1995: “Tonight, Tonight” (The Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)
Looking over the music of the 90s as I’ve been picking songs for the decade sort of depresses me. Because a lot of it is just not very good. You’ve got really inane dance pop with none of the verve and creativity similar songs had in the 70s and 80s. You’ve got dreary grunge wanna-bes who think sludgy guitars and growling are all they need to be the next Nirvana or Pearl Jam. You’ve got generic boy bands who haven’t thought beyond assembling the requisite number of pretty faces. Maybe it’s the nostalgic curmudgeon in me, but a lot of the 90s is just a musical wasteland to me.
Which probably isn’t the kind of segue The Smashing Pumpkins deserve, but they kind of embody my divided nature of the music of the 90s. The stuff by them I like, I really like. What I don’t like just does absolutely nothing for me. It veers into that whiny, angsty, goth stereotype that reveals a lot of Billy Corgan’s limitations as a vocalist. But man, when those strings kick in at the beginning of “Tonight, Tonight,” the band is just on. The song is dripping with hopeful anticipation, and the incipient promise of nightfall. It has multiple crescendos, and if Corgan isn’t quite the soaring vocalist here, there’s genuine yearning in his voice. And then it all drops away to a simple guitar and ends with a series of chords that casts an ominous shadow on the proceedings. It’s a great overture, orchestral and dynamic, and it makes me wish I loved the rest of the Pumpkins’ oeuvre as much as I love this.
I mean, I like “Disarm” and “1979.” “Today” is good, even if most people totally miss the point and think it’s this happy, optimistic tune. But the rest? Eh. Nothing against the musicianship or the songwriting, but it just doesn’t move me. And really, it’s probably not meant to. It’s for the generation after me. I should count it as a bonus that I like anything by them at all, I guess. But, like the rest of the decade, it sort of embodied my growing disconnect with new music. The new stuff that did grab me hearkened back to the music I loved from earlier times. Call it stagnancy, call it stubbornness, call it narrow-mindedness, but I wanted more of what I already liked. I wasn’t in the mood to be adventurous.
Is that fair? Of course not. And it’s not meant to denigrate anyone for whom that decade holds special musical memories the way the 70s and 80s do for me. It’s just an effect of the immersion I went through during those times. That music got inside me, and sort of spoiled me for everything else. Sure, every now and then a “Tonight, Tonight” will come along and nudge itself into my brain. But it takes an extraordinary amount of fight. The Smashing Pumpkins just managed to win this round.