Exclusive Features
Anniversaries, Cover Stories, Editorials,
Interviews, Lists, and Comprehensive Rankings

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

on October 23, 2015, 3:30pm

Ranking the Album is a feature in which we take an iconic or beloved record and dare to play favorites. It’s a testament to the fact that classic album or not, there are still some tracks we root for more than others to pop up in our shuffles. Today, in honor of its 20th anniversary, we rank the songs of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness from worst to best.

Billy Corgan once dubbed The Smashing Pumpkins’ double LP Mellon Collie and the Infinite SadnessThe Wall for Generation X.” Despite the potential audacity and bombast in that Floydian comparison, music writers, either out of prolonged laziness or gradual acceptance, are still returning to that description two decades later. And it fits. We enter Corgan’s sprawling, 28-song opus through a melancholy piano instrumental and exit clinging to a lullaby sung by all four Pumpkins. In between, we find nods to the past (“Jellybelly”), hints at the future (“Love”), and several songs that feel at once timeless and inextricably rooted in that moment. Emotionally, Mellon Collie runs the gamut from disenchanted and distrusting to cautiously optimistic and sweet. It’s the Pumpkins album that aspires to be everything to everyone and nearly gets there.

For those of us who came of age with Mellon Collie soundtracking our own “useless drags,” we felt a rare kinship with the album. We felt personally addressed and taken seriously – as if a poet had felt the mundanity of our teenage lives was worth preserving in exalted heroic couplets. Mellon Collie urgently understood our teenage paralysis all too well – the fear of being forever stuck in a dissatisfying existence while also desperately holding onto fleeting parts of that same youth. Even when Corgan sings about “lipstick-lost and glitter-burned” rock star problems, he speaks to us in a language we could hear: the idea of reconciling how others perceive us and how we view ourselves.

Our favorite albums often allow us to see pieces of ourselves in them. We listen and some part resonates. But Mellon Collie did more than that for a generation: it recognized us and, most astonishingly, understood us — as fucked up as we were. At an age when you often doubt your worth and know for a “fact” that nobody gets you, to be counted and gotten, if only by a rock album, makes all the difference. Twenty years later, the rat is still in the cage, and Mellon Collie still matters.

–Matt Melis
Senior Editor

28. “We Only Come Out at Night”

Disc: Twilight to Starlight

Track #: 10

Here Is No Why: Piano, electric drums, and autoharp, led by repetitions of the song’s title. I hesitate to trash this song — it’s not awful, merely meandering and bland, especially compared to the heights reached elsewhere. Its lyrical themes (the sense of “we” as outsiders, the question of sincerity of feeling, beginnings and endings, night and day) are all expressed better elsewhere, and the music doesn’t offer much. Oh well.

The Shine in Our Spit (Best Moment): 2:40, because the chord change is pretty nice, I guess.

–Adam Kivel

__________________________________________________________

27. “Take Me Down”

Disc: Dawn to Dusk

Track #: 14

Here Is No Why: No movie, album, show, etc. is 100% perfect. Mellon Collie is no exception. This MOR ballad from Iha reminds us why Corgan, megalomaniac or not, is the principal songwriter. Iha would fare a bit better with his other track. Just pretend that “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” closes out the Dawn to Dusk disc.

The Shine in Our Spit: 2:52, because I’m obnoxious.

–Justin Gerber

__________________________________________________________

26. “Beautiful”

Disc: Twilight to Starlight

Track #: 11

Here Is No Why: Hey, it’s D’arcy Wretzky! It’s a real shame every one of her vocal parts was nixed on Mellon Collie except for this song, a Moby-stamped dream that overextends its welcome by about two minutes. The twinkling instrumentation is undoubtedly enchanting, but on any other album, the monotonous stroll would soundtrack the cutting room floor.

The Shine in Our Spit: 1:49, when that Collective Soul-esque guitar line falls down like a rope from the heavens.

–Michael Roffman

__________________________________________________________

25. “Lily (My One and Only)”

Disc: Twilight to Starlight

Track #: 12

Here Is No Why: In an even more twisted take on the tradition of “Every Breath You Take”, what at first might sound like a charming ballad turns out to be a weirdo stalker obsessive professing love for someone who may not even know he exists. “Through the window shade, I watch her shadow move,” he sighs. He’s hanging out in a tree, watching her. But at least he gets his comeuppance, even if he’s still bonkers: “‘Cause as they’re draggin’ me away/ I swear I saw her raise her hand and wave/ Goodbye.” Well. It’s a fun enough little tune, but has nowhere near the depth of its surroundings.

The Shine in Our Spit: 1:59, because the ability to introduce the “officer knocking at my door” to take away the creep and a twee melodica part simultaneously is genius.

–Adam Kivel

__________________________________________________________

24. “Bodies”

Disc: Twilight to Starlight

Track #: 02

Here Is No Why: Don’t shoot the messenger. “Bodies” is a personal favorite off the album, a fuzzy badge of alternative rock that deserves at least the No. 15 slot. But, to play Devil’s advocate for the other guys, it’s not exactly a revolutionary song by Corgan, who could probably write venomous alternative pop like this while sleeping upside down. Chamberlin kills it, though.

The Shine in Our Spit: 3:26, because if you hate the world post-relationship, there are few codas that ring truer than “Love is suicide” again and again and again until you’re left with nothing but a silent room. Well, that and “Thirty-Three”. Shut up, “Thirty-Three”.

–Michael Roffman

23. “Farewell and Goodnight”

Disc: Twilight to Starlight

Track #: 14

Here Is No Why: Iha’s “Farewell and Goodnight” is to Mellon Collie what Lennon’s “Goodnight, Goodnight” is to The Beatles (fine: The White Album). An acoustic ditty in which everyone in the band has the opportunity to sing a bit here and there. Harmless and not nearly as memorable as most songs that precede it, but that ending…

The Shine in Our Spit: 3:27, the slightly altered reprise of the title track ends the album on a strong note.

–Justin Gerber

__________________________________________________________

22. “Love”

Disc: Dawn to Dusk

Track #: 09

Here Is No Why: Although it was quite a departure, no fan should have really been surprised by Adore, especially after cuts like “Love”. Corgan dips his feet in the electronica bath with this one, only he slices through the subtle bleeps and bloops with a six-string flanger effect that makes us feel like we’re robotripping. Trippy stuff.

The Shine in Our Spit: 2:35, because we’re suckers for the loud QUIET loud effect, and that thorny bush of a solo just whines with ’90s angst.

–Michael Roffman

__________________________________________________________

21. “Tales of a Scorched Earth”

Disc: Twilight to Starlight

Track #: 06

Here Is No Why: Metal-leaning fans might scoff at “Tales of a Scorched Earth” falling this far in the rankings — and they won’t be entirely off-base. The in-the-red jam is a head-rush unlike anything else on the album, Corgan’s vocals pushed through the top of the mix. It doesn’t have the iconic riff or hook that the album’s best songs have, but it’s certainly one of the most intense listens of the bunch.

The Shine in Our Spit: 1:20, where the guitar noise can no longer be contained.

–Adam Kivel

__________________________________________________________

20. “To Forgive”

Disc: Dawn to Dusk

Track #: 07

Here Is No Why: On “To Forgive”, Corgan fiddles around with some wordplay, and it’s the most fun a tortured songwriter like him can have with ultra depressing lyrics: “Bastard son of a bastard son of/ A wild-eyed child of the sun”; “I forget to forget me/ I forget to forget you see”; and “Holding back the fool again/ Holding back the fool pretends.” Good for him.

The Shine in Our Spit: Those opening notes, they’re all you need.

–Michael Roffman

__________________________________________________________

19. “Cupid de Locke”

Disc Dawn to Dusk

Track #: 10

Here Is No Why: Polarizing to be sure, “Cupid de Locke” is at the very least the strangest piece on Mellon Collie. Heaven-sent harps pluck their way into our hearts to mask us from the doom-y lyrics. A bit too precious to some, but others applaud its audacity. Another example of the devil being a real jerk.

The Shine in Our Spit: 2:10, the spoken-word outro “in faith, in compassion, and in love.”

–Justin Gerber

18. “Jellybelly”

Disc: Dawn to Dusk

Track #: 03

Here Is No Why: After the gentle rocking of the title track and “Tonight, Tonight”, “Jellybelly” captures the classic Pumpkins sound of “this one goes to 11”. Chamberlin pummels his drum kit into submission, Corgan screams, and it has the most miserable Pumpkins lyric to date: “Living makes me sick/ So sick I wish I’d die”. Happy holidays.

The Shine in Our Spit: 1:50, Chamberlain unleashed.

–Justin Gerber

__________________________________________________________

17. “By Starlight”

Disc: Twilight to Starlight

Track #: 13

Here Is No Why: Life in slow motion. The Twilight to Starlight disc has the heaviest material from a musical standpoint, and although “By Starlight” has soft instrumentation, its lyrics pack a punch full of doubt. Do we ever truly know anyone? The song is apparently about Corgan’s wedding day. Long story short: they didn’t make it.

The Shine in Our Spit: 4:05, when the lyrics disappear and the mid-tempo melody takes us home.

–Justin Gerber

__________________________________________________________

16. “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”

Disc: Dawn to Dusk

Track #: 01

Here Is No Why: Here come the Pumpkins! They’re back with a big double LP! Let’s kick things off with … a piano ballad that repeats the same melody over and over again. But what a lovely melody it is! The title track (or eponymous track) and its total lack of lyrics let us know that Mellon Collie wasn’t going to be a predictable affair.

The Shine in Our Spit: 0:01, when you asked that age-old question the first time you heard it: “What?

–Justin Gerber

__________________________________________________________

15. “In the Arms of Sleep”

Disc: Twilight to Starlight

Track #: 04

Here Is No Why: Corgan sounds genuinely exhausted and mid-sob throughout this ballad of desperation and lost love. The rustic acoustic guitar grounds the unrequited love in the traditional, but the Ebow’ed psychedelic noise haunting the fringes blurs the reality and the dream. “She comes to me like an angel out of time,” he cries, only to fall back into the pain of her having gone. “Suffer my desire for you” is such an emblematic mantra for the Pumpkins.

The Shine in Our Spit: 3:16, where the iterations of “Suffer my desire” begin.

–Adam Kivel

__________________________________________________________

14. “X.Y.U.”

Disc: Twilight to Starlight

Track #: 09

Here Is No Why: Kids of the ’90s loved to look back on the ’70s with rose-tinted lenses, and “X.Y.U.” must have sent shivers up the spines of every nostalgic Sabbath fan. Chamberlin’s the MVP on this sludgy track with haunting percussion that empowers Corgan with a gnarly conviction to sell a line like: “And into the eyes of the Jackyl I say ka-boom.”

The Shine in Our Spit: 3:00, when one of the guitars opens up the gates of hell. Listen closely.

–Michael Roffman

13. “Fuck You (An Ode to No One)”

Disc: Dawn to Dusk

Track #: 08

Here Is No Why: “Destroy the mind/ Destroy the body/ But you cannot destroy the heart,” Corgan spits, the unbreakable spirit rejecting the fucked-up world around him. The occasionally iffy lyrics (“Coil my tongue around a bumblebee mouth”) are no match for the thundering riffs and an ear-splitting, finger-tearing solo at the song’s apex.

The Shine in Our Spit: 4:28, at which point Corgan’s primal howl burrows straight through your skull.

–Adam Kivel

__________________________________________________________

12. “Where Boys Fear to Tread”

Disc: Twilight to Starlight

Track #: 01

Here Is No Why: After half a minute of stuttering warm-up noise, the Pumpkins kick into one of the most dead-eyed, nod-along guitar riffs of their catalog. The track is jammed with evocative imagery (“King of the horseflies/ Dark prince of death”), but it’s the leaden guitar chug that sinks all the ephemeral mysticism into your brain.

The Shine in Our Spit: 1:55, the first iteration of the riff in which the band follow Billy’s nasal sneer with falsetto responses.

–Adam Kivel

__________________________________________________________

11. “Here Is No Why”

Disc: Dawn to Dusk

Track #: 05

Here Is No Why: Like a car that won’t start, “Here Is No Why” sputters amid its winding verses from six-string punches as Corgan works through his existential blunders. Redemption is rampant across this alternative arena rocker, however, from the Brian May noodling to the orgasmic chorus: “And in your sad machines/ You’ll forever stay.” What a prescient line 20 years later; no matter our age, we remain “lost inside the dreams of teen machines.” That’s where the infinite sadness factors in.

The Shine in Our Spit: 3:05, that chorus never tires and after climbing higher and higher through solos and refrains … the last one’s like sunlight peering through a Chicago winter.

–Matt Melis

__________________________________________________________

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

Previous Story
Film Review: Room
9 comments