By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
Artist: The Smashing Pumpkins
Album: Monuments To An Elegy
Release Date: 12/9/14
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.
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.