By Adam “Rat In A Cage” Morrison
The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was the first album I ever owned. I was borderline obsessed with the band by the time I acquired it, which happened at pretty much the exact same time that I got my first stereo. I loved it and spent a lot of time thinking about it. While I’ve never stopped loving it, my thoughts on it have changed somewhat over the years. Reasons for this include that certain songs have changed meaning for me as I’ve gained life experience, the context in which I’ve viewed the album has changed as my musical knowledge has expanded, and I’ve learned that not all hardcore music fans hold the album in the same high regard. Regarding the latter point, I haven’t been able to come up with arguments with which to defend it… until now.
I think part of people’s perceptions about Mellon Collie have to do with expectations and comparisons being made. Back in the day, Billy Corgan described it as being “The Wall for Generation X,” and while listening to it (Mellon Collie) for the millionth time in my life the other day, I had the thought, “I disagree. I think this is the Pumpkins’ White Album.”
Think about it: it lacks a story like the one told in The Wall and it lacks that album’s relatively consistent sound and tone. What it does contain is a huge variety of sounds and tones, with several songs containing whimsical-sounding touches (“We Only Come Out At Night,” “Lily (My One and Only),” and “Farewell and Goodnight” are the first ones that come to mind). Hell, as happened on the White Album, all of the members even get their chance to sing lead.
While it’s easy to imagine someone who loves any decent amount of The Wall loving the entire album, even if not every song is one of their favourites, it’s easy to imagine someone loving only some Mellon Collie tracks and skipping the rest. For example, someone who’s into “Here Is No Why” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” might get bored with “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” or even “Thru the Eyes of Ruby,” while someone who adores “1979” might flinch at “Love” or “Bodies,” and so on. This is similar to how I love “Revolution 1” but I never load up my CD player just to listen to “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill.” That’s all fine. My point is that of course everyone likes what they like, but what makes Mellon Collie Mellon Collie is the exact mix of everything that appears on it, just like with the White Album.
If I may digress for a moment, the most common complaint I’ve heard about Mellon Collie is that there’s a lot of filler. The way I’ve heard this most commonly stated is, “It could have been a great single CD.” My response is that not all of the songs that I love could have fit onto one disc—obviously, much of every discussion does come down to personal taste—and that it wouldn’t be as powerful of a statement about all that the band was capable of if a significant number of tracks had been dropped.
Here’s another statement I can make about both Mellon Collie and the White Album: They are listening experiences, not just collections of songs. Every song is a valuable part of the experience, even if the variety presented makes it so that what you could call a drawback is that not every song will be liked equally by most listeners. The experience of listening to each album includes quiet, intimate moments (“Blackbird,” “Stumbleine”), heaviness as extreme as the artists tended to get (“Helter Skelter,” “Tales of a Scorched Earth”), new territory (for the artists) being explored (“Revolution 9,” “Love,” “Cupid de Locke,”) in addition to excellent, memorable songs that weren’t wild departures for the bands.
While I still can’t defend Mellon Collie to people who think that not every song is a winner, I now think that making that criticism is kind of missing the point. When viewed in the right context, while limiting oneself to the most apt comparisons, it is perfect for what it is just as it is. I wouldn’t change a thing about it.