Review Summary: Smashing Pumpkins return with Zeitgeist, an uneven but more then acceptable "first" effort from Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin, sans d'Arcy, Iha, or even Auf der Maur
Time catches up to everything eventually, and it has caught up with the Smashing Pumpkins. Once venerable alt rockers inspired by everything from punk to metal to arena rock, the former
Pumpkins were a sight to behold and hear. Loud, bombastic, and delicate all at once, the old Pumpkins occupied a time and space that was wide open and welcoming to new ideas in rock music. And they exploited that space for all it was worth. With Zeitgeist
, the Smashing Pumpkins 6th official studio album, singer / songwriter Billy Corgan (make no mistake, this is a Corgan
album) has brought his band kicking and screaming into the here and now, glancing all the while at the glory he left behind.
And what he left behind is what we get first from Zeitgeist, as the hard charging Doomsday Clock
announces the return of the Smashing Pumpkins. To say this is classic Pumpkins bearing Corgan's standard hard rock riffs (he plays all guitar and bass parts on the album) and Jimmy Chamberlin's explosive drums would be a fair statement, but also a little misleading, as the next few songs go to show.
7 Shades Of Black
is a similar hard rock tune, and could have easily been on the last Papa Roach album. And its early on that any Pumpkin fan will begin to notice how this isn't the Smashing Pumpkins, exactly, or even an evolution of the band. This is a reconstruction, something the same, yet different. 7 Shades Of Black, however loud and raucous, sounds clean
, it's production crisp and tight, it's rough edges honed down from what it might have been when Corgan led this band in its heyday. And Bleeding The Orchid
, which sounds like a stab at Mellon Collie era Pumpkins, comes off more like a leftover from that time then anything fresh. It's not bad, it just sounds dated. For a group which used to excite with each new recording, this overly familiar song is both blessing and curse for the new Pumpkins, with seemingly one foot in the past and one pointing reluctantly to the future.
For those who feared the album would play out like an album long Tarantula
, the first single, well, your fears have come to fruition. This is exactly what the Smashing Pumpkins are today. No longer the young alt rock outsiders, they are now simply a really good hard rock band doing what comes best to them, Billy's poetic / artistic pretensions notwithstanding. And the album works best when sticking to this formula. Songs like (Come on) Let's Go
with it's bouncy melody and fuzz tone guitar recalls Siamese Dream period Pumpkins, and like much of the album features solid songwriting. It's just not very
interesting songwriting. The best of it shows up early in the lush That's The Way (My Love Is)
, and if Corgan could have rose to this level more often on Zeitgeist, whatever shortcomings the album has could have been easier overcome. As said before, best to stick with the hard rock formula that makes up the bulk of these songs.
Another problem with the album is it lacks a center to bring it all together. Billy's lyrical themes (apocalyptic visions, lorn love, hope, angst, melancholy, etc) remain the same as ever, but they're all thrown together here and sit somewhat uncomfortably alongside one another. And the middle of the album threatens to lose the listener altogether, as the standard hard rock tune Starz
mingles alongside the epic ten minute Sabbath / Zeppelin tribute United States
and spare, underdeveloped Neverlost
. Their is nothing wrong with the songs individually, but traversing the hopeful, bleak, and romantic across these three middle tunes and the album slumps, giving the listener little to grasp or make sense of. Standard Smashing Pumpkins? Perhaps. But also something which could have been considered further when assembling this record.
Like a lot of records by bands torn apart and put back together something different, Smashing Pumpkins sixth official studio release is a little something new, something old, and something not like the Smashing Pumpkins at all. At it's best it recalls the glory years of the Pumpkins, if not entirely, and offers some new sounds to bring it all up to date. At it's least it sounds like a cheap rip off of a once great band now reduced to two original members, one of which for all intents and purposes is
the Smashing Pumpkins. Just as always Billy Corgan is in complete control, and that is a good and bad thing for Zeitgeist. However, there is enough of the good to call this album one of the better rock releases of the year thus far.
Still, time exacts a toll on all of us, and it has taken a toll on Corgan and the band he calls Smashing Pumpkins. Yet through it all Billy Corgan remains a talented and fascinating figure in popular music and has managed to make a good album from the torn and frayed pages of his past. And while not enough to stand among the best the Pumpkins have to offer, Zeigeist nonetheless stands fairly well on it's own, Smashing Pumpkins or no. Not bad for picking up the pieces and gluing them back together.