The Story of Smashing Pumpkins’ Magnum Opus, ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’
With the release of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness on Oct. 24, 1995, Smashing Pumpkins delivered not just their magnum opus, but arguably that of the entire alternative rock era. The epic, cinematic vision contained within its 28 songs, two hours-plus of music and semi-conceptual flow was unparalleled for the genre.
Almost all of this music emerged out of the fertile mind of Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan, who had reportedly amassed as many as 56 songs over the course of a year’s obsessive creativity leading up to his band’s third full-length album.
Any way you slice it, the fact that Mellon Collie debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and went on to sell in excess of 10 million in the U.S. alone — in spite of its uncommon girth (and resulting higher price tag) — is further testament to the Smashing Pumpkins’ incredible popularity at the time, and the impressive quality of the material at hand.
This ran the gamut of emotions and sonic dynamics, taking in dreamy placidity of the title cut, “Cupid de Locke,” “In the Arms of Sleep” and “Stumbleine” to the soaring pop-rock of “Tonight, Tonight,” “Thirty-Three” and “1979” to the hooky modern rock of “Here Is No Why,” “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and “Muzzle” to the epic-sized ambitions of “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” and “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” to the bubbling electronics of “Love” and “We Only Come Out at Night” to the blasted earth heavy metal of “Zero,” “Where Boys Fear to Tread,” “Bodies” and “X.Y.U.”
All this diversity could only have found such widespread acceptance at a very special time in history. In that sense, too, Mellon Collie enjoyed remarkably good timing by arriving near the alternative rock era’s open-minded apotheosis. That is, so long as the songs were catchy and, luckily, they were.
It helped that the Smashing Pumpkins were talented and hard-working, and the group would reap the rewards of all those efforts over the course of the ensuing year. They toured the globe and lured ever more fans to their cause. But then their good karma turned to bad with the drug-related death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin, which also led to drummer Jimmy Chamberlain being fired from the band.
Corgan, guitarist James Iha and bassist D’Arcy Wretzky would soldier on with replacements for a time, but the sheer pressure and exhaustion of promoting Mellon Collie amid these setbacks quickly strained their relationship. When their next album, the electronically-driven Adore, failed miserably, there was no longer any doubt that the band’s colossal achievement in 1995 had represented the artistic best of times for the group.
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