MONUMENTS TO AN ELEGY by Smashing Pumpkins
Pros: Thankfully short and, for the most part, it’s musically satisfying
Cons: Disjointed feel; lyrics are sketchy at best and sometimes awful
A few months ago, I stumbled across an article entitled “” that listed off (in a semi-serious, humorous manner) various pieces of evidence that suggest that the frontman/lead singer/songwriter of Smashing Pumpkins has indeed lost contact with reality in recent years. To be honest, anyone who’s followed the Pumpkins over any period of time may have questioned Corgan’s sanity long ago.
It ain’t the ’90s anymore.
I was a huge fan of the Pumpkins in the late ‘90s, but quickly lost interest when the classic band lineup (Corgan along with Jimmy Chamberlin on drums, James Iha on guitar and D’arcy Wretzky on bass) dissolved and Corgan initiated a increasingly confusing number of side and solo projects. Then there was the “reformation” of the Pumpkins in the late 2000s – which wasn’t so much a reformation of the band as its restructuring as a(nother) glorified Corgan solo project in which he was joined by a revolving door of “here one day, gone the next” collaborators – and the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope project in which Corgan proclaimed he was releasing (for free) an ongoing series of songs to prove that traditional albums were dead. A year or so into the project, Corgan decided to abandon that format…and release a standard album of music.
But hey, it’s hard to argue with genius right?
And it would be hard to argue with Corgan if his newer music was anywhere as good as it had been in the ‘90s, when the Pumpkins were alternative rock darlings, pumping out a string of critically and commercially successful albums. Recently, any music from Corgan has been spotty at best: admittedly I haven’t much paid attention to any of his releases post-2000 until the release of Monuments to an Elegy in late 2014. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the more pop-oriented Monuments as an album isn’t awful. Billy Corgan is nothing if not supremely talented and creative. Here, he’s proven that he can still craft excellent guitar-driven songs but perhaps most importantly, Corgan music today still sounds like the Corgan music of old – considering his very distinctive, whiny vocals, it’d be almost unimaginable if this weren’t the case.
There was a time when Smashing Pumpkins (pictured here in their classic lineup) were synonymous with quality…
Unfortunately, his lyrics are almost laughably bad at times. A fleeting relationship with singer Jessica Simpson doesn’t really seem that far-fetched when one hears “Anti-Hero,” Monuments‘s closing track. Sounding like moody, late ‘90s alt rock with lyrics that remind me of something a teenager would have scrawled on the back of a three-ring binder (“never been kissed by a girl like you / all I wanna, wanna do / love me babeh / love me true / oooo” – are you kidding?), the track is jaw-droppingly infantile – and plain shocking coming from a middle-aged man who’s written some downright classic songs over the years.
Smashing Pumpkins today. You may say this is just a picture of Billy, and there’s a reason for that.
The whole of Monuments to an Elegy is almost suggestive of the singer/songwriter responsible for it being in the midst of a mid-life crisis. The album’s second single “One and All” finds Corgan repeating the stanza “we are / we are so young” so many times that it seems he’s trying to convince himself that the line is true. And then there’s “Run2me,” about as corny and optimistic an electro-infused track as could be imaginable and “Being Beige,” the album’s very awkward first single which finds the singer choking up as he delivers the opening lines. At its best, Monuments unleashes the loud and hazy guitar rock that has always not only the hallmark but also the strongpoint of the Pumpkins sound. Once it gets going, the aforementioned “Beige” is actually pretty good, and the less abrasive “Drum + Fife” and poppy synthpop track “Dorian” are very listenable if not agreeable.
Even with Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee pounding on the skins though, Monuments never achieves any sort of consistency – it plays like a haphazard collection of more or less disconnected songs. Of course, in 2015, this is largely the norm: do any artists make genuine “albums” anymore? Considering the effortless flow and near perfect craftsmanship exhibited on earlier Pumpkins records like 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness or 1993’s Siamese Dream (my personal favorite) however, it’s difficult to believe that a halfass release like Monuments comes from the same band. And the fact is that it doesn’t: the Smashing Pumpkins in 2015 aren’t the Pumpkins that made the classic albums from the ‘90s even if Corgan is still behind the wheel.
The crowd that grew up listening to Smashing Pumpkins is still looking for music that speaks to them today though they’re older and presumably wiser. Corgan doesn’t much seem to care – it’s frankly inexplicable to me that the music here not only seems to have been written from the perspective of a teenager in an appeal to a younger crowd, but actually seems to reflect the fact that Corgan is getting worse as a songwriter over the years instead of better. Monuments to an Elegy simply doesn’t provide enough material that would appeal to the more mature crowd that I believe would be interested in it in the first place. Ultimately, though it’s not completely abysmal, it is generally forgettable and I would hardly give it much of a recommendation.