The Smashing Pumpkins: ‘Monuments to an Elegy’ – Review
The Smashing Pumpkins, one of the original heavyweights of grunge, have returned with a brand spanking new studio album called “Monuments to an Elegy”.
Before I kick off this review of the album, let’s get you up to speed on what’s been happening at The Smashing Pumpkins headquarters prior to its making.
If you haven’t figured it out for yourself or read it somewhere, Billy Corgan can sometimes be a diva (of the rock industry) and likes to be in control, to be “The Boss” (you know, the shot-caller). Nicole Fiorentino (bass) and Mike Byrne (drums) are no longer in the band for reasons unknown, but given Billy’s reputation, I think they were asked to leave or they simply had enough and left.
You see, generally Billy does everything in the band. If he is not producing the albums, he also wants to play most of the instruments himself in recordings, even though Jeff Schroeder (guitarist and the longest running member in the band after Corgan) is still there. I think in the end Billy also just tells him what to do. In a weirdly positive way, with people leaving the band and Billy doing everything, someone had to fill in on drums and so Billy recruited the legendary Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, who tracked the drums for all 9 tracks of the album.
Ok, now you’re up to speed. Enough bullshit band politics and drama for one day. Time to get to the real reason we are here, to review “Monuments to an Elegy”.
First off, this album will be part of the concept 44-song album box set called Teargarden by Kaleidyscope and follows up on the last album the band released, Oceania. The idea behind this is to listen to all 44 songs in order as one big musical journey (like reading a book, only in this case instead of chapters it has different albums). The project is still not finished, so you will have to wait for the next album “Day for Night” to be released somewhere in the end of 2015.
I was taken aback when I first listened to this album, expecting that they would go back to the heavy original grunge sound (because grunge is making a comeback) that made them so unique. Instead Billy flipped the switch on us and went for a Smashing Pumpkins meets Zwan sound, with a heavy synth influence. In some grand enchanting way, it works. And it works brilliantly.
This album is sublime and it brings the sense of a romantic love story unfolding right in front of you while listening to it. From heart-piercing lyrics sung in Billy’s unique melancholy voice, to the dreamy acid trip-like synth flowing through most of the songs on the album like a majestic unicorn in paradise.
This is complemented by Tommy Lee, who is a master of his craft and does not put a foot wrong on any of the songs with his drumming skills. Tommy makes sure each track gets a complimenting drum beat that fits every song’s unique sound, and while doing this he somehow manages every drum part to fill the room with power and grace. The bass lines in the album are general heavy and walks hand in hand with the drums, only to freak out (in a good lets-head-bang kind of way) with the grunge guitar riffs on some of the songs. Jeff’s guitar samples and riffs, along with those of Billy’s, seem to fade away in parts of the album as the synthy rock sound and powerful lyrics take the centre stage.
Don’t despair though, because there are some rollicking 90’s grunge riffs (old school-sounding Smashing Pumpkins) that now and again show face in the album, taking you back to the 90’s when you were head-banging like an 18 year-old with no neck or back problems.
One of the songs that reminds me of old 90’s Smashing Pumpkins is track 4 , ”One and All” – this song has no synth, just pure grunge rock. It is the sound that most of us, I think, miss from the band. Don’t get me wrong though; this album is distinctive and outstanding in its own synth-rock way. My favourite track on the album must be “Being Beige”, a true rock/synth love ballad with hints of grunge guitar elements backing it. Pure genius.
In honesty, over the last few years I have lost my faith in Billy Corgan and his renewed Smashing Pumpkins…but with this album he has proven me wrong and slapped me straight in the face with an ice cold 8-pound tuna.
I salute you, Smashing Pumpkins. This is a great album and I have fallen for it like teenage girls fall for Channing Tatum and his abs – hard. If you’re one of the original Pumpkins fans, give this album a chance. Try and be open minded when listening to it because it might just surprise you and, before you know it, you’ll catch yourself falling in love….
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