The Smashing Pumpkins are one of those classical iconic bands that fans of alternative music have listened to at one stage in their life, and even people who are clueless about alternative music have heard of the band. A band characterized by Billy Corgan’s overtly cumbersome ego – it is no surprise that the majority of the original line-up has left the band. In fact, there are only two members to the band, Corgan himself and Jeff Schroeder. With nine albums under their belt, including their latest release, and two decades of being band, somehow The Smashing Pumpkins manage to consistently push out truly remarkable albums that are destined to take their spot in the pantheon of brilliant alternative rock albums.
Monuments to an Elegy is a continued testament to this statement. It is a wickedly brilliant combination of progressive rock with alternative rock elements. The album itself forms part of a conceptual song-cycle called Teargarden by Kaleidyscope. Something that means very little to me as I only became aware of it while researching the album. The deeper meaning of extensive conceptual albums tend to go over my head. Hence why the deeper meaning and narrative of Coheed and Cambria’s albums flew straight over my head, and I just appreciated them for the musical genius of the albums. The same principle is applied here with Monuments to an Elegy. It is meant to be a 44-song narrative inspired by the Fools Journey from Tarot cards, or so Corgan says. However, seeing as we reside in a culture where lyrical narratives go straight over our heads, the lyrical themes superfluously include a weak lyrical narrative, but mainly touch on Corgan’s favored theme of love coupled with his crippling angst and poetic style of writing lyrics.
Despite the failings of the album as a concept, it still sounds phenomenal. Corgan decided to take a dive into ’80s synth-pop while clinging to the grungy alternative rock sound that came after Siamese Dreams. Tentative experimental progressive rock elements creep into the music as well, but perhaps the stand-out point is Corgan’s needling vocals that drip with acidic angst as he oozes melancholic musings that reflect his fractured relationship with the people around him, and continue to harp on his fixation with discussing the theme of love in a rather twisted and round-about fashion.
The album is characterized by layers of guitars and synth, alongside Corgan’s vocals, that create sounds of monumentally epic proportions. The drums were done by Tommy Lee, of Motley Crue, and add to the strong alternative rock tone of the album. “Being Beige” is a notable return to a sound found on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It is brooding and dark yet flecked with enough subtle pop rock influences that it becomes remarkably catchy and you’re left humming the tune and singing the chorus for hours afterwards. “Run2Me” takes a dive into the realms of ’80s synth-pop fused with modern electronic elements, and a thick layer of brooding guitar riffs.
“Drum + Fife” is the stand-out song on the album. It reminds me of “Bullet with the Butterfly Wings”, but less aggressive and not as twisted. It is rather the calm and more mature older brother of the song. Guitar riffs nestle cozily next to heavily synthesized elements and drawling vocals as Corgan expresses the sentiment of “I will bang this drum until my dying day”. “Anti-Hero” closes off the album with needling guitar riffs as Corgan delivers obsessive lyrics, reminiscent of Kill Hannah, about being with some amazing girl.
The Smashing Pumpkins have succeeded in creating a remarkable alternative rock album that stands out from the slew of loud and anthemic alternative rock albums that have saturated the market in recent years. It is a compact nine song album with each song cutting in under four minutes long, and cements Billy Corgan’s prowess as a songwriter and creative genius.