Release Year: 1995
Whenever a band announces a double album it can either be a cause for excitement or something to dread. It’s ambitious, but risky as you’re never sure how long listeners are going to stick with the LP. For their third release the Smashing Pumpkins decided to take a chance and record what would become their most epic record. Trying to get away from the criticisms of their first two albums the band not only pumped out more material, they moved away from their traditional sound showing their strength as well rounded musicians.
Committing to a double album can be daunting. If the material isn’t interesting enough then it runs the risk of losing listeners. That isn’t the case with this LP. This is a record you can start and leave playing until the entire thing is done. Some songs, like “We Only Come Out at Night” and “Galapogos” seem to work better in the entire scope of the album rather than on their own, but that’s how you know the album is good: you don’t mind listening to the songs you’re not in love with. There’s also a good balance between both of the discs. Titled “Dawn til Dusk” and “Twilight to Starlight” respectively, it would’ve been easy to put all the energetic songs on one disc with the slower ones on the other. Instead they mixed both styles making for a complete album.
What makes this release so significant from their previous ones is the way they experiment with various styles. The opening track “Mellon Collie” introduces listeners to the band’s different direction. It takes on a classical tone with a soft, pretty piano track to start things off. From there, the music swells when the strings come in during the second half sounding heartbreakingly sweet. It’s a brief instrumental track, but it captures the vibe of the entire album. The whimsical “Tonight, Tonight” continues this theme with music that flourishes and swells right at the beginning. With classical mixed with light melodic guitars, it sounds like something you would hear in a daydream. The whole thing sounds uplifting, which matches with Corgan’s message: keep believing in yourself.
One of the more surprising tracks is “Cupid de Locke.” It begins with flitting harp music that makes you think a completely different album has started. Once again it has this dreamy vibe sounding like something out of a fairy tale. “Lily” is like an old rag time song with the various effects and soft piano music. With it sounding like a love song from the 30s, it’s a rare feel good moment on the entire LP. The somber “Take Me Down” features James Iha on vocals whose voice is haunting and moody. The song itself kind of sounds like a cheesy love tune from the 70s especially with the falsetto singing and the last line: “There’s a love that God puts in your heart.” In the scope of things it’s probably the weakest track on the album. “Beautiful” sees the band using synth riffs mixed with a bit of pop for this track, which shifts to something more psychedelic after the second verse. It’s like a hippie love song, something that’s rare on the record.
Though the band switched their musical direction, they didn’t abandon their indie rock roots. There are several songs with their familiar rock, fuzzy sound, but they go harder than before. There are a slew of great, intense tracks like “Fuck You,” “JellyBelly,” “Zero,” “Muzzle,” and “Where Boys Fear to Tread.” “Tales of a Scorched Earth” is brutal as fuck. The furious guitar riff roars to life while the bass line grumbles beneath it. Corgan sounds viscous as he screams and shouts like he’s reached his breaking point. As soon as it starts it grabs listeners by the throat and refuses to let go until it’s over. “X.Y.U.” is a beast of a song with a heavier guitar riff influenced by metal. Again, Corgan sounds unchained as he howls and screams random things like “kaboom!” The vibe of everything is violent and out of control until the end when it finally slows down as if everyone is catching their breath. Both discs feature a good balance between the slow, soft songs and the intense, heavy ones. This way listeners don’t tire of either style easily.
Arguably one of the best songs on the LP is “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.” This is an insane, wild song. A dangerous, lurking guitar riff, Corgan’s intense vocals, and the explosion of noise makes it the anthem for apathetic youth. There’s just so much anger and energy you can hear it in every aspect of the song. The hook of “Despite all my rage/I’m still just a rat/in a cage” along with the loud/quiet dynamic of the music makes it one of their most memorable songs. Whenever it comes on you feel like you need to break something or do some hardcore moshing.
Billy Corgan said the album is about him “waving goodbye to me in the rear view mirror, tying a knot around my youth and putting it under the bed.” As you would expect, a lot of the songs revolve around themes of youth and getting older. One track that expresses this best is the upbeat and bright “1979.” Everything about the song sounds so damn happy it puts you in a good mood when you hear it. It also has that summer vibe; something you put on during a lazy sunny day. But similar to the ever popular “Today,” there are some morbid thoughts behind the lyrics: “And we don’t know/Just where our bones will rest/To dust I guess/Forgotten and absorbed into the earth below.” It’s a bittersweet ode to careless days of youth. Another one is “Stumbleline,” a raw track featuring a raw Corgan and an acoustic guitar. It’s a sensitive song that seems to address the naivety of youth and how easy it is to fake it to get what you want.
This album could’ve been a disaster for Smashing Pumpkins, but everything is carefully laid out to make it their best release. The various sounds, moods, and feelings expressed in every song are enough to keep listeners engaged for years. It’s one of those albums where you’re always discovering something new about it, whether it’s an image, lyric, or theme. Whether the songs are intense, angry, and furious or soft, gentle, and sweet, they’re amazing and lead to some of the band’s best work. Sure, some tracks work better in the scope of the entire album, but that’s what makes this record an experience. You’re not just listening to a collection of songs; you’re reliving these tiny journeys with Billy Corgan. It is truly a masterful album.