Billy Corgan

All posts tagged Billy Corgan

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

220px-Monuments_to_an_Elegy_album_cover_from_Smashing_Pumpkins

Artist: The Smashing Pumpkins

Album: Monuments To An Elegy

Release Date: 12/9/14

Rating: 7/10

It’s almost rare to hear news of Billy Corgan and music in the same equation. However, when he’s not posing with cats, starting a wrestling franchise, taking stabs at Soundgarden and Dave Grohl, or just generally bashing every other musician from the heyday of the 90’s alternative scene, he’s still making music under the Smashing Pumpkins name.

This is all rather unfortunate, because since their semi-reunion in 2007, the Smashing Pumpkins have put out two really good records. 2007’s guitar-driven Zeitgeist and 2012’s post-punk/space rock-oriented Oceania both feature the two sonic elements that made the Pumpkins great. However, neither really hit their mark or struck a chord with the mass audience of their glory days. Corgan, the sole original member, has also come under heavy criticism for everything from his selection of lineup members to riding the wave of 90’s nostalgia for an easy cash grab.

Despite not seeing the same success enjoyed by former peers such as Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails, the Smashing Pumpkins have soldiered on and have released some good music over the years.

Monuments to An Elegy, the band’s latest offering, continues even further with the depth and exploration of who The Smashing Pumpkins are and what they could ultimately be. The album combines elements of the band’s past with ripping, fuzz-heavy guitars, and meets them with a more synthesizer-driven sound heard on newer releases. For the most part, the two components seem to find a pretty good balance, and sonically, Monuments to An Elegy flows rather well, making for a very interesting and natural progression in the band’s catalog.

Billy Corgan posing for the cover of "Paws Chicago" magazine in 2014.

Billy Corgan posing for the cover of “Paws Chicago” magazine in 2014.

Leading off with the track “Tiberius,” the album flashes hints of the band’s classic, dirty guitar-rock sound, with subtle synths that complement the riffage well. Tracks like “Being Beige” and “One and All,” featuring none other than Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, continue with an up-beat, hard rock feel that speaks to fans of Siamese Dream and Gish.

From there, more synthpop sounding tracks like “Run2me” and “Drum + Fife” take hold, veering away from the vibe and losing the listener somewhat. The standout “Monuments” boasts another hard rocker before descending into the ill-conceived, Depeche Mode-esque “Dorian,” and finally climaxing with the decent rocker, “Anti-Hero.”

As a whole, Monuments to An Elegy is a really interesting chapter in the Smashing Pumpkins’ history. The band began implementing synthesizers as early as 1995’s breakthrough hit, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, before completely embracing the late 90’s electronica phase with 1998’s Adore. Monuments sounds like a good fit between Mellon Collie and Adore, featuring both high-energy rockers and driving synth-rock.

Overall, Monuments to An Elegy is a very good and relevant release from a band that’s over a quarter-century into their career. The biggest issue however, is whether a not you can call the Smashing Pumpkins a band at this point. The music feels very similar to Corgan’s 2005 solo album, Walking Shades. And without the dynamic of the powerhouse drumming of Jimmy Chamberlin and guitar wizardry of James Iha from the band’s classic lineup, it feels very much like another solo Corgan record. If one can set that fact aside and take the music at face value, than Monuments is a pretty decent album.

Shoegaze act Catherine Wheel circa 1993. Photo courtesy of MTV.com.

Shoegaze act Catherine Wheel circa 1993. Photo courtesy of MTV.com.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

The early development of the Shoegaze genre lies somewhere in the post-punk haze of the 80’s. Gothic/Ethereal artists such as Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain began to fuse elements from uncategorized and/or “art” rock acts like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur, Jr. The name itself evolved because artists, namely guitarists, where using a lot of effects on their guitars through the use of various pedals and stomp boxes and they seemed to be “gazing at their shoes” during performances.

Though many of the genre’s predecessors often used a lot of layering or effects in their music via multi-tracking, in live situations they were more sparse. Live performances from Shoegaze artists differed in many instances because they rarely changed the arrangement or the effects, although the layering was done in a more ethereal or blurred out way to begin with on the records, it was a bit easier to cope with live. Moreover, live versions were even more exaggerated because of this. Shoegaze greats Ride and Catherine Wheel are prime examples of this practice.

By the 90’s, a sister sub-genre called Dreampop surfaced with artists such as Slowdive and Lush. Their music featured the noise of Shoegaze, however was a bit more poppy and melodic. Even Brit Rock/Pop bands like The Stone Roses also experimented with many of the budding trademark sounds with their single, “I Wanna Be Adored” in 1991.

However, 1991 was the year that the first significant stride was made in Shoegaze. One of the first acts to be described as both Dreampop and Shoegaze, the influential My Bloody Valentine, combined airy female vocals and guitarist Kevin Shields’ distinctive sonic wall of guitar noise. In fact, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless had a great impact on many guitarists in the 90’s, not just in Shoegaze, but Alternative in its broadest sense. Billy Corgan and James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins are notable followers.

The torch was in a way, carried most authentically to British band, Catherine Wheel. Shoegaze became full circle and the trademark sound was “nailed” by them in 1993 with their second record, Chrome. This is arguably the cornerstone record in this genre with its dreamy and catchy melodies sung with Gilmour-esque soothing ethereal vocals and sonically lush (but often still aggressive) guitars and concepts which vary throughout. This record is also one of the most unsung and overlooked recordings of the 90’s in general due to the quick shift in focus to the rise (and fall) of Grunge.

However, not all was forgotten. Catherine Wheel went on throughout the 00’s, inspiring new fans of other genres to not only go back and listen to their old records, but discover My Bloody Valentine’s, Loveless too, and draw from a perhaps small collection of Shoegaze records. Even more so, the quality that spanned Smashing Pumpkins’ range of influences, as well as successful English Alternative/Rock acts such as Radiohead and Pulp, had therefore inspired yet another Brit Rock Revival.

In the Shoegaze lineage, little known but amazing American artists such as Starflyer 59 (often referred to as a Space Rock band) and Hum plugged away through the 90’s. In more recent years, the independent two-piece act, Have a Nice Life, emerged with one of the greatest Shoegaze mixtures ever, especially on their debut album, Deathconsciousness. The presence of Dreampop-y melodic hooks, spacey textures and even darker undertones, hark back to the beginning of this genre’s early Post-Punk/Goth influences. (Refer to some of the artists mentioned in last month’s Gothic Rock article).

In addition to the previous Picks of the Week, which I used introduce this origins of this genre I now include for your enjoyment:

Catherine Wheel – Black Metallic. From recommended album, Ferment. 1993

Starflyer 59 – Hazel Would. from recommended album, Silver. 1994

Hum – Stars. From recommended album, You’d Prefer an Astronaut. 1995

Have a Nice Life – Bloodhail. From recommended album, Deathconsciousness. 2008