Smashing Pumpkins – Monuments to an Elegy (2014)


Smashing Pumpkins’ – or Billy Corgan’s, however you want to put it – newest album, Monuments to an Elegy is the next part in the drawn out Teargarden by Kaleidyscope saga. Since 2009, Corgan has been releasing individual songs and entire albums under this theme, and he aims to conclude it next year with the next Pumpkins disc, Day for Night. All of the music under the Teargarden banner has been marked by Billy’s heavy experimentation with synthesizers and flowery subject matter, which obviously makes this material a very far cry from his “the world is a vampire” days. At times, though, he’s touched upon the Pumpkins’ former glory with it, most consistently on 2012’s Oceania (which balanced the heavy synth with heaping slabs of the band’s trademark fuzz).

However, Monuments to an Elegy comes up a lot shorter than it’s predecessor, both literally and figuratively. It’s run time is barely longer than that of most EPs, clocking in at 33 minutes with 9 songs. That means there’s no grand ‘Silverfuck’ or ‘Thru the Eyes of Ruby’ style epics here, or even the exploratory ‘Oceania’; the songs are short and sweet with predictable verse-chorus-verse structures. Figuratively, Monuments also finds Corgan dipping back into the synth-as-a-lead-instrument style that defined the early songs in the Teargarden cycle, for the worst. Almost all of the nine tracks here are either lead by, or feature prominent synth use – which would be all well and good, if most of them didn’t sound straight off of a New Age easy-listening CD. It comes off as painfully cheesy in the most un-ironic of ways, and it isn’t helped by Corgan’s absolutely dreadful lyrics. Besides clunkers like “Never been kissed by a girl like you/All I wanna, I wanna do/Love me baby, love me true/Oooh” and “alright alright/everywhere I go is shining bright”, you could literally die from alcohol poisoning if you drank every time he mentioned some variation of the word ‘love’ or ‘lover’.

But Corgan’s songwriting is so strong that, every once in a while, it does overpower even his most misguided tendencies. “One and All (We Are)” feels and sounds like a cut off of Mellon Collie, partly because it actually has roots in unfinished the Mellon Collie-era outtake ‘The Viper’. Grinding along with thick buzzsaw guitars and an angry inflection Corgan’s voice hasn’t held in years (and completely free of the cursed mini Moog), it’s a true dyed-in-the-wool Pumpkins song that reminds us of what he was once capable of. The prog-tinged ‘Tiberius’ manages the balance Oceania struck by successfully mixing a bright synth line with huge chugging chords, segueing into a heavier breakdown and back with ease. And the album’s lead single, ‘Being Beige’, has grown on me by leaps and bounds, bringing with it an Adore-influenced sound and gentle pop melodies.

I don’t fault Corgan for trying to explore new sounds and territories with his music, but he’s been mining this Synthing Pumpkins sound for five years now, and it’s seriously both wearing out its welcome and hurting his songs. The man who followed up one of the biggest double albums in music history with an understated gothic pop record is stuck in a rut, despite all of his grandstanding to the contrary. Monuments sounds deeply confused and flawed, jumping back and forth between guitar-driven rockers and new-agey synth and lyrics, rarely ever congealing into something cohesive. Ever since Corgan reformed the Pumpkins in 2006, he’s been struggling to find a sound for them that’s both relevant and in line with their past, and for all this trouble, he’s lost sight of what really matters – good songs. It’s a shame to see one of the ’90s greatest songwriters so mired in mediocrity, but at least at the end of the day we still wind up with a great song every now and then. That’s probably all we can ask for anymore.

Key Tracks: One and All (We Are), Tiberius, Being Beige

the Smashing Pumpkins – Zeitgeist (7.0/10)

The Smashing Pumpkins: Zeitgeist
“this disc has enough of its own merit to stand next to the rest of the Pumpkins’ discography, even with Iha and Wretzkey out of the picture.”


1. Doomsday Clock
2. 7 Shades of Black
3. Bleeding the Orchid
4. That’s the Way (My Love Is)
5. Tarantula
6. Starz
7. United States
8. Neverlost
9. Bring the Light
10. (Come One) Let’s Go!
11. For God and Country
12. Pomp and Circumstances

The return of the Smashing Pumpkins was met with criticism from most corners, and their comeback album was downright torn to shreds. But, after letting the dust settle, the bias can be seen through and the truth can come out: it’s really not that bad.

Sure, it can’t touch Siamese Dream (1993) or Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995), but this disc has enough of its own merit to stand next to the rest of the Pumpkins’ discography, even with Iha and Wretzkey out of the picture.

Musically, it’s the standard Pumpkins fare, blending metal and classic rock together in a furious combination, and vocally, Corgan can still hit all the notes he needs to. Unlike fellow alt. rocker Eddie Vedder, his voice still has the power it had a decade earlier.

But, despite Corgan’s form, there’s a problem – there’s too much of him. Most of the songs have layer after layer of vocals on piled on top of each other, the result of Roy Thomas Baker’s production. And Corgan’s voice has always been an acquired taste – even the most adamant of fans will find that it becomes quite jarring, and quickly.

There’s also another inherent problem that plagues Zeitgeist – there’s moments that sound completely forced and veer straight into a brick wall. Corgan’s cries for revolution in ‘United States’ sound juvenile, and his lyrics in ‘That’s the Way’ are saccharine somewhat overbearing.

That doesn’t mean that Zeitgeist is unlistenable – it’s far from it. There’s plenty hard rocking and sincere moments, and they make it a fun and interesting album. There’s nowhere near as much fat as there is on Mellon Collie, and it doesn’t drift out of focus like MACHINA (2000). It’s much easier to ‘get’ as a result, and you don’t need to be feeling any particular way to give it a spin.

As a whole, Zeitgeist gives the Pumpkins another shot at the 21st century – revitalizing a damn good band that had lay dead far too long. It’s straightforward; it rocks hard, and it also shows that with a good songwriter at the helm, a band can live on without all of its original members.