First, the tide of Billy Corgan’s swelling creative tsunami. The Smashing Pumpkins were always too big, too opulent, too sonically ambitious for grunge; the likes of 1993’s Siamese Dream and 1995’s Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness gave hard rock carte blanche to be elegant, expansive and sophisticated for the rest of the decade, the latter’s two-hour life-cycle concept envisaged as The Wall for Generation X. By the time they split in 2000, they were making grandiloquent 73-minuters about rock stars called Zero talking to God, and trying to turn into cariacatures of themselves on tour. Corgan had pomped his band to bursting point.
Then, the tide of cultural consumption. When Billy and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin re-formed for Zeitgeist in 2007, they soon found that the goldfish-brained youth had little patience for mammoth labyrinthine conceptual works. Corgan launched the six-year Teargarden By Kaleidyscope project with a series of impromptu free online songs and the intention of compiling a 44-song Teargarden box set in 2015.
No one noticed them, and he returned to the regular album format, but 2012’s dreamy, lovelorn Oceania and its accompanying tour were met with a similar lukewarm reception. Since he refuses to cash in with a Siamese Dream tour and hit the “slow-motion suicide” of the nostalgia circuit, the writing was on the wall; The Pumpkins needed to tune in, tighten up and rock out./o:p
Cue Monuments To An Elegy, a 32-minute 10th album consisting of nine ass-booting pop metal bullets with SR-71 Blackbird wings. It’s not just the most svelte, direct and immediate Pumpkins album ever, it’s the most misleadingly titled – these are no funeral dirges, but songs of redemption, recovery and romance, drizzled with synth-pop and hooks that could send Cloverfield to the canvas.
Opener Tiberius, an electro-rock pound that crunches like lion-tooth through gladiator, harks back to the heartbreak of Oceania, while first single Being Beige revisits the socio-political slant of Zeitgeist, infusing a billowing break-up epic with hints of the dehumanising effects of maintaining a low online profile.
From there, the Pumpkins – now just Corgan, guitarist Jeff Schroeder and guesting drummer Tommy Lee – fire off into brighter horizons. Anaise! (pronounced, in accordance with Corgan’s long-standing relationship with women in song, ‘unease’) at first looks like a classically literary Corgan reference to Henry Miller’s lover Anaïs Nin set to a bass and synth-heavy impression of the marching tripods from Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds. Instead, it turns out to be the sort of devotional Pumpkins ode that Courtney Love always thinks is about her, but this time definitely isn’t. Sorry Courtney.
This album’s girl issues duly overcome, a carefree exuberance sets in. ‘One and all, we are so young!’ Corgan wails on the upliftingly meaty One And All (We Are), a teen grunge update of 1991’s Gish. Run2Me is all-out synth-pop, a far lighter, Californian concoction than the Nosferatu electronics that drove Adore, having more in common with Erasure or The Killers than NIN or Bowie. With its 80s John Hughes-flick synths and Top Gun drums, it’s the first Smashing Pumpkins song that could unironically soundtrack a last-minute dash to the airport at the end of a over-schmaltzed rom-com. Which is a very good thing.
Drum + Fife is just as upbeat, its stormy Celtic drum-and-pipe verse building to the sort of air-punching chorus that bought Noel Gallagher half of St John’s Wood and, by Monuments, Corgan is barely recognisable. ‘I feel alright! I feel alright tonight,’ he sings as Lee hammers arena stampedes from his kit and UFO synths twinkle overhead, ‘and everywhere I go is shining bright/Alright, alright, alright!’ and you start to wonder if he’s swapped brains with Jedward. He’s ironically mocking brainless drug morons, obviously, but it remains the Pumpkins’ most brilliantly Glee moment.
With Dorian taking on a doomier electro-pop tone and this sparkling half hour coming to an end with the new-wave teen romance of Anti-Hero – ‘never been kissed by a girl like you!’ Corgan bellows with his best Tom Petty hat on – Smashing Pumpkins have never brimmed so full of youthful exuberance, or lunged so adroitly for the feel-good jugular.
Next year, we’re told, will bring a more experimental and even poppier counterpoint album called Day For Night which, on this evidence, could easily be as psych as The Flaming Lips or as teenie-pop as Little Mix – or both. Corgan’s riding an unpredictable new tide; one that will leave his doubters and drifters spluttering.
Listen to Billy Corgan on TeamRockRadio’s Soundtrack Apocalypse here.