The Story of Smashing Pumpkins’ Sprawling ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’
When bands find themselves sitting on top of world, they often discover they have options they might not otherwise have had. Sometimes, artists in these situations decide to take advantage of their position by playing it safe. Other times, bands, like Smashing Pumpkins, decide to do something risky: like release a double album. Their bold move resulted in the ambitious Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which arrived on Oct. 23, 1995.
In 1993, the Pumpkins rose to the top of the alternative rock scene with Siamese Dream and after touring for more than a year, the foursome were eager to get back into the studio. But after working with superstar producer Butch Vig on their first two albums, the Pumpkins decided to change things up for what was then the most anticipated album of their career.
So they enlisted the help of two colossal rock producers -- Flood and Alan Moulder. Flood seems to have taken the lead on Mellon Collie, coming up with different ways of working that kept the Pumpkins on their toes during the recording sessions and streamlining the process. In the past, bassist D'Arcy Wretzky and guitarist James Iha had reportedly spent a lot of time not contributing while bandleader Billy Corgan recorded layers and layers of overdubs. This time, however, Wretzky and Iha worked with Moulder while Flood worked with Corgan. Flood also encouraged the band to write new songs throughout the recording process. While the Pumpkins knew from the start that they wanted to record a double album, they didn't have all the songs written when they got started.
"Flood really encouraged the idea of not having every day just be devoted to recording time," Corgan explained to Guitar World. "We would work on normal recording stuff for five or six hours, but then the band would just jam for a couple of hours or work on a new song or something. Working like that kept the whole process very interesting – kept it from becoming a grind. It did start to get grindy at the end, but that's inevitable."
Even before they began recording the album, Corgan was worried about becoming tied down to a specific sound -- a concern that seems to have followed him throughout his entire career.
"Well, we really went into the record with the notion that this would be the last Smashing Pumpkins record," he continued. "I mean, we plan on doing another record, but we don't plan on doing another record as the band that most people know. This kind of approach, style, music... everything... is going to change. I'm saying we've reached the end of one creative ebb and flow. And it's time to go down a different musical path. Our options are either to disband, or to force ourselves to go in a different direction. We've got a lot of different viewpoints on the culture at the moment. We believe that, to a certain degree, we're taken for granted. It's hard to explain, but you just reach a point where you know it's time to move on."
Still, the first single to be released from the 28-song rock opus was "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" and it was everything fans had come to expect from the Pumpkins – even a little darker.
The album also ventures far into unexpected territory. From the dreamy "Thirty Three" to the orchestral "Tonight, Tonight," it took the Pumpkins' prior psychedelic and spacey elements and expanded them into something that felt both classic and fresh. But despite the album's array of sounds, it's all undeniably Smashing Pumpkins – and something about that resonated with listeners. The understated electro-pop track, "1979," for instance, became the band's highest-charting single, reaching No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In total, the double-album yielded six singles, several of which broke into the Top 40. The video for "Tonight, Tonight" won Video of the Year at the 1996 MTV VMAs (just one of its seven nominations) and Mellon Collie was nominated for seven Grammys including Album of the Year.
Although the album seemed to indicate a bright future for Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie would prove to be the band's peak within the world of mainstream success. Corgan was true to his word with the band's fourth album, Adore, which separated the true believers from listeners wondering where all the guitars had gone.
Although Corgan sometimes maneuvers in ways that might seem mysterious (like dressing up as a nun for a duet with Marilyn Manson or launching a blog about people and their cars), his eccentricities seemed to work on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It's the album that's come to define Smashing Pumpkins to most people, and to others, it's come to define the entire post-grunge era.
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