Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness: The Smashing Pumpkins’s odd masterpiece

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The veto from above was categorical: that record was not appreciated and looked to anyone like a commercial suicide. Billy Corgan, as always strongly tempered and not much available to compromise, was confident after the good sales of Siamese Dream and had all the intentions to see that double album published, even if it would have taken a fight with the whole label. In the end, despite of the fear and ready for the worst, Virgin gave up and gave the go for Mellon Collie And The infinite Sadness.

Neverheless, those fears had some reasons, because even the specialized press wasn’t very convinced about The Smashing Pumpkins’ move. As everyone knew, there were not many bands in history to have published successful double albums: the exceptions of The Beatles, The Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones meant little, because times were different. And, for the record, we are talking about unrepeatable cases, and trying to replicate them is not always a nice idea. Even the dominand Guns’n’Roses of the ’90, to avoid accusations of pretentiousness and nasty surprises in the charts, preferred to split Use Your Illusion in two separate albums. However, Corgan was not intimidated and went straight to his point: those 28 songs had to be published.

It was not only a matter of pride or ambition: he was the one that pushed his companions to not rest after Siamese Dream‘s triumphant world tour, convinced that if they did, they would have never came back together. He knew that The Smashing Pumpkins were dysfunctional like few other bands and already during the production of Cherub Rock and Disarm the internal tensions forced him to manage the sessions almost alone, compensating the absence of James Iha and D’Arcy Wretzky (who had just broke up) and Jimmy Chamberlain (who fell into the vortex of drug addiction). But in those months of concerts and shared life, the problems appeared manageable again and Corgan saw the possibility to impose his band among the great ones of the decade. Like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, R.E.M.: this time they would go “all-in”, and if it went wrong, there would be no other chance.

MellonCollie-Booklet
The Smashing Pumpkins – from the Mellon Collie booklet

Billy Corgan, perhaps appreciating the efforts of his companions or just desperately wishing to prolong that moment of serenity, granted a greater degree of freedom to the other members of the band, who exceptionally were able to express themselves without incurring in angry and despotic reactions of the frontman: yes, if there was a moment when The Smashing Pumpkins could realize a masterpiece, that was it.

In this scenario Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness‘s songs take life, embracing many rock styles at the same time, from softer and almost acoustic sounds (By Starlight, Galapagos, In The Arms of Sleep, Stumbleine, Thirty-Three) to metal raids (X.Y.U.), from dreamy melodies (Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, To Forgive) to pure noise saturation (Tales Of A Scorched Earth), from industrial approaches (Love) to scathing grunge (Bullet With Butterfly Wings, Bodies, Zero, Jellybelly), from pop (1979, Cupid De Locke) to progressive (Porcelina Of The Vaste Oceans), up to symphonic rock (Tonight, Tonight).

When it’s released, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness immediately conquered the customers at shops with that fascinating and romantic cover, created by the illustrator John Craig, who merged in that iconic feminine image the body of Raphael’s Saint Catherine Of Alexandria with the face in Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s Fidelity.

It turned out that The Smashing Pumpkins bet was a win: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness sold over 10 million copies, intriguing with his melancholy and decadent style, mixed with jerks of rabid dissatisfaction, devastating nostalgia and touching sweetness.

In an interview shortly after the release of the double album, Billy Corgan confessed that a cycle had ended and that Mellon Collie could have been the last album of those Smashing Pumpkins. In part he was right: Jimmy Chamberlain, whose addiction became increasingly unmanageable, was dismissed shortly afterwards and the band began a complcated phase, with continuous formation changes and a long break that prevented to restore the original quartet.

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness remains the masterpiece of a band at his highest creativity, able to go through multiple styles and influences with no drawbacks, playing with their melodramatic traits: could be that the exclusion of some tracks would have disclosed the beauty of the album in a more evident way, although the choice would not have been simple. And anyway, who would have had the guts to tell Billy Corgan?

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Luca Divelti writes stories of music, cinema and TV on Rock’n’Blog and Auralcrave. Follow him on FacebookTwitter and Telegram.

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