In todays day and age, most bands are generally considered past their prime after one or two strong albums. Mostly, they really are. But in the mid-90s, indie kid expectations and pitchfork media had nothing to do with it.
After the hugely succesful Siamese Dream and the gargantuan Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, most would now consider the pumpkins run finished. But before the band released the lukewarmly-received (but excallent) Adore album, The pumpkins dropped this sharp little boxed set to please the masses.
The box contains the five single from Mellon Collie: Bullet With Butterfly Wings, Zero, Tonight Tonight, Thirty-Three and 1979, each with extra tracks as well as the original b-sides. So essentially, Aeroplane is a set of 5 EPs of almost entirely new pumpkins material, landing at 33 tracks, more than the number on mellon collie.
Rather than the each-track-out-of-5 routine that i never really liked, i'm going to give a few paragraphs about each disc of Aeroplane, and its inherent theme and strengths.
Disc 1: Bullet With Butterfly Wings.
Dismissing immediately the overplayed title track, Bullet focuses on tracks not written by Billy Corgan himself, a rare moment in the pumpkins music. The James-Iha penned track 'Said Sadly' sees corgan take the back seat on lapsteel guitar while Iha and former girlfriend/pumpkins bassist D'arcy Wretzky duet a lovelorn acoustic track full of pleasing melody. But the real meat of the disc is in the covers.
Rick Ocasek's 'You're All I've Got Tonight' gets a thoroughly pumpkins treatment as pounding drums and wider-than-heaven chorused guitars put a groove as thoroughly infectious as it is ridiculous to hear the pumpkins do such a track. Alice Cooper's 'Clones' sounds like an over-distorted version of the original, with squealing leads playing out the synths from the original track.
The highlight of the first disc, however, is Iha taking over vocal duties again on The Cure's 'A Night Like This'. Weaving cellos caress the verses as Iha pours a new layer of emotion into the track that Robert Smith could never achieve. And just when the song appears over, the final chorus kicks in with a Cheap-Trick inspired guitar lead tearing across the delicate melodies already set up.
Destination Unknown (another cover) is a lame addition to the disc, with Corgan's early electronica style production failing to capture the necessary groove. Surprisingly, however, the disc finale 'Dreaming' is all drum machines but with a dissonant drawl that suits D'arcys voice brilliantly.
Disc 2: 1979
1979 is a collection of minimalist, soft, acoustic and love songs, fitting the unusual sound of the title track itself.
The snapping rythm and understated guitar of 'Ugly' is a typical Corgan depiction of youthful angst trapped into a reserved and self-concious tune, while Iha's 'The Boy' is a saccharinely sweet and upbeat track that would have been more at home in Zwan than the pumpkins.
This disc, however, hits its stride with 'Cherry'. Laying swirling guitar effects below a tingling and otherworldly celebration of youth that hooks the listeners soul and makes them think the impossible: these B-sides are actually GOOD. Iha returns again on another of his originals, 'Believe'. On Mellon Collie it would have been a great track, but amongst all the minimalist softer songs on the disc its chirpy reminiscence gtes buried.
The jazzy closer 'Set The Ray To Jerry' highlights drummer Jimmy Chamberlin's immense skill, with stuttering and complex percussion adorning a psychedelic melody that recalls a young, acid-***ed Corgan from the Gish era.
Disc 3: Zero
Now this is what you were waiting for: the heavy tracks. After the chaos of the well-loved opener, 'God' starts with a familiar Bullet-esque intro, with pumpking drums and throbbing bass giving way to a face-melting dual-guitar crash while corgan snarls disenfranchised poetry. 'Mouth Of Babes' is just as good, with an achingly cool guitar groove unrelenting throughout the whole song, matched with a mammoth guitar solo.
Instrumental jam 'Tribute To Johnny' lets each member take a solo, all while balancing over-zealous riffs with a frustratingly staccato drum part. Impressive, but ultimately irritating and wanky.
A squeal of feedback spikes through your speakers, and corgan grunts righeously "***er!" before kicking into 'Marquis In Spades', a standout pumpkins track and certainly one of the best on the album. Slamming accents, dreary feedback and a general vibe of kick-ass make this track an essential pumpkins jam.
'Pennies' is the only soft track on the disc, all poppy melodies and bright lyricism. The discs closer, 'Pastichio Medley' is corgans venture into experimentalism: 20 minutes of cut-and-paste rejected riffs from the Mellon Collie sessions. While the song itself is boring and dreary, it does work to evoke a sense of wistfulness: each of the approximate 50 riffs could so easily have made another classic pumpkins track.
Disc 4: Tonight, Tonight
A collection of the grander, sadder tracks, Tonight Tonight leads off with the painfully country sounding 'Meladori Magpie', but soon moves uphill. 'Rotten Apples' (the namesake of the pumpkins greatest hits disc) is a soothing and surreal chill of a song, adorned with strings once more and corgans simple finger-picking habits. 'Jupiters Lament' is much of the same, but this is hardly a problem.
'Medellia Of The Grey Skies' (with a title correlating to Mellon Collie's 'Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans') is a new variation on the pumpkins: weirdly produced, victorian sounding guitar-and-piano combination parades around an echoey vocal track, with full blown classic-love-song-with-style lyrics and delicious melodies.
'Blank' heeds more of the same from the earlier tracks, bland compared to the track preceeding it. 'Tonite Reprise' is a charming little follow-up to Tonight, Tonight, marred unfortunately by bad production and corgan's voice sounding particularly strained here. But its still good to have another verse of what is easily one of the best songs of the 90s.
Disc 5: Thirty-Three
A bizzare grab-bag of weirder pumpkins moments here. 'The Last Song' feature Corgan's estranged father, William Corgan sr., and plays around a lyrical idea that the foo fighters mysteriously used in their song of the same title some 9 years later (mystery!).
'The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)' is the pumpkins at their finest: a tape of corgan ranting his neuroses plays as a patient guitar strums undernath. Corgan states, shakily, the songs title, and all hell breaks loose in an apocalyptic procreation of Cheap Trick and Black Sabbath. Guitars do most of the talking, with a huge electrified groove running the length of the song, collapsing in and out of desparate guitar solos and snatched drum fills, before lapsing into corgan on a scratchy home recording, plucking out the last few notes, after an exhausting 8 minutes.
'Transformer' is a straightforward rock'n'roll groover that caused a stir at gigs on the Mellon Collie tour. Classic rock sounding distortion and accessible melody rings over a moshpit-in-the-kitchen chorus. Iha returns for one last encore on 'The Bells', yet another of the brilliantly written softer song, showing of his brilliant vocal range. The disc (and the box) ends unforunately, with Corgan singing jazz standard 'My Blue Heaven', which doesnt suit his voice, and has poor instrumentation to marr an otherwise brilliant disc.
As monolithic a statement as any of Corgans other work, Aeroplane isnt just a b-side collection: its a statement of true songwriting originality. As one of the biggest icons of popular music in the 90s, Corgan layed down a name for himself as the egomaniac songwriter. Here his fantasies are fullfilled and its just as enjoyable as the rest of the pumpkins brilliant catalog. Catchy for newcomers, essential for true fans.