Review Summary: The Stalinist Views of Billy Corgan.
It would be apt to categorize The Smashing Pumpkins as the singular vision of Billy Corgan. Beneficial though it may have been to ignore the initially wasteful attitudes of James Iha and D'arcy Wretzky, there's no denying that Corgan's insistence upon dominance destroyed whatever dynamics his original lineup would have produced. Now, absent of all but guitarist Jeff Schroeder, Corgan continues, left to fall wildly through the void of his own consciousness without anybody to mediate him.
That's at least the narrative we're sold time and time again when approaching new material from Corgan. At best, flanked by actual band members, he is capable of producing records that rein in his stupidity and expound upon his intelligence at all the right times (Siamese Dream, Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness
). At worst, he becomes hellbent on realizing his vision, succumbing to tunnel vision driven by hubris more than follow thru (Machina
, the vague serial umbrella of Teargarden by Kaleidoscope
). However, when Corgan himself discusses the writing and recording process, he often directs interviewers to view members of the classic lineup as little more than totems; an emblem of diversity, if you will. Is it just a coincidence then that whenever he removes himself from these tense environments, his output begins to decline?
It seems then that with Monuments to an Elegy
, Corgan has proven this law wrong. A contradiction of the accepted rule, ...Elegy
is unabashed rock simplicity carried by Corgan's singular vision. An admission of the excess that largely made The Smashing Pumpkins a difficult ask, Corgan instead revels in his most rocky and pop tendencies while keeping things short, sharp, and simple. Indeed, any notion that this entry into Teargarden by Kaleidoscope
is intended to be a revolution is all but lost from the highlights alone; "One & All", a testament and throwback to the ilk of "Siva" and "Cherub Rock", stands up merely because it's designed to sound like The Smashing Pumpkins songs we already know and love (except, of course, it's short).
It's telling therefore that the departure of Mike Byrne and Nicole Florentino is the closest that ...Elegy
gets to a sense of dynamics. As Corgan cites now, it was after their departure that he realized the fleeting concentration of Generation Z sought conflict with sets featuring the entirety of his last record, Oceania
. As a profound counterpoint to recent material by Swans and The Knife that rewards an audiences patience, ...Elegy
is custom-built for the kid who can't enjoy Mellon Collie...
in a single sitting. The dominance of hooks and simplified rhythm patterns is exhibited on lead single "Being Beige", an ode to Smashing Pumpkins hallmarks; darkwave synths, suffocating guitar brigades and subtly catchy choruses. Gone is the encumbrance of an "Oceania"-sized epic, in its place songs that expound upon the brevity displayed here, as "Dorian", and "Monuments" seek little deviation from this initial point. Landing between the charmingly upwards bound Gish
and throbbing darkness of Adore
seeks to build upon The Smashing Pumpkins' conventions and omnibus the results for radio.
The discussion of dynamic performances would certainly go amiss without going into the contributions of Tommy Lee, a choice of drummer that's still baffling fans at time of release. Clearly, his contributions are minimal, but there's something to be said of the yes-men Corgan now chooses to surround himself with. Instead of seeking conflict to produce some juvenile sense of self-gratifying misery, Lee is an obvious fit for a record like Elegy
; that is, his performance is straightforward. The difference is noticeable; lacking the jazz inclinations that by-and-large defined Jimmy Chamberlin's performance, Lee's tendency towards simplistic rhythmic patterns and fills benefit the rock radio structure on offer. After all, it's hard to imagine that a self-serious '94 version of The Smashing Pumpkins could approach a track like "Run2me" with any sense of direction. It's that very consideration of dynamics that puts ...Elegy
ahead of the pack, an acknowledgment that even if this isn't an important record it's certainly an enjoyable one.
That's apparent on a glance; barely surpassing 30-minutes and containing only 9 songs, to say Monuments to an Elegy
is an easy product to digest is an understatement. Suffice to say, it isn't especially a grower of a record, smoothly revealing almost everything it has to offer with only one listen. So much so is its design for radio presentation made apparent that "Tiberius" makes an easy standout simply for being positioned as the opening track. Again and again, the standard formula for a radio rock song is applied to rather great results, even if they don't present themselves as particularly fresh ideas. There's never a poignant moment as in "Today" or "1979"; instead, there's headstrong rockers as in "Anti-Hero" that merely encourage a lot of jumping and headbanging. As to be expected, intelligence is not required.
With a track like "Tiberius", it's nice to hear The Smashing Pumpkins instruments gelling rather than clashing. Tensions over performance practice may have been the subtle factor that drove Siamese Dream
forward, however as Corgan continues through midlife it's sensible for him to pick performers who fit into his vision. Call them yes-men, call them whatever, at least you can't say they're fighting for nothing. Indeed, the notion that all Billy Corgan had to do was remove himself from a sense of community is slightly confounding. In 2012's Oceania
, it seemed like all the man had to do was find better musicians (moreover, better people). Clearly however, his ability to author up something substantial and worthwhile stems from the comfort of his situation. If the brevity of his most recent piece hadn't hinted it already, The Smashing Pumpkins have a grip on what both they and their fans want them to be. Although the tour for their last record proved entertaining featuring entire performances of Oceania
, it is alas pleasant to receive a record like ...Elegy
, one that would comfortably (and happily) slip into around a quarter of a headline performance.
The Stalinist views of Corgan aren't well known for doing the Smashing Pumpkins any good. It's uncomfortable to admit, but Corgan may finally be in the right about his tight grip over The Smashing Pumpkins. At once aided by every accessible trait the band have explored, Monuments to an Elegy
is a rewarding construct for Generation Z. As much as it comes down to three-and-a-half-minute love songs dictated by vacuous titles, this is still very much a continuation of the nostalgic Pumpkins sound that made Oceania
so wonderful. Likable and easy, ...Elegy
finds solace as the most comfortable album Corgan has produced yet.