As part of the extensive reissuing of The Smashing Pumpkins back catalogue, we now come to the 4th album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. This follows Gish (1991) and Siamese Dream (1993) last year and Pisces Iscariot (1994) reissued during the summer. As per the previous reissues, the release of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness has been remastered from the original studio tapes and has a wealth of additional material bundled with it.
Originally released in 1995, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was an audacious album; the musical climate at the time was changing. The dominance of the grunge scene in the early nineties was losing its momentum, it had become the mainstream sound of alternative rock. The huge bands of the time such as Pearl Jam were scaling down and retreating from the limelight and its most famous band Nirvana had ended with the death of Kurt Cobain a year earlier.
Whereas the grunge bands were desperately attempting to not sell out and shunned success, the Pumpkins, although still being alternative, never shied away from the rock star posturing and grand ambition. The size of the sound on the previous album Siamese Dream was huge and the songs definitely had a flare for the pomp and ceremony of stadium rock. So, it wasn’t a massive surprise that the new record would be released as a double album.
Double albums are strange affairs – they could be looked at as an act of self indulgence and non ability to edit oneself. It was a bigger issue with the coming of the compact disc and its far larger capacity over traditional vinyl. There are not many double albums that are treated as classics and most that are; tend to be concept or story driven such as The Wall by Pink Floyd. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness didn’t really have a story as such and the tracks didn’t appear to run in any form of logical order; although the two discs are referred to as Dawn to Dusk and Twilight to Starlight; this didn’t matter as over the 28 tracks there was very little in the way of filler.
The sound was the familiar blend of progressive rock, heavy metal, goth rock, psychedelia, and dream pop all played through distorted layers of guitars. Both Gish and Siamese Dream had been produced by Butch Vig, who had created a dense analogue sound that especially on Siamese Dream sounds unique. For the new album, producers Flood and Alan Moulder were brought in, both of whom had experience with different production techniques and had famously worked with acts like U2, My Bloody Valentine and Nine Inch Nails. During the recording of Siamese Dream, Billy Corgan had recorded the vocal, guitar and bass sections himself with the drum tracks supplied by Jimmy Chamberlin. For Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness the band recorded as a group with D’Arcy Wretzky on bass and James Iha on guitar.
The album starts off with the gentle piano title track and then builds into one of the albums singles Tonight, Tonight. The track builds upon the orchestration hinted at on the opening track and ramps it up in to a joyous wall of sound. The track was released with a video that paid homage to Georges Méliès’s silent film A Trip to the Moon, the look also dictated the art style of the album’s packaging.
Watch the video of Tonight, Tonight below:
The sophistication of Tonight, Tonight is then flipped when the next track Jellybelly explodes in. The track is loaded with frantic riffing and powerhouse drumming with Corgan’s sneering vocal style returning. The beauty of this album is that you are not sure what direction the sound will take next, thankfully it all seems to work together well. From the straight up rock sound of Here Is No Why and Bullet With Butterfly Wings to the flowery balladry of To Forgive and the spiteful delivery of An Ode To No One, the record twists and turns at every track. The album is also dotted with pure pop on the tracks Cupid De Locke and their most successful single 1979. Another oddity in the change of pace of the album happens towards the end of the first disc, the song Porcelina Of The Vast Ocean has an intro that fades in quietly for over two minutes before the riff kicks in. The song is a superb nine minute track that you would normally expect to start a side with.
Watch the video of Bullet With Butterfly Wings:
The second disc adds a few new styles to the mix with Tales of a Scorched Earth and X.Y.U. ramping up the heaviness and almost verging on being metal. This disc offers up one of the more epic tracks on the album with Thru the Eyes of Ruby. The song contains approximately 70 guitar tracks and demonstrated the move towards the new production techniques brought to play by Flood, as the effect would have been nearly impossible with tape alone. The newer production style also shows on the tracks Beautiful and We Only Come Out at Night with the emergence of a greater electronic sound.
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was a hugely successful album, it has racked up over 10,000,000 sales and has been certified diamond by the RIAA. It also received nominations in seven categories at the 1997 Grammy Awards. Subsequently this album would mark the end of an era for the band. During the following tour, a drugs incident would lead to the death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin and the sacking of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. The next album Adore would mark a shift toward electronic music and the gradual break up of the band.
The remastering of the album in this case has worked well, sometimes remastered albums can just amount to higher volume in the tracks, here it has served to put a bit of air between the tracks in the mix. The songs are still dense but with tracks like Jellybelly you can hear that the bass and guitar parts are more discernible and less fused together. This hasn’t diminished the songs at all and although being highly produced they still capture the energy of the live sound. The reissue also comes packaged as a 5 CD and DVD box set with 64 bonus tracks, including b-sides, demos and alternative versions of the album tracks. The DVD features a live show from the Brixton Academy in London, filmed in 1996. The bonus tracks add some interest of how the finished songs came together, the Strings Alone mix of Tonight, Tonight is particularly nice to listen to. Some of the b-sides get the full remastering treatment including The Aeroplane Flies High, a track that hints of a post rock leaning and My Blue Heaven, a cover of a 1920s song that seems to fit well with the feel of the album.
Looking back at Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness 17 years later is an odd experience, when it was first released I identified with the angsty nature of it and it lived in my CD player for many months. The attitudes of my youth have changed (mostly) and I can now appreciate the album for what it is, a superbly confident high point in a band’s career and one of the best rock albums ever made. The album holds up really well, and is well worth revisiting or discovering for the first time. It saddens me that there aren’t too many bands currently that would try to release an album like this, especially in the mainstream and that would have the vision, confidence and the ability to carry it off.