album list
Smashing Pumpkins, 'Siamese Dream'

Siamese Dream  (1993,  63.40)  **½/T

Cherub Rock
Geek U.S.A.
Sweet Sweet
Smashing Pumpkins, 'Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness'

Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness  [Disc 1: Dawn to Dusk]  (1995,  57.58)  **/T

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Tonight, Tonight
Here is No Why
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
To Forgive
Fuck You (an Ode to No One)
Cupid De Locke

Porcelina of the Vast Oceans
Take Me Down
Smashing Pumpkins, 'The Aeroplane Flies High'

The Aeroplane Flies High  (1996,  136.00)  *½/T

Bullet With Butterfly Wings
...Said Sadly
You're All I've Got Tonight
Clones (We're All)
A Night Like This
Destination (Unknown)
The Boy
Set the Ray to Jerry
Mouths of Babes
Tribute to Johnny
Maquis in Spades
Pastichio Medley
Tonight, Tonight
Meladori Magpie
Rotten Apples
Jupiter's Lament
Medellia of the Gray Skies
Tonite Reprise
The Last Song
The Aeroplane Flies High
  (Turns Left, Looks Right)
The Bells
My Blue Heaven
Smashing Pumpkins, 'The End is the Beginning is the End' CDS  (1997,  17.05)  **½/TT½

The End is the Beginning is the End
The Beginning is the End is the Beginning

The Ethers Tragic
The Guns of Love Disastrous
Smashing Pumpkins, 'Adore'

Adore  (1998,  78.59)  *½/T

To Sheila
Ava Adore
Daphne Descends
Once Upon a Time
Appels + Oranjes
The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete
Behold! The Nightmare
For Martha
Blank Page
Smashing Pumpkins, 'Machina: the Machines of God'

Machina: the Machines of God  (2000,  72.58)  *½/T

The Everlasting Gaze
Raindrops & Sunshowers
Stand Inside Your Love
I of the Mourning
The Sacred and Profane
Try, Try, Try
Heavy Metal Machine
This Time
The Imploding Voice
Glass and the Ghost Children
The Crying Tree of Mercury
With Every Light
Blue Skies Bring Tears
Age of Innocence
Smashing Pumpkins, 'Machina II'

Machina II: the Friends & Enemies of Modern Music  (2000,  93.02)  **/½

Slow Dawn
Soul Power
Cash Car Star
Lucky 13
Speed Kills
If There is a God
Heavy Metal Machine
Cash Car Star
Real Love
Let Me Give the World to You
Blue Skies Bring Tears
White Spyder
In My Body
If There Is a God
Le Deux Machina
Atom Bomb
Smashing Pumpkins, 'Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness'

Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness  [Disc 3: Morning Tea]  (2012,  78.30)  ***/½

Tonight, Tonight (strings alone mix)
Methusela (Sadlands demo)
X.Y.U. (take II)
Zero (synth mix)
Feelium (Sadlands demo)
Autumn Nocturne (Sadlands demo)
Beautiful (loop version)
Ugly (Sadlands demo)
Ascending Guitars (Sadlands demo)
By Starlight (Flood Rough)
Medellia of the Gray Skies (take 1)
Lover (arrangement 1 demo)
Thru the Eyes of Ruby (take 7)
In the Arms of Sleep (early live demo)
Lily (My One and Only) (Sadlands demo)
1979 (Sadlands demo)
Glamey Glamey (Sadlands demo)
Meladori Magpie
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (home piano version)
Galapogos (instrumental/Sadlands demo)
To Forgive (Sadlands demo)

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

I suppose my chief problem with the Smashing Pumpkins is one of pretentiousness; now, I realise that lays me open to multiple charges of hypocrisy, being a major prog fan, but I'm actually of the opinion that a good progressive band is rarely actually pretentious, because they are playing and writing within their limits. As for the Pumpkins... Exhibit A: album titles - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Machina: the Machines Of God (That is NOT a translation of 'deus ex machina'!). Exhibit B: song titles - Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans, Bullet With Butterfly Wings, Behold! The Night Mare; need I continue? I rest my case, M'lud.

Their second release, 1993's Siamese Dream, is less wanky than they were to become, being a sort-of grunge (remember that?) album, which, apart from its rather self-important lyrics, works well enough, although I can't honestly say it's my kind of thing. Mainman Billy Corgan has an extremely irritating voice, although he generally keeps it in check here, while I'm struck by how good drummer Jimmy Chamberlin is (listen to the intro to Silverfuck), which explains why he's done so much subsequent session work. The material doesn't really engage me, I'm afraid, though at least half the tracks work on the pure energy level, particularly in the drumming department. As far as Corgan's Mellotron usage goes, I've read that various tracks are full of the thing, but all I can hear is some fairly full-on strings (and flutes?) on Spaceboy, although both Disarm and Luna have either real or fake strings, too.

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Hmmm, hmmm and hmmm again. What on earth possessed Corgan to think that would be a good title? Ludicrously pretentious, it gives the impression that whoever came up with it isn't half as bright as he'd like to think he is, as does the later Machina: the Machines Of God. The album itself is fantastically overblown; think 'grunge Queen' and you might be getting close, although with not a trace of that band's sense of humour. This impression is intensified by the titles for the individual discs: Dawn to Dusk and Twilight to Starlight. Even more hmmm. Its worst crime, though, in my book, is that a great deal of it is very dull, while it's appallingly over-long. Millions of record-buyers would argue that point, but I found myself losing the will to live as I staggered onto the second disc (sadly not literally). The second disc is decidedly more palatable the the first, better tracks including the relentless Tales Of A Scorched Earth, Thru The Eyes Of Ruby and the strange little We Only Come Out at Night, but it's slim pickings, folks. The title track is easily the best of its Mellotron tracks, a two-ish minute piano piece with some lovely strings, but neither Cupid De Locke or Galapogos have particularly worthwhile use, with very average strings in both. There may be other Mellotron use on the album, but if so, it's well-buried, so don't go out of your way for this one. No, I mean it. Incidentally, I've been told that we're actually hearing a MusicMaster 600 Chamberlin, but given the drummer's name (think: Google search), this is almost impossible to verify.

1996's The Aeroplane Flies High is a five-CD EP set, consisting of the CD singles from Mellon Collie and is absolutely interminable. There are some covers scattered amongst the original numbers, but nothing I know, so I can't knowledgably converse on the subject. What I do know is that the 23-minute Pastichio Medley is the sort of thing that has inspired mass murder, while most of the rest of the material is pretty awful, too. I thought I'd got away without having to review it, until The Last Song, which is a relatively reasonable acoustic number, with some nice Mellotron strings. Please don't buy this record. The following year's The End Is The Beginning Is The End, is a non-album single used in one of the Batman films, grouped together with another three similar-sounding tracks on an EP, all with a very distinct 'soundtracky' feel to them and a common musical motif running through all four tracks. the title track is notable for the thick, soupy Mellotron choirs on the intro and dotted throughout and is that strings and flutes in the verse? The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning has more choirs, as does The Guns Of Love Disastrous, making this the band's premier Mellotron release and probably just about the best thing they've done musically, too.

Adore is more of the same (d'you get the feeling I'm just going through the motions here?), although the Mellotron makes an appearance or two. Tear is probably the album's best track, with a beautiful Mellotron string line that reminds me of Crack the Sky, for some unknown reason, then Pug has a few really ordinary string chords, although compared with the dirges that fill the bulk of the horrendously overlong album, it's quite good. Machina: the Machines of God is slightly more energetic, though no more listenable, although Glass And The Ghost Children (there's another one for Exhibit B) has some decent enough Mellotron flutes and strings. Some semi-buried strings on The Crying Tree Of Mercury and that's it.

An odd story surrounds the same year's Machina II: the Friends & Enemies of Modern Music: Virgin told Corgan point-blank that they wouldn't release a double CD, or an immediate follow-up to the first Machina album, due to poor sales. The band's response was to finish recording part two, have twenty-five copies pressed on vinyl and give them away, with explicit instructions to 'release it on the 'Net'. Naturally, some recipients did as they were told, leaving us, twelve years later, with various downloads as the only practical way of obtaining the album, although a proper release is rumoured for 2013. Tracks one to eleven are apparently 'technically b-sides'; does that account for their appalling quality, or is that a result of a poor vinyl transfer, or indeed, too many conversions to MP3 and back? Whatever, they sound awful, compositional qualities aside. The 'regular' album is of far higher sonic quality, although the material, unsurprisingly, isn't. Is anything here any good? Odd little synth piece Le Deux Machina is listenable, but it's up against horrors such as Heavy Metal Machine and If There Is A God (both versions), so it's on a bit of a hiding to nothing, frankly. Like most of these albums, Corgan's Mellotron is seriously underused, with naught but background, yet quite distinct strings on Speed Kills.

So... What the hell is it with this band? Why are they so inexplicably popular? If there's a whinier, moanier vocalist around than Billy Corgan, I've yet to hear them and the vast majority of their material is irritating post-grunge nothingness, but millions wept into their beer when they split in 2000. Corgan's formed a new outfit, Zwan, but after a pain-filled hour-plus listening to their sole album (thankfully, I believe they've now split), I couldn't hear any Mellotron. As far as the it's concerned on the above, I'd say there's a short CD to be made of the stuff worth listening to, a fair chunk of it being from the End is the Beginning EP. Oh, and I don't believe there's any Mellotron on their first b-sides etc. collection, 1994's Pisces Iscariot (Exhibit A); right now, I really don't feel the need to borrow a copy for serious scrutiny, or in fact, any at all.

As a postscript, here's a Corgan quote on the Mellotron, taken from the Viewphoria video:

[Gesturing towards Mellotron]: "This, of course, is the Mellotron, which is, um, most notably used by the Beatles. Um, it's a precursor to the sampler that used actual tape. But instead of, like, the Beatles used, uh, orchestral noises, we use just people screaming". [Billy hits the keys, producing screaming sounds.]

Screaming? Another online quote, from producer Butch Vig, alludes to that particular M400 having 'three or four' tapeframes, so it's quite possible that Corgan was playing a sound effect tape for the camera. For what it's worth (which is quite a bit on Planet Mellotron), guitarist James Iha subsequently bought that studio machine, so who plays it on the band's other '90s albums can only be a matter for conjecture.

Incidentally, 2012 brought a (wait for it) five-disc edition of Mellon Collie..., because two clearly weren't enough. As it happens, I learned something interesting while playing disc three: strip all the bluster and overblown arrangements away and, just occasionally, a decent song will pop out at you, in this case, opener Tonight, Tonight (Strings Alone Mix), which, as you might by now have guessed, consists of the song's isolated string arrangement, while the piano demo of Mellon Collie itself reveals a surprisingly pretty melody. Mellotron strings on Galapogos (Instrumental/Sadlands Demo), to passable effect, though nothing on discs four or five.


Oceania  (2012,  60.08)  **½
Monuments to an Elegy  (2014,  32.41)  **½

Billy Corgan at the digital M4000D

Corgan reformed the band (well, began recording under that name with Jimmy Chamberlin again) in 2006, although said drummist has subsequently departed. To date, they/he have released three albums: 2007's Zeitgeist, 2009's Teargarden By Kaleidyscope (stop laughing at the back) and 2012's Oceania. The last-named was originally a part of the supposed 44-track Teargarden... download project, although Corgan grew tired of the idea about halfway through, reverting to the standard format for the release.

To my great surprise, none of the reformation releases are anything like as horrible as most of the band's original offerings, with more of a psychedelic influence all round. Better tracks on Oceania include opener Quasar, My Love Is Winter and the creepy Pale Horse, which isn't to say the album's actually good, mind, just not as bad as I'd expected.

Corgan has been spotted playing a digital M4000D Mellotron live (right), so, given that the long-dismissed James Iha apparently owns the machine they used first time round, it comes as no surprise that the 'Mellotron' here is very clearly sampled. It could be on pretty much every other track, although definite sightings are limited to the strings on The Celestials and (particularly) closer Wildflower, while the strings and possible flutes on One Diamond, One Heart may or may not have anything to do with the machine.

2014's Monuments to an Elegy (or: 'The Pretension Continues'?) is, essentially, more of the same, Corgan's whiny voice particularly irritating this time round. Any better tracks? The energetic One And All isn't bad, while Run2me's electropop, while not especially good, at least breaks the mould. Two obvious samplotron tracks, with background strings on Tiberius and a flute melody and chordal strings on Drum + Fife.


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