20. The Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
For most of 1995, I heard at least a portion of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, even if it was only reverberating through my floorboards. Early in that calendar year, I took up residence in what became a beloved rental house located on a main drag of Madison, Wisconsin. Though it may have involved some creative disregarding of the terms of the lease to set our household lineup, we quickly had four people in total living there, one of them sadly crammed into a minuscule room that was also the only pathway to the one bathroom on the house (we were pros at strategically placed bamboo curtains in that house, let me tell you). One of the roommates was basically never there, sleeping during the day so he could work overnights and spending every other waking moment with his girlfriend. My other two roommates teamed up to bless our household with a constant aural shower of the double-CD that was widely touted as Billy Corgan’s magnum opus.
This was my roommates’ nightly ritual: they’d each come home from work, heat up individual frozen dinners in the microwave (each entree-for-one in question often purchased one the way home), smoke a Herculean quantity of pot, start playing Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness loudly on the stereo, and tirelessly battle each other in Nintendo hockey. I’m not kidding about the “tirelessly” part. Most nights the video game was turned on by six or six-thirty and didn’t power down until after midnight, the Smashing Pumpkins album playing on repeat and replenishing hits from the bong and pipe taken as needed. I still marvel at their consistency. I wouldn’t be all that surprised to discover that they were happily settled into the same nightly course of action twenty years later.
I intended to give Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness a fresh listen, start to finish, in order to write about it at length this week. If nothing else, the obvious ambition of the release mandated a modern reckoning, holding it up against the marked descent of the band and its challenging leader. I tried. The album broke me. I won’t deny there’s good stuff on there (hit single “Tonight, Tonight” has a compelling anguished majesty to it, for example), but enough of it is defined by a numbing sameness — Corgan and co-producers Alan Moulder and Flood pile on so many layers of sound that vital intimacy and elegance are swamped — that the album becomes tedious. At a reasonable length, it may have been salvageable. Instead, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is over two hours long, the expansiveness of the CD format eradicating any need for the sort of ruthless pruning that might have made the album into a sonic powerhouse instead of a bloated, pretentious monstrosity. I barely got through the first disc, dubbed “Dawn to Dusk.” The notion of plowing through “Twilight to Starlight” gave me the same queasy feeling I get any time I think of what it would be like to be subjected to an encore viewing of some dreadful three hour movie, like Meet Joe Black. Maybe it would be different if I had a handy stash of pot and a properly equipped Nintendo. I don’t plan to find out.
This strikes me as strangely high placement on the chart for a band that was known mostly because their lead singer, Andre Comeau, was one of the first group of seven strangers picked to live in a loft and have their lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. The Detroit band was playing grungy hard rock. Maybe that was good enough. Or maybe the fact that the student deejays at the station in 1995 were largely still in their impressionable high school phase when that first season of MTV’s The Real World aired stirred up some weird nostalgia. Regardless, any affection for Reigndance certainly hasn’t lasted. Though I hardly scoured, I couldn’t find a single song from this record that I could link to in order to give an example of what it sounded like. You can connect with Comeau on LinkedIn, though.
— An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On
— 66 and 65: Alice in Chains and Frogstomp
— 64 and 63: Happy Days and Exit the Dragon
— 62-60: Lucky Dumpling, Fight for Your Mind, and Short Bus
— 59-57: Good News from the Next World, Joe Dirt Car, and Tomorrow the Green Grass
— 56 and 55: …And Out Come the Wolves and Clueless
— 54-52: We Get There When We Do, Trace, and Twisted
— 51-49: Thrak, Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), and You Will Be You
— 48 and 47: Shamefaced and Here’s Where the Strings Come In
— 46 and 45: 13 Unlucky Numbers and Resident Alien
— 44-42: Elastica, Private Stock, and Death to Traitors
— 41-39: Optimistic Fool, Ben Folds Five, and Above
— 38-36: Collide, Cowboys and Aliens, and Batman Forever
— 35-33: Taking the World by Donkey, One Hot Minute, and Dog Eared Dream
— 32 and 31: Straight Freak Ticket and Besides
— 30-28: Sixteen Stone, Big Dumb Face Shoe Guy, and Cascade
— 27-25: Born to Quit, King, and Hate!
— 24 and 23: Sparkle and Fade and Brown Bag LP
— 22 and 21: University and Pummel