Apparently shorter albums are a thing now. Foo Fighters released an eight-track album only a couple weeks ago, and next comes Smashing Pumpkins with Monuments to an Elegy, barely lasting more than a half an hour, perhaps swaying us to admit that less is more.
But is it? Smashing Pumpkins has been around since 1988, thriving through the legendary ‘90s, enduring the cringe-worthy ‘00s, and the traversing the rather eclectic five years since. In comparison to the Smashing Pumpkins that the world may be most familiar with, this album is, well, a bit strange.
It’s strange in the sense that it’s not the same Smashing Pumpkins that most ‘90s rock fans would be familiar with. After the guitar-heavy, catchy opener “Tiberius,” the album goes straight into a heart-felt melody in “Being Beige,” then to the bass-driven funky tune of “Anaise!” It sets a tone different from the expectation of your typical ‘90s rock band. Instead of living their glory days again, they’re branching out.
Things get even weirder when you discover exactly what it is they’re producing. Monuments to an Elegy is a part of an ongoing set of concept albums about the same story. The project as a whole is called Teargarden by Kaleidyscope and is based loosely on the tarot (the cards used by fortune tellers). But unlike those who are used to making deep, interesting concept albums like Rush from the ‘70s and ‘80s or, more recently, My Chemical Romance, Smashing Pumpkins seem to be making a bunch of songs, and finding some way to make them fit into a scheme. As such, it’s almost superficial to treat this as a concept album. It seems more like, as many albums are, just some songs.
And with these songs, even only nine of them, the band manages to make itself remarkably accessible and diverse, even if with questionable musical choices, like that horrid synth in the otherwise great “Anaise!” And sometimes that supposed diversity is not as good a thing as it sounds like on paper, as the cringe-worthy “Run2me” testifies to. Sorry, Billy Corgan, but you just don’t have a good voice for ballads. The album may not be appear to be as much a concept album piece as it claims to be, but experimental is right, and perhaps not in a good way.
But that’s not to say that there aren’t classic Smashing Pumpkins songs to be found. “One and All” will find ‘90s rock fanatics right at home, as will “Tiberius.” There are pathetically overdone tropes from the genre’s themes present in the lyrics as well, if you want to go beyond nostalgic and right for the cliché.
These aren’t inherently bad, but some of them are dangerous, such as the all-too-familiar returning to a past lover (“Being Beige”) and some are inherently awful, such as an apparent justification of an unfaithful relationship (“One and All”), and a not-so-subtle lust song in “Anti-Hero.”
Those three songs should be avoided. But the album’s significant lack of profanity is noteworthy. In a culture where foul language is becoming more and more commonplace, it’s quite remarkable that a new rock record is so clean in that regard. When that’s combined with the fact that there are some top-notch songs here, especially “Drum+Fire,” and “Monuments,” this is an album that is probably worth a listen-through. It won’t blow you away, and it’s not the best that Smashing Pumpkins has ever produced, but it’s a solid effort that’s remarkably clean for a mainstream rock and roll band.
With that said, it’s worth a listen through and not a purchase. Only about half of the album’s nine songs are both interesting and clean, hardly a respectable rate, leaving only about four or so songs that are really worth a listen. As it turns out, when it comes to Monuments to an Elegy, less isn’t more. Less is just less.