Sunday, November 18, 2007

Farewell & Goodnight

The art for Mellon Collie is done up like something intended for children (of some past the world never really had), and while some songs on it have a decidedly "children" vibe, Farewell & Goodnight is a downright lullaby.

It's an incredibly beautiful one, too, and contains wonderful singing from every member of the band, which could be such a hokey idea, but it's done with great effect here.

It's small and quiet, but still has it's grip on you.  At the end, it fades into a piano coda, tying the album up with a musical nod to the first track.  It's little bits like that that you really don't see much of these days, especially in this anti-album era.  On a big double album like Mellon Collie, there needs to be cohesion, otherwise the whole thing is too jumbled and rambling.  The piano at the end of Farewell & Goodnight is the perfect thing to package it all up with string.  

It's also the only fade out I'll ever tolerate, because it isn't truly a fade out.  It's only getting quieter because you're falling asleep.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Having done two pre-gish not-so-great songs, I feel like taking on a real meaty one (gross).

Anyways, Starla is so damn near perfect I can't even handle it.
It takes it's time and there's no problem to it.  The song isn't too long, and every part complements the others wonderfully.  I even don't mind the fact that the song ends suddenly, which is usually the second biggest turnoff for me, right below a fade out.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say the song doesn't end suddenly, it ends in a completely logical way.  If the song ended with an ending ringing chord, I'd feel cheated out of an ending.

The quiet, "serve yourself" part in the middle, which Billy has said he wrote on the back of an envelope (the best place to write lyrics, btw) is such a beautiful moment, a calm before the epic storm that follows.  And the solo is totally bonkers, swirling in and out of melody.  Gosh! This song is killer, and to prove it, here's a killer live video of it from 1992:


Spiteface seems to be a really long-running joke with the band.

They've had to fend off fans shouting for it at many shows, and often indulge in a tease or two every now and then.

As opposed to it being a high-in-demand song because of it's merits and a long-lost gem of a song, I think the joke is that this song is really bad.  It's goofy, and atrocious.  But really hilarious, too.  I mean, really? "Never piece this broken heart to you?" Yikes.  And the break in the middle is such a bad case of feigned toughness, it's like makeup-less KISS at their worst.  Which is also makeup-less KISS at their best, so I guess that's why the song is so popular.
Check out this phatty live performance:

I feel like the shirt Billy is wearing is the perfect analogy to Spiteface.


Screaming lies in the heart of new wave Pumpkins, dating back to pre-Jimmy, drum-machine days.

Aside from the vocal-confidence-identity problems that plague all of the heavy new-wave material, Screaming is a really catchy 80's tune, and if anything, benefits from having a pretty cheap drum machine playing with it.  It's a pretty good indication of the pop-chops that would come later, but still isn't a good enough song to set the band apart from any others of the time.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bring The Light

Zeitgeist, as I've said, had way too much going against it.

Possibly chief among these was poor single choices.  Tarantula is an okay song, but it's just okay, and while lyrically it's appropriate for a "we're back again" single choice, musically it's boring and proves nothing.  I feel similarly about "That's the Way."  The fact that the videos for both these songs was utterly horrible certainly doesn't help, either.

There are two songs on the album that should have been singles (and they've both charted by themselves without label interaction in some countries!), "Doomsday Clock," and "Bring the Light." Doomsday Clock is probably the best album opener the Pumpkins ever had (hyperbole that I'll certainly disagree with later), and would have been an absolutely killer way to re-introduce fans to the band, and certainly would have wrangled in new fans, too (I mean, come on, they had the song in Transformers, how could it not have been a single!!?)

But Bring The Light is a great song to keep the momentum of the singles, and also show a different side to the band.  Bring the Light is still rocking, it's still pounding, driving, and intense, but more subtly that Doomsday.  And come on, it has the most searing harmonized solo I've heard in years, and all the cool kids these days are about that, right?  What a missed opportunity!

But I know, I know, albums aren't all about singles and making hella dollaz, they're about integrity and artform.  Well, I think Bring the Light is the prettiest song on Zeitgeist other than the obvious ballad, Neverlost (which is really similar to Blissed & Gone, so that doesn't count).  It's probably the most precisely structured song in the Pumpkins' catalogue, every A leads to B and C to D, but to me, it isn't a problem.  It's so smartly put together that it excites me.  Which I feel is what the song is all about.  It's about excitement, it's a rave-up, in a way.  Some criticism of the song is that it's nothing more than Billy repeating the title.  Well, why shouldn't he?  The song benefits from it, in my opinion.  And besides, he's not just repeating it the whole time, there are other lyrics, and they've got some great images in them "you'd spit upon my dust / and mix my ash / with your blood." 

When the band started playing the song live, it got longer and jammier, but not in an obtrusive way.  Every extension benefits the song very nicely:

So as it stands, Zeitgeist never got where it could have because Bring the Light wasn't a single. So there.
That may be unfair, but so was watching lasers come out of Billy's eyes.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Wishing You Were

sWishing You Were is kind of a bizarre song in the Pumpkins canon, because it ends up in a few different places along the line, but never really in its own rite as a song.

There are two demo versions of the song, the first, on the first Mellon Collie Demo tape, is based on a few piano chords that repeat and stretch along, making the song seem much longer than it's three minutes, while Billy emotes semi-blandly, with pretty sappy lyrics that never got past a first edit.

The second demo version is on the second Mellon Collie Demo tape, and adheres to the guitar/drum machine style.  This version has the same basic structure as the piano demo, including what sounded like awkward pauses in the original.  There are no lyrics in this version, just the guitars repeating the riffs they play over the basic chords.

Some of the lyrics in the piano demo end up at the end of The Aeroplane Flies High:

wishing you were real to me
wishing i could make believe
i'll take my secrets to the grave
safely held beneath the waves

With slight variation, of course.  But this appropriation is tiny compared to the other.

I was pretty surprised the first time I heard the guitar version, as I'm sure anyone who has heard it was, as the guitar riff was reused note for note in the 'loud' version of For Martha a few years later.  It's an incredibly fascinating discovery, as it shows how important riff-libraries really are to a prolific band like the Pumpkins.  The demo seems so much like a throwaway, it's really weird to think that Billy was writing For Martha and just thought "oh yeah, that one demo we did on that one tape three years ago. That would go great here."  But then, most likely Billy remembered when writing For Martha that that part of the song shared the chords with an older tune, and happily remembered which one.


Now comes a strange part of writing this thing.  What to do when it comes to semi-obscure instrumentals on demo tapes?

Well, include them, of course.

"Feelium" is on the third Mellon Collie demo tape, and from what I can gather, has most of the same songs on the second tape, but also has Feelium and an electric demo of God.  Like most of the demos on the second tape, the songs are built around a drum machine.  Feelium's beat never changes through the whole song, and Billy & James (maybe just Billy) play swirling guitar riffs for four minutes.  There's a slight variation on the riff, as close as the song gets to a chorus, and a couple of little breaks where it's a guitar playing without the swirly effect.

The song is very pretty, the riff is pretty nice and pleasant sounding, but it's pretty plain to see why the song didn't go anywhere past the demo tape.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Crying Tree of Mercury

It's no mystery that Machina was a concept album, and while some day I will certainly delve into the story behind Glass and his zany God-fearing adventures, I'd rather talk about a less obviously story driven song.

Now while Crying Tree could fit in with the "Glass & June" part of the story, it could stand alone as a non-specific love song.  Non-specific in the way that the song is addressed to the all-ambiguous 'you.'  Having just thought of all the people he could be addressing with that 'you,' a new interpretation springs to mind.  That Billy isn't singing to a person, he's singing to the fans, the listeners.  There are reasons to back up that claim, such as when he says 'you and you and you and you,' as if pointing to the crowd.  Other songs on Machina have decidedly real-world, band-referencing lyrics as well, so it's entirely possible that Billy is singing to the fans.

I personally detest that idea.  Crying Tree is the most desperate failure song in Billy's epic catalogue.  Having it be to a huge group of listeners rather than just one object of affection cuts the emotion down to nothing.  The music surrounding the song is made bored by that interpretation, the solo made out of necessity rather than desperation.

This use of music as a tool to further the emotions behind the words is one of the reasons I would say Machina works as a concept album.  As the characters in the story fall apart, so does the music.  It becomes raggedy and gritty, full of static and apathy.  But below that sheen of noise is one man trying to lead his band through that noise to the sunshine beyond.  As the story goes (and how real life turned out, too), the band behind the man just didn't have it in them.

When I first heard the song, I really didn't like it because I thought the Machina-sheen just got in the way.  Really placing the song in context with the rest of the album was one thing that helped me to enjoy the song.  The other was hearing the solo piano version of the song, which you can hear here: Crying Tree of Mercury (thanks Ozphoria, I hope it's okay I linked that). This version has nothing but Billy, and opens the song up to show itss guts and feeling.