Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Over the Weekend (Oct. 26 Edition)

News, new videos, and other fun stuff to help you get through the week…

The biggest news of the weekend was the announcement that David Bowie will be releasing a new album next year.  There should be high hopes for Blackstar when it comes out on January 8, since Bowie’s last record (The Next Day) was pretty damn good. In other words, this is not merely the case of fans expressing nostalgia for the golden years of a legendary artist, but legitimate excitement for a new album–especially if it is as “completely bonkers”as one “insider” suggested.

Run The Jewels 2 was released a year ago today, and to celebrate the occasion, Run The Jewels has released a music video for “Angel Duster”, which features footage of the duo performing all around the country.

EL VY has released another lyric video from their upcoming album Return to the Moon, which will be released this Friday.  This time the duo of Matt Berninger (The National) and Brent Knopf (Menomena, Ramona Falls) have a video for the bouncy “Need a Friend”.

You may want to make sure you catch the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert tonight, because Chance the Rapper is set to release a new song with Stephen himself on the show.

In case you did not get your fix of write-ups on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Consequence of Sound has a ranking of all 28 tracks.  Quibbles: the title track and “Here Is No Why” are underrated, “Galapagos” and “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” are overrated.  But at least the top track is correct.

That is not the only list CoS prepared last week–they have one that documents “25 Essential Performances” from Pearl Jam to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the band’s first show.

And finally, this list serves as a bit of homework for our readers, as Stereogum lists the 50 Best New Bands of 2015.  We will definitely be consulting this list for the next few days, and it is probably a good idea if our readers do the same as well.

Catching Up On The Week (Oct. 23 Edition)

Some #longreads for your weekend…

This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of the landmark album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness from the Smashing Pumpkins, and it is no surprise that several outlets are publishing tributes for the occasion.  Stereogum looks at the album through a modern context, arguing that it is unlikely that we will see such an epic release like Mellon Collie ever again, regardless of genre, and the AV Club covers the making of the album as well as examining some of the musical highlights from the record.  The most comprehensive piece comes from Alternative Nation, who in a gesture that befits such a sprawling and mammoth album, have published an extensive essay that covers just about anything you would ever want to know about the record.

Gizmodo has a lengthy guide to the science behind the synthesizer, covering the process of creating the sounds and the development of the instrument over the years.

Consequence of Sound published an essay that ponders what is the appropriate amount of a time that an artist should wait between album releases, though it covers many of the exact arguments that one should expect.  The conclusion tilts a bit toward longer gaps, though I have two words that can be offered as a counter: “Chinese Democracy.”

Loudwire takes a look at the behind-the-scenes drama of the making of One By One, which in my eyes is a criminally underrated Foo Fighters album.

Finally, Pitchfork has an excerpt from Shea Serrano’s new book, The Rap Year Book, which provides an entertaining look at the significance of Tupac’s classic hit “California Love”.

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.