The first time I heard “Soma” by the Smashing Pumpkins, I discovered a new emotion in music. When I listen to the song, I feel lost in the enchanting guitars, surrounding me like a rainforest of soundscapes. There is a melancholy in Billy Corgan’s lyrics.
“Wrapped my hurt in you/And took my shelter in that pain/The opiate of blame”
My headphones trapped me in a surreal poetry, causing the world to become shaded in different colors. The Smashing Pumpkins became one of my favorite bands, and Billy Corgan, lyricist, vocalist, and guitarist, became one of my lyrical idols. The next time I visited my local record store, I found a copy of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness for my car and binged the album for the next few weeks. My best friend and I have tried for years to find a full analysis of the album, unpacking each song not only as an individual, but as an extremity of an entire album. I have often wondered if there were overlapping themes, an overarching story, or if the whole album is just a tornado of emotion and noise. I figure that the only person who could fully satisfy my hunger for a full album review and analysis is me. I will be going over the album in several different posts and paying close attention to the lyrics especially, while giving a general overview of the musical aspects of the album.
Yes, the album is now over 20 years old. But I don’t think that it receives enough recognition for the depth it holds. It is a truly poetic album and underrated for its excellence. Yes, I am biased. If you read this, I would hope that you would gain an appreciation for not only the album, but Corgan, each song as an individual piece, and the Smashing Pumpkins as a whole. That being said, let’s dig in.
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is the Smashing Pumpkins’ fourth studio album, released in 1995, following the softer, more polished album, Siamese Dream. Mellon Collie is a 28-song double-album, split into two sections. Disc one, or part one, is titled “Dawn to Dusk”, is 58 minutes long, begins with song one, “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”, and ends with song 14, “Take Me Down”. Disc two, or part two, is titled “Twilight to Starlight”, is 63 minutes long, begins with song 15, “Where Boys Fear to Tread”, and ends with song 28, “Farewell and Goodnight”. The Pumpkins were discouraged from undertaking such a huge task, but Corgan had his mind set. He would be making a far darker album than the Pumpkins had ever released. Corgan said that he was making “The Wall for Generation X”. It is no easy task to live up to Pink Floyd’s legacy, but Mellon Collie hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200 in October of 1995.
The album opens up with the album’s titular song “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”, named by Corgan while out on a walk on Coney Island in 1991. He said that the name had floated into his head at random. He blurted the words out in hopes of remembering their sound. The name would be used for the song “Mellon Collie”, which was originally a full-band instrumental. Corgan later changed the song to be played on piano. The track consists of a single, clean piano, and a small collection of stringed instruments, such as violin. I see the track as hopeful, charismatic, and glimmering. It is the perfect opening to the side labeled “Dawn to Dusk”, as it opens up the listener with hope. This can be represented by the sun and the beginning of a day. The crisp, upbeat piano could also symbolize the beginning of a life; there is innocence and a pureness to life before it can be muddled by adolescence and the struggles of the real world. With this album, and the many references to day and night, I find it easy to assume that the album itself could be an allusion to life and death, and if not, then at least it will be packed with imagery of the stages of life. There are still no lyrics to fully dive into, so we cannot assume anything, but there is already so much to unpack simply based off an instrumental and the artistic style of the album.
The melody of “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” returns at the end of the song “Thru the Eyes of Ruby”, this time with dreamily layered guitars and no keyboard. The tune is called the “Nighttime Version”. The melody reappears one more time at the end of the last track of the record, “Farewell and Goodnight”. This piano has a little more production on it, making the notes more resonant and full. The full cycle of the tune makes me even more sold on the theme of life and death. Of course, we cannot assume anything without fully digging into the songs and lyrics themselves. Billy Corgan told Rolling Stone in 2012, “I think [the album has] held up really well. I think it’s ultimately down to the songwriting.”
I hope that you would stay updated with me as I try to unpack this untamed beast. Thanks for reading.