Since the turn of the decade, releases from The Smashing Pumpkins have consistently been faced with mixed-reviews, all failing to meet the expectations of listeners partial to their mid-90s heyday. Thankfully though, the release of Monuments To An Elegy, part two of frontman Billy Corgan’s ongoing experiment Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, sees a long-awaited improvement for the band. Corgan has wisely played it safe. Monuments… is lean, at only 33 minutes long, and full of short punchy tracks that make immediate impact. Recruiting Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee alongside rhythm guitarist and Pumpkins core member Jeff Schroder, this album features unambitious guitar-heavy alt-rock, however does occasionally fall short with some of the more modern synth-driven tracks.
Tiberius is a promising start. Guitar-heavy, it sets the listener up for a solid rock album to come, though later tracks like Anaise! and Run2Me challenge that first impression. With the distinctive Pumpkins guitar swell throughout and Corgan’s ageless vocals, this will be a welcome listen for long-time fans.
The following, Being Beige, features a delicate piano melody throughout, which is soon overshadowed by the gutsier guitar layers. Regardless, this is a strong follow up to the opener, with a loud-soft-loud structure reminiscent of the Pixies, but with a far more modern overall sound.
Anaise! is a weaker contribution to the album. This track stripped back to a simpler more electronic sound, which falls short, hinting the self-consciousness of a band that fears losing its relevance. Nevertheless, it is harmless and just goes to show that playing it safe can sometimes result in blandness. However, the band redeems itself with One And All, which stands out as a highlight of the album. Far heavier in comparison, One And All is a straightforward rock track, which sees a welcome return to roots for the band.
At first, the subsequent Run2Me is cringe inducing for more than just its text-speak title. The synth and drum machine intro seem both old fashioned and a desperate attempt to sound modern, and, as a result, are difficult to grasp. The track does improve slightly when the guitar power chords kick in, however it still brings little to the album overall.
Drum + Fife is the complete opposite and raises questions as to how the same man can write both songs. Tommy Lee’s contribution is finally felt in full as he strikingly accompanies Corgan’s vocal line: “I will play these drums to my dying day”. This track builds on vocal, percussion and guitar lines throughout, leading to an abrupt ending.
The final tracks, Monuments and Dorian, mediate between the synth-driven attempts at modernity and the stronger rock tracks, both featuring a simple yet driving synth melody atop a powerful guitar line. Monuments stands out for it’s ethereal breakdown, which provides some breathing space and demonstrates Corgan’s retained ability at composing a well-considered track.
While the achievements of Monuments To An Elegy may not be enough to earn The Smashing Pumpkins new fans, it stands strong against their preceding few albums. Nevertheless, there are some strings that could potentially be tightened ahead of the final release in the Teargarden By Kaleidyscope triad, Day For Night, which is expected for 2015.