For over a decade I’ve endured The Smashing Pumpkins. Before this time I was in love with everything they produced, well, apart from when James Iha was allowed to sing, but that’s a story for another time.
Since the release of Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music I’ve been so underwhelmed by their studio work and even had the misfortune of standing through a very weird and surreal show at Glasgow’s O2 Academy, pre-Oceania where we were subjected to what seemed like the full album – which nobody had heard – interspersed with some classics. Corgan et al disconnected from the crowd and seemingly going through the motions I felt this was the end of what had previously been a beautiful relationship.
So, you can see why there were both excitement and dread in the build-up to this recent effort. Since the album was given a name and it was available to pre-order I had the feeling in my head that this was make-or-break for me and my beloved Pumpkins. That’s a lot of pressure.
The album opens beautifully with the piano intro to ‘Tiberious’ which breaks into a typical and very welcoming Pumpkins sound. The mix of guitar, guitar, more guitar and Corgan’s marmite vocals is something that not all will enjoy but if you love the Pumpkins of old you’ll love this. It has the piano breakdown, orchestrated guitar and just the right amount of synth I’ve been pining for since the days of Siamese Dream and Adore.
With lead single ‘Being Beige’ is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy in that it is in fact, a little beige. With a fumbly arrangement it doesn’t feel as cohesive – due mainly to the somewhat misplaced drum machine – as other tracks on the album and comes across as just a bit dull in the end.
That bass opening ‘Anaise!’ is indulgent, I want it to just keep going on and on and on. With a poppy vibe we see the radio-friendly side of the Pumpkins’ repertoire leading us into the heavier, darker ‘One and All’. Possibly my favourite track on the album with its familiar tone and high-hat-heavy drums provided by Tommy Lee of Mötley Crüe. A similarity shared with ‘Monuments’ which you would swear has the DNA of Adore. When I heard that for the first time I transported back to 1998 in a haze of synth and guitar. Stunning tracks.
Monuments To An Elegy isn’t without weaker tracks. ‘Run2Me’ and ‘Dorian’ don’t live up the promise of anything else on the album. In contrast to the pomp and bravado of ‘Anti-Hero’ or the simplistic beauty of ‘Drum + Fife’ they just don’t stand up.
Overall, the album is flawed in places but overall the sum of all parts is still greater than anything we’ve had from the interchangeable lineup for some time and is the return to form that I believe we’ve all been hoping for. Corgan has his moments and flights of fancy with layering vocals, insisting on providing his own backing vocals on occasion and the odd solo here and there but if – like me – you can see past the over-embellishment you’ll no doubt have this one on repeat for a while.
Welcome back Mr Corgan and Co.