Corgan’s bandmates contribute by keeping up, not by reining him in 10:23 pm // Tuesday, June 26, 2012Posted by jjb in analysis, band, criticism, mellon collie, oceania, thefutureembrace.
A metaphor often used to illustrate Corgan’s supposed position has been that of a horse beneath a rider, and (as predicted) that metaphor has been trotted out in reviews of the Pumpkins’ new album Oceania. Spin Magazine’s Rob Harvilla used it today:
And so when it’s time for the nine-minute, multi-suite title track that gets way out of hand, these young bucks at the very least keep up, rein Corgan in, keep him honest.
Yes, it can plausibly be argued that Corgan’s music has been better when other hands are very involved; if you don’t love his solo record TheFutureEmbrace but hold dear the Pumpkins canon, that’s a ready conclusion to reach. But this is probably the case because Corgan is, or at least feels, freer to explore and go crazy when he’s in a band setting: His bandmates improve the music not by burying him in noes but by, to borrow Harvilla’s other phrase there, keeping up—not in the saddle but alongside Corgan, enabling him to divide labor and achieve wilder visions. What, after all, are the attributes we ascribe to the band’s reputed best work? Harvilla lists a few himself:
Prime Smashing Pumpkins reveled in the alleged worst aspects of the ’70s (the excess, the prog, the squeedly-deedly-doo guitar solos) and has nonetheless aged splendidly: Siamese Dream is a shitload less dated than, say, Ten; and Mellon Collie, for all its blatant absurdity, is an astoundingly deep, committed, multifaceted, entrancing clusterfuck that is way closer to being the best record of the grunge era than any of us should be comfortable with.
The next time someone says that TheFutureEmbrace reveled in excess will be the first; as was fairly apparent, Corgan imposed some tight constraints upon its recording, such as a limitation to only one guitar track per song. That record aside, the other major output from Corgan’s interstitial solo period was…a batch of exclusively acoustic music. And we are supposed to believe that James Iha, D’Arcy Wretzky, and Jimmy Chamberlin’s contributions to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Siamese Dream are best characterized in terms of placed restraints? When Corgan talks about Butch Vig’s influence on Gish, he doesn’t speak of boundaries—he says that Vig was the only one who could stay up with him, while everyone else had gone home.
Harvilla is smart, and his review of Oceania is mostly on point. But it does suffer, pardon that expression, from
pomposity a lack of self-awareness. Harvilla goes on for 1,200 words, the writing is showy as a public fuck…and it’s fine; the piece is entertainingly expressive, and a hardass editor cutting out modifiers would probably kill the major joys therein to be had. This here is to urge the guy forward, not to choke him back into an amble: Rob, write on.