Smashing Pumpkins – Monuments to an Elegy
Twenty-six years into the long and winding career of the Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan has traveled far enough down the road from that magnificent and defining opening triumvirate of albums, subsequent lineup changes and mild controversies that he’s due – perhaps overdue – a return to form.
Every new album has drawn claims of such from hopeful fans and media yet it was only 2012’s Oceania where Corgan sounded like he was truly finding his feet again. Around the same time he started looking back with lavish reissues of the first four albums plus the compilations Pisces Iscariot and The Aeroplane Flies High and the good news is that on the new album he has recorded nine of his finest songs in years that cast an ear back to a number of highlights from the Smashing Pumpkins discography.
There have been further changes to the band’s line-up with drummer Mike Byrne and bassist Nicole Fiorentino the most recent departures earlier this year. Given Corgan’s autocratic reputation it’s hard to know if these changes impacted on his writing or mindset going into a new album. Probably not but Monuments to an Elegy certainly has an air of decluttering and fresh air about it. Nine songs in thirty three minutes, easily their shortest album to date, it has a compact, getting-down-to-business feel about it with tight, concise structures and a clear aversion to convolution.
Sonically it’s a typical Corgan record with layered guitars that hybridise metal, punk, prog and new wave, solid rock drumming courtesy of new recruit (for this album at least) Tommy Lee and the most rewarding integration of synths and rock music that he has achieved to-date. From the brief drum machine interlude on the soaring ‘Being Beige’ to the New Order/Depeche Mode facsimile ‘Dorian’ and the sparkling retro synth pulse of ‘Run 2 Me’ (that threatens pomposity but somehow manages to rein itself in) Corgan’s use of digital technology is seamless and to the advantage of the song at all times. Naturally it brings to mind Adore and indeed this record was produced byÂ Howard Willing, who worked on that 1998 album.
‘Anti-Hero’ and ‘Monuments’ hark back to the angst-laden, reach-for-the-stars sound of Siamese Dream and Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and they succeed quite magnificently by basing themselves around strong bedrock guitar riffs that churn, buzz and spark beneath many of Corgan’s finest choruses and vocal melodies to date. Corgan’s detractors often cite his nasal whine as a deterrent to their listening pleasure but here it sounds just right. Much of the subject matter still covers the same ground of love lost and and found, heartbreak and hope but he communicates the essence of each song succinctly and without too much metaphorical grandeur.
Monuments to an Elegy is a better album than most expected Corgan still capable of. A lack of excess and musical procrastination are it’s selling points, coupled with effortless song craft and a spirit akin to a reawakening and realisation of where his artistic strengths lie.