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Mellon Collie is the latest Smashing Pumpkins release to get the reissue treatment (it just came out today, actually), and it’s even more impressive than the previous collections. There are three extra CDs full of demos, outtakes, and remixes, plus a DVD of live performances from the Spring of 1996. The big box also contains all the lyrics, new liner notes on every song from the original album, and a Decoupage kit. All the extras are nice, but what the reissue really does it drive home how incredibly sprawling, bold, ambitious, and audacious Mellon Collie was.
Frontman Billy Corgan had a lot riding on his band’s third proper album, as they were coming off a major breakthrough. Siamese Dream was the rock album of 1993, signifying the Pumpkins’ ascent to radio and MTV dominance on the back of singles like “Today,” “Rocket,” and “Disarm.” Though they were lumped into the catch-all moniker “alternative” (they did headline Lollapalooza, after all), there were only hints of counter-culture in Siamese Dream‘s thick radio-ready production (provided by Nevermind helmer Butch Vig). Really, only frontman Billy Corgan’s unusual voice and occasionally dark worldview put him shoulder to shoulder with his grungier peers on Alternative Nation. Corgan once compared Siamese Dream to the first Boston album, and while there’s still a lot more guttural heft in his work, I always understood that he didn’t think there was that much sonic distance between “Cherub Rock” and “More Than a Feeling.”
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness has even less to do with the predominant rock poses that had already morphed into cliché by the time 1995 rolled around. It was a strange time, as the highs of ’93 had given way to the sadness of ’94: The death of Kurt Cobain, the beginning of Pearl Jam’s withdrawl from the spotlight, the first wave of wildly successful pretenders like Bush. Radio rock in ’95 was rough, as many of the biggest albums of that fall—including Red Hot Chili Peppers’ One Hot Minute, Green Day’s Insomniac, and Alice in Chains’ Alice in Chains—were grand disappointments, and they had trouble forcing slightly aggro pop stars like Alanis Morissette off the airwaves. A lot of people were going big, but fewer and fewer seemed to be breaking through.
That’s the environment into which Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was born. Any way you look at it, it’s huge: Two discs, 28 songs, massive theatrical production, and grand, sweeping ideas. Corgan is really reaching for the stars depicted on the album’s cover—right from jumpstreet, he opens up his magnum opus with the instrumental title track (a sort of ent’ract for the affair), follows it with the billowing, fantastical “Tonight, Tonight,” and closes the kick-off triptych with a high-speed grinder called “Jellybelly.” It’s a bold gambit, letting the listener know that Mellon Collie would not sit still long enough for anybody to get a proper read on it—at least not in one sitting.—Entertainment Weekly