The Great Disparity: “Here Is No Why”

Today Billy Corgan announced the details of the latest reissue of the back catalog of the Smashing Pumpkins, this time revealing that Adore will be re-released in a ridiculous 6 (!?!) disc set, including outtakes, live performances, a live DVD, and a mono mix of the album.  Somewhat unexpectedly, this news didn’t inspire me to to rehash old arguments about an album that at the time of its release had a divisive reception, but whose appreciation has grown over the years.  (For the record, Adore is a very solid record and serves as one of the better examples of a band incorporating the electronica trend in its sound (the initially jarring lead single “Ava Adore” has aged fairly well over the years), though I wish they included their gem from Lost Highway, “Eye”.)  Instead, I immediately began reminiscing about an underappreciated song from their previous album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

As we look back now in the years since its release and as the star of the Smashing Pumpkins has lost some of its luster, it can be easy to dismiss the album.  At first glance, it seems that Mellon Collie was an indicator of the bloat and excess that would mar the band’s later work and a symptom of Billy Corgan’s inability to reign in his tendencies to excess.  How could a band justify a 28-track double album that clocked in at over two hours in length?  And that doesn’t even take into account the countless B-Sides generated from those recording sessions, many of which were compiled in the 5-disc compilation The Aeroplane Flies High.  But if you go back and listen to both discs in their entirety, there are really only a couple of semi-duds on the whole album; not only that, if you ask a sample of Pumpkins fans, there would be some disagreement on what exactly the duds are, so it was a good idea to include them all.

This was also an album that generated six great singles which show the full range of the band, and many of which are still played regularly on rock radio (though it is a shame that “Muzzle”, which is already buried in the back of the first disc, never gets enough airplay–one of the things that I loved about my old job was we still had a copy of the single that we would be sure to play as often as we could).  Compare the gritty and blistering “Zero” to the orchestral epic of “Tonight, Tonight” (I’m not sure if a rock band ever married alternative rock with a giant string section better than this song), or the fury of “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” to the gentle “Thirty-Three”.  And then there’s “1979”, a song that will live on for generations that ends up being a perfect distillation of many of the moods and styles of the album.

Those are all great songs, but to this day my favorite track on the album is the bombastic rocker “Here Is No Why”.  The reason is pretty simple: it’s a fucking great song to play on the guitar.  There are several little details that make it an incredibly fun song to jam along with, from the unique combination of the repeated major-7 chord (a jazz chord rarely seen in rock, though you may recognize it from “Under the Bridge”) at the beginning with the double palm-mute non-chords (a total hard-rock/metal cliche, but still fun), to the big epic chords of the chorus mixed with those giant turnaround leads at the end of each phrase.  Then there’s big ridiculous solo from Billy, which somehow mixes in both a response to the original melody line with just pure noise that’s hard-to-imitate-but-fun-to-attempt.  I mean, just look at how much fun they’re having playing this song in this performance.

As awesome as that guitar part is and as fun as it is to play, that’s exactly how awful the lyrics are to this song.  Normally, I’m not one to harp on bad lyrics, or even attempt to pass any judgment on them at all.  My primary focus is the music, not the words, and besides, many people have ridiculous standards when it comes to assessing lyrics.  There is a difference between reading words off a page and singing them with a melody, and the necessities of the song creates problems of awkwardness and general fit that regular poetry would not have.  Of course there are also the problems of judging the intent of the songwriter or understanding how individual lines serve general themes of an album, broad concepts that often get swallowed up when someone tries to parse specific words.  Plus, you know, there’s just no accounting for taste.

So believe me, it takes a lot for me to call out what I believe are “bad lyrics”.  Hell, I don’t even partake in mocking the endlessly ridiculed opener to “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”, “The world is a vampire.”  Whatever, that sounds pretty ominous and it grabs my attention; I don’t really care how that metaphor could possibly work.  But “Here Is No Why” is an entirely different animal.  “Somewhere he pulls his hair down, over frowning smile; a hidden diamond you cannot find, a secret star that cannot shine over to you.  May the King of Gloom, be forever doomed.”  Christ, that’s just…ugh.

The thing is, I understand the intent of Mr. Corgan: he’s calling out to those lonely teenagers looking to their rock idols, trying to give them a little bit of a helping hand (the talk of sad/teen machines helps make this rather clear).  And if I were in high school, maybe these words would provide some comfort; on the other hand, I never paid attention to the lyrics back then, I just wanted to learn how to figure out how to play this fucking awesome guitar part.

And you know what?  That’s OK.  Not everything can be perfect, and the greatness of that guitar part (and the music in general–Jimmy Chamberlain is a fantastic drummer, and D’Arcy’s matching eighth-notes on the turn-arounds in the chorus really help bring out the full power of the song) can certainly overcome the cringeworthy lyrics (I am using that adjective in the literal sense here–my body has an actual, measurable physical reaction when reading some of the words).  And though I’m unlikely to use the song in one of my random lyric quotes of the day with my friends, let it be known that I love this song, and the next time I pick up my guitar this will be one of the first songs that I bust out.

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