Billy Corgan looms so large, both as a public figure and super tall guy, he too often becomes a barrier to the new music he puts out. That should be remedied as “Monuments to an Elegy” (Martha’s Music/BMG), his third album since reforming the Smashing Pumpkin brand, is a refresh that holdouts for the “Mellon Collie” era need to hear.
Neither a retread nor a futuristic reach, these nine new songs reflect Corgan’s deft ear for pop hooks and his deep appreciation of swooning dance music. There is little of the metal machine menace of previous Pumpkins albums, most recently the doom-laden “Zeitgeist” from 2012, but rather the music is pointed toward uplift, placing it between the power-pop romance of Zwan and the wistful pulse of “Adore.”
Corgan recorded the album in his Highland Park home studio, enlisting the aid of guitarist Jeff Schroeder, who accompanied him at his Ravinia appearance this summer, and Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee. The pop-metal veteran sounds fully in his element behind the kit on “One and All,” a giant song layered with sawing guitars and orchestrated high peaks. But this is ultimately a guitar-and-synth record: The electro-pop “Anti-Hero” ends the album, but it could just as easily kick it off, with its bouncing chorus and dance bridge strut. On “Tiberius,” a music box piano serves as the quiet center amid crashing drums and chiming guitars.
Overall, this slim album, clocking in at just over 30 minutes, reflects Corgan in a more lighthearted mood. New Order and Roxy Music are touchstones, especially on the sweeping synth-guitars of “Dorian” and the twinkling dance-pop of “Anaise.” Lyrically these songs don’t raise the bar, but the melodies matter more. One of the pleasures here how compact these songs are: Despite his reputation for sprawling musical ideas, Corgan is still a skilled craftsman who can pack a three-minute song with gravity.
Since emerging in this second act, Corgan has quietly been churning out some of the most appealing music of his career. “Come on along ’cause I will bang this drum till my dying day,” he sings on “Drum and Fife.” Time to heed that call.
Mark Guarino is a local freelance writer.
The Smashing Pumpkins and “Tiberius”: