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Smashing Pumpkins
The Aeroplane Flies High (Box Set Reissue) Marc Burrows , September 11th, 2013 04:41

When Billy Corgan does a reissue programme he doesn't piss around - even his box sets are getting their own box set. The original Aeroplane Flies High came out in 1996, rounding up the five singles from the all-conquering Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness record and expanding each into a six or seven track mini-album. The resulting collection had as many new tracks as its mammoth parent LP, a testimony to Corgan and co's almost comically prolific output at the time.

Following the box set reissues of the first four Smashing Pumpkins albums, including a bonkers six disc, 93 song re-release of Mellon Collie itself last year, you'd forgive Corgan if he'd left Aeroplane Flies High as it was, but that would underestimate the bloody-minded perfectionism of the man. Thus the existing five discs have each been expanded with live tracks, demos and unreleased instrumentals, joined by a full live album and a complete show on DVD. As with all of these reissues it's a handsome package.

The original set was as worthy of attention as any of the bands classic-era records. Much and more has been written of the five A-sides, suffice to say 'Bullet With Butterfly Wings' and 'Tonight Tonight' still stand out among Corgan's gen-x peers, one snarling and livid, the other a lush pocket symphony. '1979's clockwork pop cements the bands' populist touch, 'Zero' is snarling cyber-metal and '33' a surreal, sad lullaby. Between them they represent the full 360 degrees of one of the more creative forces in alt.rock at the peak of their powers. As a run of singles they're pretty much untouchable, but anyone with even a passing interest in the period will own them a few times over already. More interesting are the b-sides, many of which were left off the Melon Collie record based on nothing more than gut feeling at the time- you could have swapped in the dark, bass-driven 'Set The Ray To Jerry' or the lovely 'Medallia of the Grey Skies', for example, with any of the bottom half of MCIS and they'd do no harm to the whole. The biggest surprise here is how good guitarist James Iha's contributions are - his '...Said Sadly', an acoustic duet with Veruca Salts' Nina Gordon is one of the highlights of the set, while 'The Boy' and 'Believe' are as strong as many of the Corgan-penned efforts they sit beside. Accepted wisdom sees Iha as very much a spare-part in the Pumpkins machine- that's disproved here.

A set of covers is an interesting, but inessential diversion - the best of which is a languid take on Blondie's 'Dreaming' featuring a disinterested, gum-chewing vocal from bassist D'arcy Wretski over a burbling electronic backing track, pointing the way to the next Pumpkins release, 1998's Adore. Other highlights include the agonisingly drawn-out, grinding metal of the title track, a breezy, Beatley pop number called 'Pennies' and the chugging, self-disgusted none-more-grunge 'Ugly'. The 'Tonight Tonight' disc, featuring largely acoustic sketches is especially delightful, while '33' is backed by the poptastic 'Transformer', a lovely, mournful ballad called 'The Last Song' and a beautiful take on the old American standard 'My Blue Heaven'- fan favourites all, and well worth investing in.

Not content with the 33 tracks of the original box set Corgan has unearthed a mammoth stack of unreleased snips and snatches for this re-release, ranging from the briefest of acoustic sketches to half-hour live jams. If the original set was a peek behind the curtain of the Mellon Collie project, this dispenses with the curtain all together, throwing you bodily into the mechanics with a disregard for health, safety and sanity. For the remaining 71 tracks (there's 104 in total here, across seven discs) we're into territory aimed only at the fans and the fascinated. There's a smattering of work-in-progress live tracks recorded for a tiny trial audience at Chicago's Double Door in 1995 and a ferocious set of concert recordings from across the 1996 world tour that reveal a sharp, muscular live band unafraid to fuck with the formula, though anyone who finds Corgan a little pretentious is hardly going to be dissuaded by not one, but two versions of 'Silverfuck', one 14 minutes long, one 34 minutes, and neither showing even a passing nod to the riffs of the original track. Much glossier is the suited and booted Pumpkins of the DVD, touring in 1997 with ousted drummer Jimmy Chamberlin replaced amid much drama and tragedy with former-Filter-future-Morrissey side-man Matt Walker. Some of the snarl is gone, but it's an accomplished performance, and Pumpkins completists will be satisfied that this brief touring version of the band was captured here.

Most interesting of all are the 'Gravity Demos', a set of 14 instrumental ideas hardly any of which made it to the final album. Despite ludicrous working titles ('Germans In Leather Pants', 'A/Ab.E.B/F#', 'The Groover') these tracks feel only a shade from complete- an entire abandoned album waiting for vocals and a decent producer. For a fan it's fascinating stuff, a parallel universe of unfulfilled potential.

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