I guess recent interviews with Billy Corgan in which his ego has been on full display worked, because I’ve now heard the new Smashing Pumpkins album, which I previously didn’t have much interest in. I was a fan in the 90s, but by the time Adore came out, I wasn’t really on board anymore. Monuments to an Elegy is kind of surprising in a strange way.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect and while it wasn’t Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness, it was still basically listenable. The first two tracks, “Tiberius” and “Being Beige” are not remarkable, really, but they are also not offensive. The first one is a basic rock track, with some interesting synth that gives it depth. The second borders on modern top 40 pop balladry of the type you’d expect to be used in a montage during some badly scripted reality show, but ultimately lands on the better side of that line, though just barely. It doesn’t help that the song ends with a repetitive chorus that seems to go on far too long. I have a friend who hates fade outs, but I would argue this is worse.
It’s when the third track, “Anaise,” came on that I found myself remembering what I liked about Corgan in the first place. It doesn’t actually sound so much like his 90s work, but it does contain elements of it in some of the high pitched, 70s AM soft rock inspired sounds that he makes so much his own. And the synth line in this song adds such a perfect punctuation. This is where the album should have started, really.
The next track, “One and All” ism once again, just mediocre. Nothing about it really stands out to me except that it’s followed by what I will just say has to be the worst song of Corgan’s career, “Run2me,” complete with needlessly ridiculous spelling. This is the moment where it became painful to hear the same person who once wrote the most accurate lyrics about depression I ever heard in “Zero,” singing “Run to me, Run to me, my special one, Run to me,” over and over again over what sounds like a rejected, late 90s Cher track. It’s one thing for an artist to go in a different direction, but this track just comes across as lazy and meaningless.
Thankfully, the next track, “Drum + Fife” brings a certain energy that manages to wash away the bad taste left over after all that running. The problem with this track is that once again, it falls into seemingly endless repetition of the chorus, “I will bang this drum til my dying day,” which is apparently meant to be taken literally. With a little editing, this would be a much better song. Again, it’s harder to take because Corgan was always a great lyricist, so hearing him fall to repeating lines so much, especially one as cliched as the one in this song, is painful. Musically, however, I can’t fault this song one bit. It helps a great deal to have Tommy Lee on board when singing an exuberant song about drumming.
The other truly great track on the album is “Monuments.” The heavy use of synths really lifts this song to an atmospheric height that suggests Corgan should not give up. There are a couple of points in this track where I wasn’t sure if it was suddenly a different song. It somehow carries you on a groove that’s almost hypnotic, then manages to change it up without losing steam. It’s dynamic and vibrant and I wish the whole album had been this good.
The last two tracks, “Dorian” and “Anti-Hero” are decent album tracks. “Dorian” calls to mind Depeche Mode style guitar and moody, electronica interplay. “Anti-Hero” with the heaviest guitar on the album, closes out on a note that almost recaptures the great, passionate and poetic geek rock the Pumpkins made famous in the 90s, with lines like “ode to the alien weekend/ stoned where it starts to burn slow/ you said show them one weakness/ the give my hand a hold.” But, of course, you can’t go back again. It’s not a bad album, and it’s quite possible that someone coming to the Pumpkins for the first time would see nothing wrong with it. But, then again, I think if this was a new band, I’d still recognize it’s overall unevenness.