Album Review: Monuments To An Elegy (Smashing Pumpkins)

I can’t be objective about the Smashing Pumpkins. I was so deep in the throes of adolescence when Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sandess was released that the intended irony of the album’s name was lost upon me. Billy Corgan’s voice will always make me feel thirteen, angsty, happy, misunderstood, and hopeful. That is to say that no matter how crazy Corgan’s exploits have gotten or poor his musical offerings, I’ve held out hope that he still had great music left in him.

After 2005’s disastrous Zeitgeist, 2012’s Oceania presented a faint glimmer of musical relevance. The start of the first track Quasar sounds like Corgan clearing the cobwebs that have been in the way of him writing good material. While Oceania had several terrific tracks and solid moments, most of the arrangments were unfocused and meandering. It wasn’t an album I would’ve recommended for someone’s enjoyment without the handicap of Pumpkins nostalgia.

On Monuments to An Elegy, Corgan has decided to not fuck around; at thirty-three minutes and nine tracks, Monuments represents the tightest Pumpkin offering to date. No interminable prog-rock solo or fading instrumental ambience. This is a straight ahead Pop/Rock record and its the best since 1998’s Adore. The traditional Pumpkins’ wall-of-sound is still there, but its layers trimmed and supplemented with a heavy does of synth. Even at the height of the Pumpkins, Corgan’s lyrics could veer towards hollow mysticism and self-indulgence. The latter records almost exclusively occupy that space. On Monuments, Corgan does something he’s never tried before: straight-forward lyrics. I would’ve had a hard time picturing Corgan on a different album confidently singing “I will bang this drum to my dying day” as he does on [Drum and fife]. At times on the album, you do wish Corgan would try for something more ambitious than some of the light love songs on Monuments, but it’s definitely different from his past more oblique efforts. It lets him focus on something that hasn’t received enough attention lately: writing a tight catchy song.

The first track Tiberius is probably my vote for best Pumpkin track of the 2000s. The key message of the song in my view is that Corgan has become comfortable with his various music personalities and managed to blend them together. The track leads with synths that might’ve felt at home on Adore and bridges that had the metallic crunch of Zeitgeist and some of the quiet-then-loud dynamics that made Mellon Collie feel epic. All wrapped around a tight melodic core that is most reminiscent of Siamese Dream. If you have some fondness – or nostalgia at least – for every era of the Pumpkins, as I do, then Tiberius might get stuck in your head for a while.

If I had to liken Monuments to other Pumpkins records or tracks, I would say the closest are Pisces Iscariot or 1979 from Mellon Collie. To get a little more geeky, many of the tracks remind me of New Wave covers done as B-Sides on Aeroplane Flies High. And if the Smashing Pumpkins were also the soundtrack of your adolescence then the thought of hearing more of that Pumpkins should surprise and delight you. It might never be as good or mean as much to you as when you were fifteen, but at least this time you’ll be in on the joke in the album’s name.