulate, it was a stratospheric rock success, the rare double album that even it all its evident excess felt like it needed to be that way.
Fittingly, the sheer amount of material came accompanied with Corgan’s first real gestures at concept album structuring. Mellon Collie’s two discs were split into Day and Night sections, each intended to mirror the other. Throughout, Corgan sought to give voice to all the frustrations he’d held over the years but never been able to express. “I’m waving goodbye to me in the rearview mirror, tying a knot around my youth and putting it under the bed,” he commented, elaborating that he channeled the anxieties of his youth into one final album intended for listeners in their teens and early twenties. Accompanying this would, fittingly, be a set of songs that seemed to be everything the band could possibly offer. Where Gish and Siamese Dream had suggested a wide array of styles collapsed into one distinctive sound, Mellon Collie took all of Corgan’s stray interests and blew them out over its 28 tracks.
Of course, there were rock songs. Some of the band’s most recognizable ones, given that “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” is on here. They pushed this side of their personality to its outer limits, though, not being anthemic as on past songs like “Cherub Rock,” but instead becoming caustic on “Zero” or “X.Y.U.” and straight up corrosive on “Tales of a Scorched Earth.” In contrast, there were some of the band’s gentlest songs in the otherworldly “Cupid de Locke” and “Thirty-Three.” There was art-rock and heavy metal sandwiched together. There was their most unabashed, straightforward pop in “1979” (one of their finest moments) and a set of epics in the twin peaks of the ethereal drama of “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” and “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” (a close contender for my favorite Smashing Pumpkins song). Those songs are little microcosms of all the insane detail put into this album, “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” alone comprised of something around 70 guitar tracks.
After all that, something had to break, you’d have to guess. Part of it was personal : Chamberlin suffered a heroin overdose during the massive tour in support of Mellon Collie, and was dismissed from the band. They decided to continue touring, a decision Corgan would later single out as one of the biggest mistakes he’d made in the band’s history. As frayed as they might’ve been in their own lives, from an artistic standpoint Mellon Collie marked an inevitable endpoint. The Smashing Pumpkins had already hinted that they were growing dissatisfied with rock music alone. “The future is in electronic music. It really seems boring to just play rock music,” Iha remarked during this time, and you could already hear experimentation creeping into songs like “Love,” “Beautiful,” and “1979.” Mellon Collie would be the last moment where the band experienced rampant success and near-unanimous acclaim ; every left turn or double back that followed would irk some contingency of fans or critics somewhere. But what else could they have done after Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness? Once you’ve gone to seemingly every possible corner of your craft, where do you go next? The Smashing Pumpkins had pulled off one of the most ambitious, accomplished albums of this scope. The only option was to seek out undiscovered territory.