The second life of the Smashing Pumpkins probably hasn’t quite gone as smooth as Billy Corgan hoped it would. Since announcing the grand reunion of the band back in 2006 – which actually only boasted half of the original line-up – tyrannical leader Corgan has struggled to reclaim the magic of the group’s glory days, which can hardly have been helped by the revolving door of musicians that he has at some point called bandmates.
This, the group’s third full-length since the reunion is a surprisingly succinct listen given Corgan’s reputation for often writing over-long records. The whole thing lasts barely half an hour and wisely so given that nothing here would be fit to be mentioned in the same sentence as anything that was written back when Billy had hair. Those records were dizzying heights however, and Monuments To An Elegy is still more or less a fairly solid rock album from a great songwriter who from time to time can still turn it on – see 2012’s Oceania.
Corgan’s staples are all here: the chunky guitar chords, layered lead licks, the recently contracted overuse of the word ‘love/lover’ and an attention to dated-sounding keyboards which carries on from Oceania. There are even a couple of new sounds to the Corgan cannon like the odd funk strut of ‘Anaise!’ and the fluttering synth loops of ‘Run2me’, the latter of which features the irresistibly seductive come-on coda of “run to me/my love is strange”. Even the songs that revel in old tricks can sometimes still pack a punch though, as Tommy Lee’s (oh yeah, Tommy Lee is drumming on this thing by the way) best Jimmy Chamberlin impression proves on ‘Monuments’.
But sadly there are too many factors – production being among them – which prevent Monuments To An Elegy from becoming anything more than a pretty good album. Most glaringly is perhaps how uninspired this thing is lyrically; when on top of his game, Corgan can dazzle but it seems as if he has uncharacteristically run out of things to say – outside of interviews at least – as nothing here offers a foothold to grip onto. Vocals are also a recurring downside since the Pumpkins’ reunion as Corgan’s nasal tone, ravaged by age, hasn’t been able to quite convey the raw emotion that it used to in older gems such as ‘Home’ or ‘Stand Inside Your Love’.
We’re left with an album that may not sink as low as Zeitgeist’s lowpoints but, devoid of any particularly memorable choruses, it doesn’t reach its highlights either.