The Smashing Pumpkins: Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness (Deluxe Edition)

The original album is sprawling, ambitious, overlong, frustrating, and fascinating all at once. The three (!) discs of additional, unreleased material is fascinating for audiophiles, worthwhile for fans, and absolute manna from heaven for collectors.

The Smashing Pumpkins

Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness [Deluxe Edition]

Label: Virgin
US Release Date: 2012-12-04
UK Release Date: 2012-12-03

In the world that Billy Corgan inhabits, perception is everything.

When the Smashing Pumpkins tour these days, they're still billed as "The Smashing Pumpkins", despite the fact that Corgan is the only remaining original member, often playing whole sets of new post-Iha material before delving into the group's extensive back catalog (the divisive nature of these shows was captured rather well in their 2008 documentary If All Goes Wrong), all proving the point that despite the collaborative nature of the band in the early days, the Pumpkins is, are, and always have been the brainchild of Corgan. The only reason Corgan released this year's quite-pleasing Oceania was because he noted how people weren't paying all that much attention to his ongoing Teargarden By Kaleidyscope project (which, it should be noted, is where the best Pumpkins 2.0 material has been housed). So the next batch of songs for it were released as an album proper -- that's how he was able to keep the narrative going that the Pumpkins are still a working, proper band, instead of indie songsmiths slowly creating a Prince-esque vault of solid material that was greatly beloved but vastly underheard. Additionally, there's that partyline that Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness -- arguably the Pumpkins' calling card -- sold 10 million copies, the only certified-Diamond entry in the band's catalog (and the arguable pinnacle of the alternative rock surge that so dominated the mid-'90s). Although when you break it down, it actually only sold 5 million copies, as the RIAA counted one sale of a double-disc set such as this as two units, something that doesn't diminish the album's impressive totals in the least but only goes to show again that in the vast, expansive world of the Pumpkins', perception is everything.

For an egoist such as Corgan, it shouldn't be surprising that he's as protective as he is with his work, as -- much like fellow megalomaniac Prince -- he is continually forward-looking, rarely glimpsing upon the past because the future is so much brighter. Yet, as Prince eventually learned (or didn't learn, depending on who you talk to), there's a vast difference between collaborators and hired hands, which is why the Revolution will forever trump the New Power Generation and why the Corgan/Iha/Wretzky/Chamberlin-era lineup will always top whoever-the-hell is in Corgan's touring band now, solid as they are.

Where Prince and Corgan differ, however, is in how they treat the past. Prince never wants to talk about it (when SPIN offered Prince an apparently large sum of cash to talk about the 25th anniversary of Purple Rain, he kindly rebuffed their offer), while Corgan, at least, is OK with giving his albums the proper re-releases that they deserve. EMI's reissue campaign, so far, has been surprisingly thorough, not only touching on Gish and Siamese Dream but also on the B-sides/rarities comp Pisces Iscariot, which was given its own lavish disc of bonus material (which in itself was rather bold, as when was the last time that a rarities comp was treated with the same care as an album in a band's regular discography?). Yet with the re-release of Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness, Corgan has pulled out all the stops. The iconic double album comes with no less than three whole discs of rarities and unheard bits, and perhaps what's most astonishing is the fact that there is very little fat to be found here. It's all fascinating, and, best of all, it enhances the album's myth and legacy, which is exactly what Corgan intended this to do.

In many ways, Mellon Collie was Corgan's own Purple Rain, a myth-establishing blockbuster that launched him into the mainstream by pushing his sound into new, fantastic directions. It was certainly a risk, as Siamese Dream had enough rock edge to get radio play right next to Nirvana, and by moving into artier, more pop-oriented territory, the band risked losing their audience altogether. Yet the sheer quality of Mellon's singles was so good that the group instead broke through to a wider audience than they ever had before. "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" was as perfect an opening salvo as one could imagine, as it let their rock fans know that they were just as cathartically-angsty as ever, and perfectly set up the pop crossover that was "1979", soon leading to sold-out stadium tours, a host of Grammy nominations, and a cemented status as one of the '90s most definitive rock bands.

Yet as much as Corgan and the most hardcore of Pumpkins disciples fetishize over every aspect of Mellon's gaudy ambitions, there are still notable flaws to the album that are just as apparent now as they where when it came out in 1995. As sprawling and ambitious as Mellon is (and make no mistake, it gets high marks for its glorious overreach), it doesn't quite have the level of craftsmanship to escape the inevitable criticism that greets every great double-album in history. With a bit of editing, it would've been one spectacularly flawless single disc.

Of the two discs -- Dawn to Dusk and Twilight to Starlight -- the first one is by far the more consistent of the two. Opening with the sweet title track, things soon launch into the maximalist dream rock of "Tonight, Tonight", one of the band's finest moments, and then launches into a solid tear of guitar rock in all sorts of flavors: the thundering "Jellybelly", the goth anthem "Zero", the sturdy "Here is No Why", and the alternative tentpole "Bullet with Butterfly Wings". What's best about this stretch is that in the hands of a lesser band, things would sound very static and blur together, creating a distorted, sonic sludge of nothing more than angst and amp fuzz. With the Pumpkins, however, the pacing is deliberate, thoughtful. "Jellybelly" occupies a different textural plane than "Zero", and "Here is No Why" is yet another downshift in tempo, but each song is built on such sturdy sonic foundations that the transitions from track to track are natural, graceful even. By the time the band gets to "To Forgive", the band has earned such a drastic come-down, and it works beautifully. Dawn is littered with numerous could've-been singles like the psychedelic bruiser "Love" and the skyscraping rallying cry "Muzzle" (which was quietly released as a promo single but could've had a much greater impact than the snoozy final radio offering from the album "Thirty-Three"), leaving very little material feeling out of place.

With such great attention to detail and pacing on Mellon's first slice, it's a bit of a let down to slog through Twilight, the much weirder, far more contemplative companion to Dawn. Opening rocker "Where Boys Fear to Tread" feels like a retread of Dawn's opening six-string salvo, and the overabundance of ballads tends to wear the listener down after awhile, even with some of them being topping the more beautifully introverted moments in Dawn. "1979" still remains one of the band's towering achievements -- a glorious piece of introverted pop that was so breezy and accessible it even had a small appearance on Billboard's dance charts -- but it's surrounded by lesser numbers like the plodding singalong "We Only Come Out at Night" and the campfire-ready "Lily (My One and Only)", songs that begin to show Corgan's limits as a songwriter (try as he might, whimsical is a hard pose for him to hold). Whereas Dawn feels thoughtful and considered, Twilight feels a bit ramshackle and very precious, a delicate creation that must be handled with care. At times, this sweeter half works wonders (the one-two closing knockout of "By Starlight" and "Farewell and Goodnight" shows the band at their most vulnerable and -- most importantly -- their most unified, their traded vocals coming off as extremely sweet and very heartfelt), but all in all, Mellon's second (and arguably more daring) half pays less dividends than what preceded it.

So what awaits fans and collectors in this much-anticipated re-release of such a Macy's Day Parade-sized pillar of mainstream art-rock? An astonishing three full discs of material, 64 tracks in all, and through it, we hear the mistakes, the experiments, the trials, and the rarities that many people have been wanting to hear, nearly all of it fascinating, with very little left to chance.

While some fans may bemoan the lack of B-sides packed onto here (as much of those were on the Aeroplane Flies High set -- even though that title track does make an appearance here) as well as the lack of material from the heavily-bootlegged Mashed Potatoes set, the amount of unreleased material is truly astonishing. Early demos of songs feature so many variations and interesting facets that it's hard to know where to begin. There's an early version of "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" on an acoustic where Corgan sings the entire thing in a falsetto, an unfortunate mix of "Zero" with washed synths played along during the chorus, a raw live-drum take on "1979" known as the "Sadlands Demo" (virtually every song on Mellon has an earlier Sadlands counterpart), and a dreamier, beat-backed instrumental of "Galapagos". Some of the material features only minimal revelations (the "Pumpkinland Demo" of "Here is No Why" exhibits little more than a slightly slower tempo than the album version), and some of it is outright disposable (as iconic as the "Pistachio Melody" was to some Pumpkins fans, the 43 seconds of that song's "Reversed Extras" are assuredly not worth your time), but overall, the material is quite excellent.

After you slog through the few truly disposable extras, the rest just feels like Christmas morning: there's the "Sunshine Superman"-aping 2012 mix of "Isolation", a moody early piano take on "Eye", an early, brassy piano take on "My Blue Heaven" that's different than the B-side version featured on the "Thirty-Three" maxi-single, a sharp new mix of "1979" B-side "Cherry" (although BT could've turned down the synths a bit on that), a "Barbershop Version" of "Jupiter's Lament", the excellent Sadlands demo of "Glamey Glamay" (which could've held its own nicely on either one of the Machina albums), and, perhaps most wonderfully of all, two different mixes of "Tonight, Tonight" -- one with the strings by themselves, one being the original band backing track without the strings. What's perhaps most surprising about this simple separation of elements into separate tracks is that both versions work spectacularly well. The "Strings Alone" mix highlights just how well considered the original arrangement was as played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (never slowing down, keeping the song on ample dramatic standing), while the "No Strings" band mix shows just how thrilling the song is by itself, that rhythm guitar positively driving the verses home without ever missing a thematic beat. All in all, these three discs are fascinating for audiophiles, worthwhile for fans, and absolute manna from heaven for collectors.

Thus, this massive re-release of what is arguably the Pumpkins' crowning achievement lives up to the lofty heights set up by the original album: it's sprawling, ambitious, overlong, frustrating, and fascinating all at once. Yes, as entertaining and era-defining as Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness is thought to be, it still suffers from the same minor problems that have plagued it since its release (backstory-filling rarities be damned), but as we are all well aware in regards to the history of the Pumpkins, perception is everything.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.