Review Summary: Smashing Pumpkins are back-in full swing, despite the controversy with an excellent and unique release.5 of 6 thought this review was well written
Who exactly are Smashing Pumpkins? Billy Corgan, the ego-minded, bald perfectionist; Jimmy Chamberlin, the infamous jazz fusion drummer...or, I guess that's it, well with this second incarnation of Smashing Pumpkins. Back in the previous era of Smashing Pumpkins, James Iha, the cross-dressing asain guitarist or D'arcy Wretzky, the drug-addicted, 'mean-spirited' bassist could be easy candidates for being the
Let's stop beating around the bush-the Pumpkins have and always
will be Billy Corgan, the voice and face of Smashing Pumpkins for so many years. Back in the day of their debut album Gish, the band may have been a bit more equal-opportunity influenced, but ever since the epic, classic masterpiece Siamese Dream
and its infamous recording woes, Billy Corgan has been the man behind the alt-rock kings of the 1990s. The man is a plain-out perfectionist, and often dubbed his guitar tracks over Iha's in many album recordings, unbeknowst to Iha. That takes a man with the will to succeed-and be a jerk; which is all that Billy Corgan has accomplished throughout the years. But, even with his problems and obsessive-compulsive personality he has created some of the best music to ever reach many people's ears; as Siamese Dream, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and Adore were all immediate classics upon first listen-not to mention their breakup album, MACHINA: The Machines of God, which was infamous for having an underground die-hard fanbase who praised the album as if it was the next coming of Jesus.
When this album, Zeitgeist, was announced, Smashing Pumpkins fans rejoiced worldwide. See, the problem occured when the 'fans' found out that Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin were the only two people actually recording the album in studio. There goes the party-and expectations with it. Zeitgeist was, in most fans' minds, a Billy Corgan solo venture, a move of desperation, if you must. Zwan was a miserable failure, and his solo project TheFutureEmbrace was a bit like Adore...stoned. Well, Jimmy Chamberlin helped record Zwan's Mary Star of the Sea and TheFutureEmbrace, so fans took stock in knowing that this was a solo project that was merely a money-making scam to get Billy Corgan back on the map. When Tarantula arrived on radiowaves worldwide, fans loosen their doubts and criticisms, as the song had a distinct Smashing Pumpkins Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness-era feel about it, with all the furious guitar work, a slow, Gish-like breakdown, and loud, crazy vocals. It all went downhill from here, as the reviews for Zeitgeist continually went down the drain, until a dividing line was split down the middle-the fans of Zeitgeist, and the fans of...not Zeitgeist.
There's a lot not to like about Zeitgeist, like the horrendously painful vocals of Doomsday Clock, the metallic guitar sounds of 7 Shades of Black, the 'Billy Corgan Backing Choir' of Bleeding the Orchid, the Zwan-feel of Come On (Let's Go)!, or the weirdness of Pomp and Circumstances. Fans and critics alike sighted these issues as major drawbacks around Zeitgeist, as well as Zeitgeist's production. That's right, the production has single-handedly killed an potentially classic album. Zeitgeist had the tools to get 'cookin', with songs like That's the Way (My Love Is), Tarantula, Starz, For God and Country, and Pomp and Circumstances. The biggest issue with Zeitgeist is the way everything is mixed together-the guitars seemed turned way down low in the mix-while Billy Corgan's vocals have been turned up, overtaking the music. Billy Corgan does not have an especially great voice, so his is definately not the voice to have turned all the way up.
But even then, it still is only minor issues. Doomsday Clock, with all of it's horrendous vocal performances, harmonies, off-key moments, still manages to stand out as an excellent track. The guitars are fun, uplifting, and heavy, while the unorthodox song structure fits the song perfectly and the catchy-as-hell chorus all stands out. 7 Shades of Black was a track hampered heavily by production-as the guitar seem to clean, metallic, and lack that crunchy, raw, etching feel of album's past. The vocal performance in this song is actually pretty good, and the song isn't too bad, outside of it being hard to tell apart from Doomsday Clock. Upon first glance, That's the Way (My Love Is) is a Zwan-outtake. But look again, as you'll find an uplifting, feel-good love ballad filled with fuzzy layered guitars, a catchy chorus, and excellent breakdowns. The song captures the Pumpkins feel very well, a 'feel' and 'sound' that is largely absent from Zeitgeist.
Tarantula is still an excellent track-and always will be. Another track that captures the feel of the Pumpkins well, quite simply because it sounds like a Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness outtake with different mixing. The guitars are rough, raw, furious, the solos heavy, edgy, and the breakdowns are well captured and help give you a breather during the fast pace of the song. Starz is the last track that comes off good before the album goes into a spiral, preferrably downward. The song has excellent rhythm changes, fun guitar work, and the song sounds completely different than the 'hard rockers' of Zeitgeist.
It goes downhill from here, as the next few tracks are big sleepers, especially the *cough* "epic" *cough* of Zeitgeist, United States.
#1: Don't name your songs after a country.
#2: Don't make an extended period of time do nothing other than a boring and overbearing drum solo.
#3: Don't make weird screams in your songs in random spaces.
In short, this song is nothing like X.Y.U., or Starla, my personal "epic" favorites. Neverlost isn't much to brag about either, as the song may be a lot like something off of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, but its boring, contrived, and at times confusing. The xylophones do nothing for me, and the song comes off ultimately boring and repetitive. Plus, it sounds a lot like Corgan says "It's Billy's house." in the verse. Depending on which copy you have, the next song could be Death From Above or Bring the Light, both of which are excellent tracks. In Death From Above, Billy takes a TheFutureEmbrace keyboard echo and atmosphere and makes into a successful rock song. Envoking some nasally soft Siamese Dream vocals in a catchy, keyboard-driven track which should have been included in every edition. It only gets better from here, as Bring the Light is excellent as well, as it starts out quiet, only backed up by some lowly vocals and a simple drum beat before jumping into a catchy guitar riff.
Stellar is another excellent B-side that should have been included in the original copy, as the song feels a lot like...nothing the Pumpkins have ever done. Billy's vocals are soothing, and the keyboard squiggles are soothing. Zeitgeist, the final B-side, is an acoustic track, that comes off ultimately boring and repetitive, but still better than the tracks Bleeding the Orchid and United States.
For God and Country and Pomp and Circumstances is where the originality comes out, and Billy shows he's still got some left in the tank. In For God and Country, Corgan takes a more keyboard-oriented approach, creating an almost Chinese-like keyboard backdrop in front of an outrageously loud bass and some catchy yet simplistic verses. Pomp and Circumstances took a long time for me to like and 'get', but when I listen to it, I see it as another song that, quite simply, makes Zeitgeist different than any other Pumpkins album. The track is undescribeable, and sounds like a video game anthem...but what's weird is that it works. All I can say, is that its one of Zeitgeist's best tracks hands down, even if it takes a while for it to work its magic.
Zeitgeist is a controversial record; easily. In fact, it may be the most ridiculed and argued-about Pumpkins record ever, but it still is an excellent album that took the predictions and blew them out the window. It may be one of the worst Pumpkins albums, but that's still an accomplishment considering how awesome the Pumpkins repetoire actually is. While the fans and skeptics argue over the band line-up, why don't you just sit down with Zeitgeist and make an informed decision yourself. You'll find an excellent album that is good enough to be an album in the Pumpkins repetoire, easily. Enjoy.
That's the Way (My Love Is)
For God and Country