Review: The Smashing Pumpkins

Monuments To An Elegy
December 12, 2014

There are few songwriters in the alternative music world that test fans’ patience quite like The Smashing Pumpkins‘ Billy Corgan. Fortunately, after a decade of being subjected to the whims of Corgan’s rather inflated sense of self-importance, and the largely unremarkable progressive rock output it spawned, that patience is about to be duly rewarded.

Reward comes in the form of The Smashing Pumpkins new album, Monuments to an Elegy. The penultimate record in the band’s Teargarden By Kaleidyscope album cycle, Monuments to an Elegy is a welcome and wholly unexpected return to the band’s pop-infused alt-rock origins, which made albums like Gish and Siamese Dream landmark releases and made the band international icons.

Opening with the unashamedly Pixies-esque Tiberius, the band immediately captures your attention, as fuzz-drenched guitars and washed-out melodies cast a nostalgic spell, under which you’ll remain for the remainder of the album’s 32-minute running time. Lead single Being Beige follows, with its subtle use of keys and lovelorn lyrics introducing elements of new-wave romanticism, which only adds to the album’s 90’s throwback overtones. As Corgan tenderly croons a simple yet infectious refrain of “the world’s on fire“, you’ll be forgiven for thinking someone has thrown you in the boot of the DeLorean and hotfooted it right back to 1992.

These new wave elements continue to dominate through Anaise! and One and All. The former features a bass-driven groove which provides backing for an intimate Corgan vocal, while the latter utilises the band’s instantly familiar wall of guitars to create 3m 45s of the easily digestible alt-rock that was once the band’s calling card. The expansive Run2Me is up next, with its spaced-out synths and syncopated rhythms providing a cinematic quality, which perfectly complements the overt sentimentality of the lyrics. It also serves as the perfect segue to the second half of the record.

Listen: Smashing Pumpkins – Drum + Fife

The driving drums of surprising collaborator Tommy Lee, of Motley Crue fame, feature predominantly on Drum + Fife, the album’s finest and most instantly memorable song. Centred around the kind of chorus that rock radio loves (just try and stop yourself yelling “I will bang this drum to my dying day“) Drum + Fife proves Corgan remains a shrewd pop songwriter, and if any track finds favour on the airwaves I would put money on it being this one.

The excellent Monuments lights a fire with its incendiary guitar work, only for Dorian‘s meandering to douse the flames. The heat returns with Anti-Hero, which serves as the album’s most punk-rock, anarchic moment. A barnstormer by Pumpkins standards, its buzzsaw guitars, frantic drumming and passionate vocal delivery make for the perfect choice of closer.

While admittedly not the most innovative or progressive record in the Smashing Pumpkins pantheon, Monuments to an Elegy is still worlds away from the self-indulgent drivel Corgan had been peddling for the last decade. This fact alone would arguably have been enough to ensure the band’s return to prominence, but the presence of some genuinely great songs should all but guarantee it.

‘Monuments To An Elegy’ is out today.

Listen: The Smashing Pumpkins – Anti-Hero