William Patrick Corgan, Jr tells us in no uncertain terms that he is going to “bang this drum ‘til my dying day”. And it’s good that the frontman’s put himself forward to fill the percussive position in The Smashing Pumpkins, as the stool’s been vacant since Mike Byrne left in the summer. But he’s been wise to bow to age and experience, as it’s Mötley Crüe man Tommy Lee who pounds the kit across these nine tracks.
And that’s about as interesting as ‘Monuments To An Elegy’ gets. Stylistically its second half represents a trespassing into lightweight synth-rock territories, at several points sounding like The Killers if Brandon Flowers had caught his danglies attempting to get his leg over a barbed-wire boundary. (It’s okay – Billy’s always sung like this.) Lyrically it says nothing astonishing – that declaration of intent on ‘Drum + Fife’ aside, I suppose, what with me quoting it up there. You know how Corgan does by now: there’s probably a deeper meaning at play but he can’t half turn a banal couplet. (Seriously, how many singers does it take to change the whole “world’s on fire” routine?)
‘Anti-Hero’ is vaguely reminiscent of when ‘Mellon Collie…’ got its tail up, an everything-to-eleven climax. ‘Being Beige’ is one of those pretty and punchy (and ever-so-slightly clichéd) numbers Billy wrote for fun in the 1990s – it’s no ‘Today’, obviously (come on, what is?) – and ‘Tiberius’ is enjoyable bluster that gets the volume right but doesn’t really put any weight behind it. The synthetic pulse of ‘Run2Me’ is completely tiresome, but this wouldn’t be a Pumpkins album without at least one stinker on it – even ‘Siamese Dream’ had the turgid, none-more-’90s strings-for-sadness of ‘Spaceboy’, and ‘Soma’ could have done with losing some significant weight.
And… we’re back in the present day. And I’m happy that Corgan’s still making records. Many a band before The Smashing Pumpkins has reached this point in its path from festival-smashing glory days to just another name on the nostalgia circuit by simply churning out sound-alike attempts at recapturing what made those hits tick back when. At least Billy’s trying to shake things up – ‘Monuments To An Elegy’ might ripple with hackneyed rhythms cribbed from countless shite 1980s synth-savvy ensembles, but it’s a step somewhere ‘new’ for its captain, at least. Which I suppose means there’s more of interest here than merely some Mötley participation.
And, I guess, as it comes in at just nine tracks and 30-and-a-bit minutes long, it’s impossible to really feel any significant sourness towards ‘Monuments...’, as it doesn’t hang around long enough for any real emotions to stir. It’s the ninth studio album to bear the Pumpkins brand, and probably the seventh that wouldn’t find a single track making most fans’ side-of-a-C90 best-of. But it delivers what it promises: songs by Billy Corgan that sound enough like the ones you recall loving as a teenager, when the band name meant something and you could name all the members, for you to not hate them. Which is enough.
Words: Mike Diver
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