Sometime in the past week, it has occurred to me that Billy Corgan has a problem. It's not the problem of his rather well-known temper or his control-freak nature: plenty of musicians are perfectionists, even if most of them don't take it to the extreme of not allowing their bandmates to play on a record, as Corgan did on Siamese Dream. I think Corgan's problem is more basic: he doesn't understand his own unique talents and how best to use them.
I came to this line of thinking because I watched Singles again last week, and have had the soundtrack on in my car since. The songs on the soundtrack, Jimi Hendrix aside, all are about a minute too long: you could edit down Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees, Soundgarden and the rest without much difficulty or loss. The Smashing Pumpkins were the other exception: you could cut about four minutes from that song without a problem. It's an eight-minute song, so that means it still makes for a really excellent pop song: it could just do without the attempted guitar pyrotechnics at the end.
And this, I think, is the problem: Corgan writes really good pop songs; he's an average guitar player; he is not very good at sustaining musical or thematic concepts beyond four minutes. But he seems to estimate his own abilities in precisely the opposite order. Hence Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, whose five or six singles ("Bullet With Butterfly Wings" "Zero" "1979" "Tonight, Tonight" "Thirty Three"--I might be missing one) are all excellent, and excellent across a variety of modes and styles, but the rest of the album is weighted down by poorly conceptualized tracks and the chronic inability to self-edit his nine-minute songs. So also his sprawling post-Pumpkins work, which doubles down on the conceptual avant-garde nature of his music (with occasional, dubious attempts to 'return to form') and mostly fails to recapture what made him worth paying attention to in the first place.
He is, in other words, the American Noel Gallagher, minus Noel's well-noted ability to charm people. The lesson, I suppose, is if you can't be good, you should at least be likable. But probably better to be good.