Monuments to an Aging Rock Star

As Billy Corgan wails “Lover what do you want me to do?” in the subdued bridge section of the seventh track from Smashing Pumpkin’s latest release, it almost sounds as if the once worshiped rock star is pleading to fans for musical direction and inspiration. With Monuments to an Elegy, the previously acidic Corgan has finally settled for easy-listening alternative rock, singing love songs over the top of pretty, yet discreet guitar lines.

In fact this record is one of the easiest I’ve ever listened to; its half-an-hour run time and Corgan’s mellow and meandering voice, meant that the album passed by in a flash. Monuments to an Elegy is very similar in style to its predecessor Oceania, except this time around Corgan has condensed his writing, cutting out extended musical sections to leave a very skeletal record, resembling something like a singer-songwriter’s debut.

The electronic elements that made an appearance on Oceania are once again present here. Being Beige opens with an electronic beat beneath light acoustic arpeggios, whilst Run2me kicks off with a pulsating keyboard riff and a pounding bass drum. In fact nearly every song on the record is laced with pop melodies, shown best with the dreamy and slightly repetitive Dorian and the hook-laden Drum + Fife, which is guaranteed to loop around in your head for a while.

Despite this, there are a few rock-orientated moments to be found. Both One and All and Anti-Hero remind of early Smashing Pumpkins (think a modern interpretation of Gish or Siamese Dream) with the first drowning beneath a wall of distortion and the second allowing the guitar to take centre stage. It’s a shame then that One and All doesn’t really go anywhere and Anti-Hero sounds like I’ve heard it all before. Meanwhile the intro of Anaise! provides a point of intrigue on the record, mixing synth phrases with a marching bassline, before the track evolves into something reminiscent of Adore-era Smashing Pumpkins. However, the most successful track on the album is opener Tiberius, whose great flow is combined with a few exquisite moments on both guitar and piano, to produce an alternative rock track worthy of the Smashing Pumpkins name.

Whilst the tracks presented here are most definitely well crafted and executed, the music featuring within belongs to a Corgan solo effort, or at least to his briefly existing side project Zwan. Smashing Pumpkins have always evolved and with every new album (yes even the ones after the original line-up disbanded) they have continued to push boundaries. However, with this iteration of the Corgan Machine, no new ground has been covered and ultimately it puts the once edgy band into a category labelled as distinctly middle of the road.

Overall: 5/10

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– James


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