Billy Corgan, much like Axl Rose or Morrisey before him, is a rock star who has left the public opinion heavily divided. Where most people found Axl Rose to be a snot-nosed little mysogynist or Morrisey a whiney git, their respective fanbases were so captured by the music of their bands that they ignored any criticism and defended any plight of their heroes to the very death.
And so is the way with Billy Corgan. Called arrogant, the rudest man in rock, and excessively egocentric, Corgan is far from a media darling. However, during the 90s, his band (The Smashing Pumpkins, for those living under a rock who have just got the internet) released a series of albums that rocketed them to huge international success. So there must be something to this Billy Corgan character behind all the endless personality flaws, yeah?
At the heart of the double album Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness, there is a simple stylistic goal: to create a guitar-rock album with all the grandiose embellishments of a Queen-style rock opera, but while still mantaining a core of verse-chorus-verse songwriting. The songs on Mellon Collie all fall various distances from this ideal goal: '*** You (An Ode To No-One)' lacks a single soothing melody or cello, instead centring itself around the most insane guitar and drum shreds it is possible to put into a song and still maintain focus on ths songwriting. In the meantime, however, 'Cupid De Locke' is a collection of plucked mandolins, sweet vocal harmonies and soft-listening.
However, falling any distance from the 'ideal' or 'typical' Mellon Collie Track (that is to say, the song which stylistically represents Mellon Collie as a whole) is no problem. Indeed, some of Corgans true songwriting strength is only visible amidst a wall of feedback-soaked guitars or thumping riffs, such as on the punk-length single 'Zero', where corgan declares in a state of alien lust: "She's the one for me, she's my one and only" with an eerie honesty, before laying into his guitar for an ear-splitting solo.
So what of the other side of this 'ideal' track? 'To Forgive' sees two guitars play against each other blissfully, with a pink-floyd inspired mellotron below to add depth, as Corgan (digitally dubbed for three vocal harmonies) grasps at childhood memories in a blissfull daze.
But again, there is another direction for the songs here. While 'Zero' or 'To Forgive' are both ultimately lovelorn, there are the tracks that made Corgan appeal to the mass-market of disenfranchised teenagers back in his heyday: The snarling, pissed off, jaded and tired Billy Corgan. The vitiriolic guitars on 'Bodies' groove alongside a yowling Corgan declaring 'Love is suicide', in what amounts to a violent hurricane of rock groove as delicately executed as his other sounds on this album.
But what of this 'ideal' track? The song which combines the guitar melodies of a heyday beatles with the classicism of a symphony orchestra, in a balance so fine that only Corgan himself could have pulled it off? The albums first 'proper' song, Tonight, Tonight would certainly be the mark.
Tonight, Tonight is a sweeping, grand, and beautiful rock song, complete with string section melodies, luscious choruses and intimate verses. What makes this song so unique is that it could never be pulled of with a guitar wanker such as, say, Joe Satriani at the helm. It shows corgans intuition for restraint, knack for infectious songwriting, and good ear for producers (Alan Moulder and Flood, both of whom work wonders on Mellon Collie's 28 songs).
Ultimately, Mellon Collie gives one a very good reason to look past Corgans arrogance and eccentricities to the soul of one of the 90s greatest songwriters. And amongst what i have described for you already, a plethora of other sounds and songs can be found. Not their best, but an amazing, gigantic gesture of the power of songwriting over wankery and of the strength of the pumpkins ability to combine both.
4 1/2 stars