Billy Corgan has come to revel in his role as piratical pantomime villain whilst promoting his band’s new album. Firing broadsides at the media, forcing bandmates to walk the plank, there’s seemingly no end to his desire to antagonise. And in The Smashing Pumpkins’ new album, Monuments To An Elegy, he shows that he still holds no fear when it comes to risking a chorus of boos. With glorious flashbacks to the Pumpkins’ finest days as grunge pioneers and some unexpected twists, Corgan and his new band have produced a highly satisfying, if controversial ninth album.
Corgan reunited The Smashing Pumpkins, in name at least, in 2006. Since then, the personnel have rotated, but a major project has remained at their core: Teargarden by Kaleidyscope. Planned as a forty four song concept to be released over a series of recordings, Monuments To An Elegy is the latest installment in the epic.
Jeff Shroeder has survived the countless purges since he joined in 2007 and features on guitar. Drums come from the surprising source of Motley Crue founder Tommy Lee; an unexpected addition, and one that pays off.
Opening track ‘Tiberius’ will reassure old fans. Thrashing guitars and pounding drums bring happy flashbacks to the days of Siamese Dream, when The Smashing Pumpkins pushed themselves to the forefront of the ‘90’s first major youth movement.
‘One and All’, ‘Dorian’ and ‘Anti Hero’ are all filled with the intelligent, hard rock that continues to define Corgan’s work. Bristling with grunge attitude and power, they are proof that he is still master of the guitar fuelled head bang.
But there are plenty of surprises hidden within Monuments To An Elegy. The heart break guitar on ‘Being Beige’; The 80’s synths on ‘Run2me’; the distant tin whistle that hauntingly passes through ‘Drum + Fife’. There are enough twists to keep you guessing.
These deviations aren’t always successful. The military tension on ‘Anaise!’ grows slightly tired. ‘Run2me’ treads a dangerous path between genuine pop song and creepy motivational track. But Corgan is a risk taker and that is to be admired. He has no desire to please all the people, all the time; in fact he openly enjoys infuriating those who want him to stick to life as a rock star. And the positives overshadow the duds.
Monuments To An Elegy may be better described as a Billy Corgan solo effort than a Smashing Pumpkins album. But who cares? It doesn’t hit the remarkable heights of Gish, Siamese Dream or Mellon Collie… those days are long gone. But what it does achieve is a sense that rock is alive and well. There are plenty of belters here, and some exciting new directions to explore and these are what make this record such a happy addition to the Pumpkins’ catalogue.
Monuments to an Elegy is out now. Find it here. Image Rights; BMG Rights Management.