Thursday, December 30, 2010

December 30: Smashing Pumpkins, "Tonight, Tonight"

Artist: Smashing Pumpkins
Song: "Tonight, Tonight"
Album: Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness
Year: 1995

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Over the decades, there have been a number of bands that seemed to come out of nowhere and quickly dominate the entire world of music with their unique sound.  It is often the ability to stay at this status that becomes the most daunting task, and those bands that are able to succeed stand as some of the most unforgettable groups in all of music history.  One of these bands would define an entire style, perhaps a generation, and their songs sound just as fresh and exciting today as they did when they were first released.  Presenting what the music media deemed as an "alternative" to the "grunge" sound that was dominating the charts in the early 1990's, few bands are more closely associated with that era than Smashing Pumpkins.  For nearly a decade, the band explored and refined their distinctive blend of hard rock which was often closer to "dream rock" than anything else, and it is this style that helped the band to obtain one of the most wide-spread and fervent fan-bases in history, and to this day, they hold an almost mythical status in the minds of many.  With each of their albums having an amazing sound and personality all its own, it is difficult to even take a single record that is their finest, yet one can make the case that it is their triple-vinyl release, Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness that cemented their place as true music legends.  Standing as one of the most stunning records in music history, it is the albums' fourth single, 1995's "Tonight, Tonight" that shows every reason why Smashing Pumpkins deserve all the credit and revere that they receive.

From the moment "Tonight, Tonight" begins, and on nearly every second of the song, the odd juxtaposition that "is" Smashing Pumpkins is abundantly clear.  While they retain an edge and grit in their sound that keeps them tied to the hard rock, almost "grunge" sound, there is a soft beauty and musical complexity that places them in a category all their own.  This is most apparent on "Tonight, Tonight" in the full string section (the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) that dominates much of the songs' backing sound, and even with the full presence of rock-style guitars and drums, it manages to fit together perfectly.  It is largely due to the unique, almost jerky rhythms set forth by drummer Jimmy Chamberlin that gives "Tonight, Tonight" its tone and mood, as he gives the song a great sense of movement, changing the feel with perfectly placed fills and pauses.  This tone is made more impressive with the subtle, yet mesmerizing bass playing from D'Arcy Wretzky, and this pair is without question one of the finest rhythm sections in history.  The interlocking guitars of James Iha and Billy Corgan serve as a perfect finish to the overall sound, and from the almost nervous feel of the main riff and bridge sections to the more subtle textures they create, there is simply no other group in history that was able to achieve the extraordinary blend of sonic bliss whilst retaining a heavier edge quite like Smashing Pumpkins do on "Tonight, Tonight."

Though one can easily make the case that it is the musical arrangement that defines "Tonight, Tonight," there is simply no understating the importance that Billy Corgan and his voice bring to every Smashing Pumpkins song.  Possessing one of the most instantly recognizable voices in history, over th years Corgan garnered and almost cult-like status, and it was often the words he was singing that outshone how he sang.  On "Tonight, Tonight." Corgan works the entire vocal scale, from a more reserved, almost elegant tone on the verses to an unrestrained celebration of sound during the chorus sections of the song.  It is his ability to convey the emotion of the song so clearly that sets him apart from his peers, and there is a sense of honesty and pain that also makes songs like "Tonight, Tonight" impossible to forget.  Furthermore, the almost philosophical, yet easily understood lyrics which he pens made his songs accessible to all, and on "Tonight, Tonight," he spins some of his finest words, such as when he sings," ...and our lives are forever changed, we will never be the same, the more you change the less you feel..."  In many ways, Corgan's words come off as far more reflective here than on his previous efforts, and there is a deep emotional connection that one can feel on"Tonight, Tonight."  It is the fact that he is able to achieve this feeling, without the heavy distortion or almost odd musical arrangements that one finds on the bands' earlier songs that make "Tonight, Tonight" stand above the rest and why it retains its punch and impact more than a decade later.

Truth be told, few bands better defined what it meant to be an "alternative rock" band in the 1990's better than Smashing Pumpkins, and yet one can make the case that if they are the definition of such, then no other band can receive the same title.  While one can connect them in a number of ways to many other groups, when the complete package is taken into account, there is simply no other group in history that even comes close to their overall sound.  Though their commercial breakthrough, 1993's Siamese Dream, is without question the record that opened the floodgates to an entirely new sound in popular music, it was their next record, Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, that presents the group at the height of their musical and creative talents.  Nearly every song on the six sides of vinyl is brilliant in its own right, "Tonight, Tonight" serves as a fantastic summary of the bands' unique musical vision, and few groups have ever been able to combine a hard rock sound with full orchestration in as perfect a manner as one finds here.  In nearly every aspect, "Tonight, Tonight" retains an almost poetic quality that helps to highlight the bands' uncanny ability to create deep, introspective moods, and it is this characteristic which further set them aside from their peers.  Boasting a pair of the most influential albums of the 1990's, few bands better define the entire generation than Smashing Pumpkins, and everything that earned them their iconic status can be experienced in their dreamy, almost blissful, yet hard rocking 1995 single, "Tonight, Tonight."

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