Smash or trash?

Pumpkins double the pleasure and pain on Mellon Collie

The music itself on Mellon Collie is nothing particularly new to Smashing Pumpkins fans or even those who merely caught them in constant rotation on MTV, at least until you reach the second half of "Twilight to Starlight"; it serves only to wash over Corgan's lyrics, to provide them with a context--that is, the defiant and strong songs rock like metal (such as "Fuck You," thanks very much, and the Metallica-derivative "X.Y.U.," in which Corgan growls that he's a "mother fuck...the forgotten child") and the sad and defeated songs weep and moan ("Tonight, Tonight" and "Take Me Down"). This is for the kids who don't read lyric sheets, little reminders about how you're supposed to feel when you hear the songs if you can't follow the words.

The album plays itself out like one long suicide note from a guy who likes himself too much to actually kill himself. It reeks of despair and self-loathing, hopelessness and loss, confusion and emptiness. "There's no connection to myself," Corgan sings in "Zero," the anthem of the lonely loser who believes he can find love and redemption in the arms of a woman who will love him despite his pathetic flaws; "emptiness is loneliness," he goes on, "and loneliness is cleanliness, and cleanliness is godliness, and God is empty just like me." Several times throughout Mellon Collie, in fact, Corgan repeats the theme almost verbatim: I'm no good by myself, baby, and I need you bad. Barry White and Isaac Hayes felt the same way.

Mellon Collie is thick with references to sleep as a metaphor for death--or, at the very least, as a brief escape from life. Corgan begs for peace "In the Arms of Sleep" that he might rest his "lonely heart"; he wants you to "let me die inside" because "fuck it, I don't care" ("Tales of a Scorched Earth"). On "To Forgive," Corgan goes on to say that "nothing is important to me," that "I knew my loss before I even learned to speak." But how about sing?

In the end, Corgan may present his words through a "frowning smile," but it's a smile nonetheless because the music is often too self-contained to be cathartic, too derivative to be anything other than an echo of a memory. Corgan's neurosis and madness fuel his art, they are his art for better or worse, but such is his lot in life. He's "king of doom," as he sings on "Here is No Why," "forever doomed...lost inside the dreams of teen machines." As a result, he seems to be reminding himself: "You're a star," which makes the bad seem pretty damned good.

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