Tuesday, July 28, 2009

487. Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness- "Thanks to your gloomy, depressing music..."

Album: Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
Artist: The Smashing Pumpkins.
Year: 1995
Genre: Hard Rock, grunge.

Disc One:

1. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
2. Tonight, Tonight
3. Jellybelly
4. Zero
5. Here Is No Why
6. Bullet with Butterfly Wings
7. To Forgive
8. Fuck You (An Ode to No One)
9. Love
10. Cupid de Locke
11. Galapogos
12. Muzzle
13. Porcelina of the Vast Oceans
14. Take Me Down

Disc Two.

1. Where Boys Fear to Tread
2. Bodies
3. Thirty-Three
4. In the Arms of Sleep
5. 1979
6. Tales of a Scorched Earth
7. Thru the Eyes of Ruby
8. Stumbleine
9. X.Y.U.
10. We Only Come Out at Night
11. Beautiful
12. Lily (My One and Only)
13. By Starlight
14. Farewell and Goodnight

Probably the hardest trick to pull off in Rock and Roll is the double album. It was hard enough in the old days when a double involved four sides of vinyl but today an artist has to come up with at least two hours of music to fill two CD’s. Which is hard to do and almost impossible to do well. Rock’s most famous double release is The Beatles’ White Album, which I love dearly but would happily lose large chunks of.

The other great musical challenge of our time is “The concept album,” an attempt to integrate all the music on a disc within a single theme. Rather than just releasing a “here’s a bunch of songs I wrote” album, artists will attempt to release a “Here’s a suite of music that conveys a distinct narrative or join into a cohesive whole to undergo a synthesised exploration of a singular concept.” Amazingly the albums themselves are often a bigger wank than that description. Rock’s most famous concept album is Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon which is great, in stark contrast to every other concept album which isn’t.

The only thing that fills me with dread more than the phrase “concept album” is the expression “double concept album”. I can count the number of concept albums worth listening to on the fingers of one hand. I don’t need to bring the other hand into play to add the list of double CD albums that are worth owning. And in order to count the number of worthwhile Double-disc concept albums I have to return all my fingers into a clenched fist which I can then shake at the rock world with a general sense of frustration. Concept albums are about conveying a strong emotion. The irony is that one of the few things I feel strongly enough about to warrant two discs of music is the idea that nobody should ever be allowed to release a two disc concept album.

The Smashing Pumpkins seem to have fallen into the trap of believing that they have two CD’s worth of ideas when in fact they’ve got a lot of the same idea they’ve just lost the ability to self-edit. It makes for an especially difficult listen when their theme is: "the human condition of mortal sorrow.” Note the word “mortal” in there. This isn’t an album about feeling a bit mopey but over two hours of feeling sad to the point of near death. You might ask yourself who would listen to 28 tracks about anguish, despair and unfocused rage. The answer is teenagers. Nobody ever lost money underestimating the self indulgent anguish of the Western adolescent with a disposable income and an uncertain idea of his place in the social framework. Make your album angst-ridden and teenagers will be only to happy to be sad along with it, and pay you lots of money in the process.

The irony is that the band was probably feeling positively jubilant when they recorded this. “We’re gonna be so rich! I can’t wait. What are you gonna do with your millions? I’m gonna buy an entire house lined with mink and have butlers with mink uniforms and Mink couches so the whole house is just a great big fuzzy paradise like living inside an inside-out cat. It’s gonna to be so cool! Anyway what track are we doing now? Oh yeah Tales of a Scorched Earth. One two three!”

I think there is an album that I might quite like buried away in here somewhere. If they cut out 70 minutes of it’s 120+ running time there would be enough great ideas to sustain 11 or so songs, and the wearying sameness wouldn’t be so draining. Do we need the title track for example? Its three minutes of minor piano chords and despondent strings. Is it really bringing anything new to the rock table? While there are lots of strings, harps, pianos and other musical embellishments most tracks are basically guitar-angst songs with distorted chords and angry vocals. The best of these tracks (Zero, Bullet with Butterfly wings) have their impact reduced by lumping them in with lesser efforts like Porcelina of the Vast Oceans which takes a full nine minutes to go nowhere at all.

Rather than wading your way through the entire of Melon Collie I’d recommend checking out a Smashing Pumpkins best of. Some artists are badly served by compilations but groups like this which hide good tracks amongst lesser ones are really helped by a good cherry picking. And definitely check out Stephen Lynch’s Billy Corgan impression, it’s a winner: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tj7AzD7rTaM

Highlight: Probably Bullet with Butterfly wings. It’s the most memorable track.
Lowlights: The last hour or so.
Influenced by: Pain, anguish, despair, financial gain.
Influenced: having read the amazon reviews I’d say lots of really sad teenagers.

Favourite amazon customer review quote: “for the love of good buy this album!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

-if only you’d spent as much time proofreading as you did typing exclamation marks.

So do you think the Pumpkins are really smashing or is this infinite badness? Let me know below.


  1. good afternoon, i was wondering if you could name your 5 favourite concept albums for me.

    thanks dan

  2. Thanks for commenting Dan. As requested my five favourite concept albums are probably...

    Dark Side of the Moon (An obvious choice but a great one)
    Freak Out! and We're only in it for the money- By The Mothers of invention.
    Gretchen Goes to Nebraska- By Kings X
    www.tism.wanker.com - by TISM, not usually thought of as a concept album but it fits the the definitions I'm aware of.