Some people may wonder why it has taken me so long to review the latest album of my favorite band. The answer to that question is: I don’t know. When it comes to posting I go where my muse takes me, and it took me nowhere near this review. If you are the type of person who needs a reason, I guess it’s because MONUMENTS TO AN ELEGY (MTAE from here on out) is unlike any Smashing Pumpkins album that came before it, so I needed a while to process what I felt about it.
Now, on with the review.
Billy Corgan has always been an interesting musical figure. A bundle of contradictions and opposing views shines through in just about every interview. This is most apparent when he gets talking about the fans. One minute he says, “Fuck what the fans want. I’m making the kind of music *I* want.” Then he turns around and says, “We made MTAE so short because that’s what fans want. They don’t have the attention span for the long epics anymore.” A lot of people point out his contradictions as proof that he is a joke. To me, it makes him more real.
I know what is on everyone’s mind right now. To paraphrase an episode of 30 ROCK, am I gay for Billy? Maybe so, but I’m not dwelling on that now. I may be uncertain how I feel about the man, but I do know I love his music. MTAE is no exception.
For lack of a better term, MTAE is the Pumpkins’ response to the ADHD culture in which we live. At 32 minutes and change, it’s even shorter than the “Zero” single, which clocked in at 40 minutes. It’s obvious this is a different affair from the synth opening of “Tiberius.” (Billy is no stranger to synths, but he has never used them to open an album.) Moments later we are whisked away to familiar Pumpkins territory when the guitars kick in. It becomes a riff fest that ebbs and flows to a subdued (yet appropriate) ending.
The next track “Being Beige” is reminiscent of the loud-soft dynamic made so popular by the Pixies and elevated by Nirvana, and of course by the Pumpkins themselves, but it doesn’t feel like Billy is ripping off the past. He’s always had a way of making the oldest tricks in the book seem new and exciting.
From here on out, the album takes some interesting twists and turns. I don’t think we’ve ever heard the Pumpkins use a beat as funky as the one on “Anaise!” Then we are walloped over the head with more great riffing on “One and All.” Billy marries his Depeche Mode leanings to typical SP guitars on “Run 2 Me.” Then we meet the Billy of old on “Drum + Fife,” the guy who told the music industry to go fuck itself when they warned him against releasing a double album back in 1995. Specifically I’m thinking of the lyrics, “I will bang this drum ’til my dying day.” In terms of message, this line echoes a sentiment he’s been expressing since SIAMESE DREAM. Check out these lines from “Rocket.”
Bleed in your own light.
Dream of your own life.
He’s talking about wanting to do his own thing in a world where he is being pressured to do something else. However, he has too much integrity to give in.
Then we get to the title track which, in my opinion, is the weakest moment of the album. However, Billy bounces back nicely with the gem “Dorian.” For some reason it reminds me of JAPANESE WHISPERS-era Cure. (Think “Let’s Go to Bed,” not “Lovecats.”) Despite the fact that it is dressed up in New Wave attire, this is still identifiable as a Corgan tune. Much like “Disarm” back in 1993, “Dorian” moves in the same direction the band is pursuing without using the usual sounds.
Last is “Anti-Hero,” which sonically sounds like SP but lyrically is reminiscent of Motley Crue (“Never been kissed by a girl like you/All I wanna, wanna do/Love me baby, love me true”), which is fitting since Tommy Lee played drums on this album. (I wonder if this was a calculated moves on Billy’s part. “Hey, since Tommy played on the album, let’s have a closing track that sounds like his old band as a way to say thanks.”) A lot of people wondered if Tommy would be a good fit for Billy’s music, but Billy said in an interview that Mr. Lee had been a Pumpkins fan since GISH. Whatever I may think of Motley Crue’s music, I can’t deny the man has chops.
My only gripe with this album: none of the usual Billy Corgan leads, which are always an orgasm for the ears. (Yeah, maybe I’m more than a LITTLE gay for Billy.)
All in all, it’s a fine addition to the Pumpkins catalog. This proves that Billy Corgan can be short and concise without losing the visceral impact. Good songs are good songs, no matter how long.