Smashing Pumpkins were one of the more interesting alternative rock bands of the 90’s. Led by a pale ball headed singer who could have been Pinhead’s brother, the Pumpkins were a little bit art rock, grunge and goth. That kind of mix with the high art pretensions of Billy Corgan usually did not equate to chart dominance. That would change as the band’s third album would mix high concept, high art and high sales in one two disc package.
If the steam punk movement were looking for a musical counterpart, it may have found its voice with Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Produced in Chicago by a trio that included Billy Corgan, the singer, songwriter and guitarist lead vocalist of The Smashing Pumpkins. The ambitiously named Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was possibly the landmark rock masterpiece of the mid-’90s.
Clocking in at a bit over two hours, the 28 song epic album spawned 3 top 50 singles while the album itself made its debut at #1 on the Billboard Album Chart.
Like any Smashing Pumpkins album, the Corgan led songs feature his whiny, nasal styled vocals. While Corgan’s voice could have easily been the stuff of parody, there was so much diversity in his songwriting, that the band’s sound was hard to pegg for mockery. Billy and band were able to hold it together in a cohesive style that ranged from beautiful and calming melodies like on the disc 1 title track opener to the angst filled rage on rock anthems like ‘ Bullet With Butterfly Wings’.
The steam punk element comes into play more visually as the inspiration for the albums cover art. Recalling the 1902 film Journey to the Moon, the cover art and video for the beautiful ‘Tonight, Tonight’ feature elements of the sci-fi classic reproduced in a rock context. It was a true steam punk meets rock and roll moment. Although Victorian elements were not used in other videos like the one for 1979, the steam punk connection had been made and was enough to give Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness a stylistic edge.
Depending on how you interpret it, some neo-Victorian funk may have influenced the mechanical sounds on songs like ‘Bodies’ and the even contribute to a danceable machine-like rhythmen on ‘Beautiful’.
That edge won the band critical acclaim and is often cited as one of the best albums of the ’90s. In 1997, the band was nominated for a whopping seven Grammy awards and actually got one for Best Hard Rock Performance for ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’.
The album was issued on vinyl as a 3 disc set and would later be re-issued in 2012 with new mixes of six songs and expanded Journey to the Moon inspired artwork. The pressure for a follow-up resulted in highly anticipated Adore in 1998.
The band would breakup shortly after and sorta re-form again. The ideal of a soaring concept album would be revisited again, but Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness would bring all the elements together to create a rare epic loved by fans and critics alike.