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Ranking the Album: The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

on October 23, 2015, 3:30pm

10. “Thru the Eyes of Ruby”

Disc: Twilight to Starlight

Track #: 07

Here Is No Why: At over seven and a half minutes, “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” is the second longest track on Mellon Collie, and Corgan and Iha use all that space to fill out a psychedelic wonderland of guitar textures, pushing from paisley haze at the song’s open to gritty, distorted chug. It also features some percussion fill flurries that in any other drummer’s hands might seem egregious or a stretch, but Chamberlin pulls them off with a nimble certainty. Corgan’s fantastical lines about “breathing underwater and living under glass” and enacting wedding and death rituals with a ring reveal his often overlooked classic rock influence.

The Shine in Our Spit: 2:04, when the thick guitar chords kick in, revealing a head-banging riff in the midst of the spacey wander.

–Adam Kivel

09. “Stumbleine”

Disc: Twilight to Starlight

Track #: 08

Here Is No Why: When Corgan wants to be a great songwriter, he really knows how to paint vivid scenery. “Stumbleine” works like a quiet, late night drive through a city that knows it should be asleep. Maybe it’s Chicago, maybe it’s a smaller town in the heart of America, it doesn’t matter — you get what he’s seeing.

And you also feel it. So much about growing up involves being selfishly misunderstood, so when Corgan sings, “And nobody nowhere understands anything/ About me and all my dreams/ Lost at sea,” that line bruises both the young and old. As a teenager, you nod your head, and as an adult, you shake it.

The Shine in Our Spit: 0:25, when the melody shifts for the first time and your heart explodes.

–Michael Roffman

08. “Zero”

Disc: Dawn to Dusk

Track #: 04

Here Is No Why: That guitar sound, the scorched earth lyrics, the blind rage — “Zero” is exactly how every nihilistic son of a bitch wants to feel like when they stomp out their life and try to ignore about any such consequences. It’s the soundtrack to the word “whatever” and the anthem for would-be renegades.

Here’s why that’s not such a bad thing: Because if you actually always feel like that, then you’re probably a miserable piece of shit who doesn’t deserve a song like “Zero”. This one’s about the momentary lapses in logic, when all that matters is whatever’s boiling your blood and all you can do is shake and scream.

This usually lasts for about 2:40.

The Shine in Our Spit: 1:06, because emptiness is loneliness and loneliness is cleanliness and cleanliness and god is empty JUST. LIKE. ME.

–Michael Roffman

07. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”

Disc: Dawn to Dusk

Track #: 06

Here Is No Why: It’s so hard to shake this song. So many indelible images are attached to it: an enthroned Corgan, full head of hair, in his black “Zero” t-shirt and silver pants; the band playing in that quarry pit as slaves swing sledges and slide down muddy banks; or even the idea of a cold, silver slug with beautiful, delicate wings attached, like a Daniel Johnston drawing. Then there’s that line: “Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage.” We’d cringe if we weren’t so busy screaming along. This louder, angrier follow-up to “Here Is No Why”, partially conceived during the Siamese Dream recordings, may be mostly about Corgan’s rock star woes, but its blind, disaffected, paranoid rage perfectly encapsulates what it feels like to be an angry, misunderstood teen, powerless to do anything but keep negotiating the laboratory maze that ends at adulthood.

The Shine in Our Spit: 2:25, that scream and Chamberlin’s drumming … a surrogate eruption that will save you the bruises and plaster of punching holes in the wall.

–Matt Melis

06. “Galapagos”

Disc: Dawn to Dusk

Track #: 11

Here Is No Why: A devastating taste of nostalgia with a deceitful melody, “Galapagos” is all about the end of the relationship — here a romantic one, but it could apply to any relationship between two people meeting its end. Or even a group. I’m not about to psychoanalyze 1994-95 Corgan from the comforts of a 2015 desk, but “Galapagos” is a tense affair that is dressed up in “whispered lullabyes.”

There is only a hint of strings, appearing during the song’s chorus, but a classical feel reigns throughout the track. A quiet kind of pain settles in early as the guitar plucks along and Corgan bleeds nostalgic and, in the process, includes us all in his trappings of childhood. There is often beauty to be found in pain and sorrow, and “Galapagos” is no exception.

The Shine in Our Spit: 3:27, when the song experiences a boost of energy … before falling back into resignation.

–Justin Gerber

05. “Thirty-Three”

Disc: Twilight to Starlight

Track #: 03

Here Is No Why: Coming off the heels of the intense one-two of “Where Boys Fear to Tread” and “Bodies”, “Thirty-Three” begins a soft reprieve from all that aggression. Is it about the final days of Christ? The lyrics draw us towards that understandable argument, though Corgan claims it’s about a period of his life in which he was truly happy. Whatever the case may be, “Thirty-Three” is a beaut.

Light guitar and an even lighter piano play atop a drum machine. Sure, I could be cute and make another religious allusion and mention that famous “Little Drum Machine Boy,” but I won’t. “Thirty-Three” also has messages that have nothing to do with religion or faith but rather hope: “Love can last forever,” “You can make it last/ Forever you,” and most importantly, “Tomorrow’s just an excuse away.” Amen.

The Shine in Our Spit: 3:08, the repeating of “Tomorrow’s just an excuse” into the coda.

–Justin Gerber

04. “Tonight, Tonight”

Disc: Dawn to Dusk

Track #: 02

Here Is No Why: Do your ears deceive you? No, they don’t. Despite the fact that a piano instrumental and a full orchestral swell go down before ever hearing a single guitar, yes, you’re listening to a Smashing Pumpkins album. Corgan treated the recording sessions for Mellon Collie as though he was working on the last Pumpkins album ever. So, if you’re going out, why not go out in style with your hometown Chicago Symphony Orchestra? The “loud” in the classic “loud-soft-loud” alternative rock formula comes courtesy of the CSO rather than standard guitars on “Tonight, Tonight”, and the breathtaking results were the very last thing anyone expected to hear on alternative radio in the mid-‘90s. Factor in that Corgan wrote the song as a reminder to believe in himself after surviving an abusive childhood, and you have the most epic personal pick-me-up ever.

The Shine in Our Spit: 3:10, the orchestra erupts, Jimmy Chamberlin fires off a 21-gun (at least) salute on his kit, and we’re “crucifying the insincere” with Mr. Corgan until the morning comes.

–Matt Melis

03. “Muzzle”

Disc: Dawn to Dusk

Track #: 12

Here Is No Why: Billy Corgan did an amazing job of singing for the outsider. Few lines get to that point as succinctly as the opening to “Muzzle”: “I fear that I am ordinary/ Just like everyone.” The song functions as a sort of epic rock humblebrag, Corgan singing of the highs he’s hit and the children laughing below, certain he’ll fall. “My life has been extraordinary/ Blessed and cursed and won,” he calls in that perfect nasal waver, set up by a swooning solo from James Iha.

The song comes at the tail end of something — a relationship, as live reports near the song’s debut suggest, or fame and musical accomplishment, as other theories have suggested. But “Can a taste of love be so wrong?” Corgan wonders. In the crackling beauty of the song’s outro, he lists the secrets and majesty he’s been able to know, suggesting that even in the end of love, we can look back and see all the things we had, epitomized best in “the silence of the world” — an enviable thing, especially coming from someone so often raging and screaming at the chaos and noise.

The Shine in Our Spit:  3:12, the start of the “I knew the silence of the world” repetitions and another soaring Iha solo.

–Adam Kivel

02. “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans”

Disc: Dawn to Dusk

Track #: 13

Here Is No Why: “Porcelina” earns its distinction as the album’s longest track. Using the ocean as a backdrop, Corgan sings us a tale of a woman who makes him feel invincible, or a siren singing him to a sweet death, or none of the above. In a 2012 interview with Rockline, Corgan says of these lyrics, “I scribbled them out before the show and just ended up keeping them.” But they mean something to the audience, who the song belongs to in the end.

In addition to the storytelling, “Porcelina” features a few of the album’s most memorable musical moments. Its calm opening invites us aboard a ship in smooth sailing before guitars and Chamberlin’s thunderous drums hit us like a tidal wave slamming into a vessel. The word “epic” tends to get overused, but I just used the word “vessel” when describing a song. “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” is gorgeous, powerful, and, yes, epic.

The Shine in Our Spit: 2:13, when morning becomes electric.

–Justin Gerber

01. “1979”

Disc: Twilight to Starlight

Track #: 05

Here Is No Why: When we put together The Very Best of the Smashing Pumpkins last year, we named “1979” the best Smashing Pumpkins song and predicted no one would be surprised. There’s even less room for doubt as to the song’s pole position in Mellon Collie, as the Grammy-nominated single is the smash hit that sums up all the fragility, power, and beauty of the Pumpkins catalog.

Simply put, “1979” is one of the essential anthems of ’90s rock, a sing-along masterpiece. Listening to this song will never not feel like riding in the backseat of your best friend’s car, sure that despite all the outside shit, this community of “freaks and ghouls” you’ve found can last forever. “And we don’t know just where our bones will rest,” Corgan croons over that skipping guitar riff, rolling forward with a shimmer of undeniable hope.

But the song isn’t just another teenage rebellion. “As you see, there’s no one around,” concludes the song, noting the end of that era. It’s half smile, half sigh. Suddenly the uncertainty of our destination, the fact that we’ll all turn to dust gets a little more certain than “I guess.” Were we ever so young, so hopeful, so naive, so optimistic, so pessimistic, so sarcastic, so honest, so flippant, so affected, so disaffected? Damn right we were. And few have captured all those essential contradictions at once as this song does.

The Shine in Our Spit: 0:07, right when that guitar riff first enters.

–Adam Kivel

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