October 23, 2020 marks twenty-five years since the release of The Smashing Pumpkins' epic double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness way back in 1995, and now couldn't be a better time to look back, reminisce and rediscover this landmark album.
Many people have a story to tell about that period of time. They may have memories of buying it at their local music store, going to concerts, or the cliched losing of virginity to a song. But I have no such memories - because I was twelve years old and so I certainly wasn't losing my virginity to any songs or going to concerts. Really, most of what I listened to at that time was classical music or movie soundtracks. I know - big dork - but I was still young, didn't have any real teenage "angst" at that point, and was frankly just kind of turned off by all of the negativity I felt was exuding from the rock and roll scene at that time, at least on the radio. Songs about how "everything sucks, I wanna die, the world is bleak, blah blah blah." It just didn't vibe with me.
Nevertheless, I remember well the era of alternative rock and how it dominated the air waves, but I enjoyed lighter-themed stuff. I actually really liked R.E.M. and certainly enjoyed some good rock songs by various bands. It's just that at the age of twelve, I hadn't latched on to any one band. It wasn't until my later teenage years that I started listening to Guns N' Roses out of nostalgia (and ended up really getting in to them) and then really opened up to The Smashing Pumpkins with 2000's Machina/the machines of God - when I was 16. As I fell in love with that album, I went backwards through The Smashing Pumpkins' catalog and soon, finally, discovered the kaleidoscope masterpiece of emotion and musical range that is Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
I remembered seeing it everywhere between 1995 and 1997. It wasn't something you could escape. It certainly captured my curiosity. The cover alone was intriguing - a picture of a woman in a star amongst the cosmos with an indescribable look upon her face. The fact that it was a double album was also different. It was obviously a massive work and it was selling like hot cakes. You couldn't not take note of it. But although I was late to the party, I had discovered it at the right time. I was at a point where I was now open to receive what was being offered to me.
The album ranges from stringed, sentimental songs of love and hope to absolute hardcore death metal. From traditional good ol' Beatles-esque rock n' roll to the experimental. It has short and sweet pop songs and it has lengthy epics. It jolts you from one style to the other like flipping television channels and takes you on roller coaster ride of manic highs and lows. But all of this is by design.
Riding high off of their great mainstream success in Siamese Dream, the band now decided to really blow everyone out of the water. And although there was push back from the record company at releasing a whopping 28-song double album, the band stuck to their guns. The result was groundbreaking.
The album spawned five official singles - "Tonite, Tonite," "Zero," "1979, "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," and "Thirty Three" (in no particular order). These songs alone give a decent sampling of just where the album will take you, but they leave out the more experiemental sounds of "Love," and "Cupid De Locke" and the epics like "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans" and "Thru the Eyes of Ruby."
But what strikes me most about the album is that it sent a clear message that The Smashing Pumpkins' music didn't just represent a single sound or a single mindset. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness solidified the message that their music represented an entire universe of style, thought, emotion and creativity. A universe you could endlessly explore and get lost in. Time has only validated this further with the bands many subsequent releases.
Many bands find a particular sound and stick to it. They tend to gain a lot of popularity this way. But the Smashing Pumpkins are a different creature entirely. No one album is ever the same, and new styles, both musically and lyrically, are constantly explored. Ultimately, this is what I love and find so exciting about The Smashing Pumpkins. They are truly a living, breathing artistic unit. They are always on the move and they are about the moment, right now.
And truly, that is what makes each moment, each era of the band lived in and experienced, all the more special.