Review Summary: Disregard anything else he's ever done before listening or... you know what, better yet, just don't listen.
Any who are familiar with the name James Iha likely won't hesitate in conjuring up images of the quirky Asian guitarist that used to be with the Smashing Pumpkins
. In fact, throughout the 90's it is undeniable that Iha was the "Yang" (no pun intended) to Billy Corgan
's "Yin". While the details to Iha's contribution to the band's songwriting are arguable, there is no question that his input, as great or as little as it may have been, was vital to the signature sound (naysayers see: Zeitgeist
). Songs like Blew Away
from Pisces Iscariot
or Take Me Down
, the closer to the first disc of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
are only two of a number of songs written (and sung) solely by Iha. Still, even then there was a dreamy serenity to these tracks that were very fitting into the Pumpkins' mold at the time.
Outside of the Smashing Pumpkins
, some may be familiar with his work with A Perfect Circle
, among whom Iha has been photographed and contributed to with and without written acknowledgement in the credits. A re-vamped version of Blue
from the aMOTION
remix disc bears his involvement and the outfit sported his company in both the tour for Thirteenth Step
and in the recording studio for the cover album eMOTIVe
. Though these are possibly the more popular of James Iha appearances, there is a list of other smaller, lesser known side works that the ex-Pumpkin has occupied himself with. So, naturally, I can't say that I was surprised to find that there was also a solo album under his name out there to listen to. Upon stumbling over it a few years back, I jumped at the thought of what might be offered here. After all, taking his output otherwise into consideration, it would be safe to assume that this one would be a nice little gem full of some signature Iha to add to the collection. Right?
Wrong. Very, very wrong.
Let It Come Down
is the first and thus far the only solo release from James Iha. Released back in 1998 before the release of Adore
while he was still with the Pumpkins, this may as well have been the official breaking point in the demise of the band. Not only does this release not prove up to par with any
of his prior songs written for the Pumpkins, it seems for the most part to propel itself in the opposite direction as though foreshadowing his departure some short years afterward. This is not to say that the album is bad simply because it is not a Smashing Pumpkins
record, but rather because it sounds much like a half-baked, pop-oriented, entirely acoustic mishmash threateningly close to country-folk with a sickeningly sunny disposition similar to Hanson
's breakthrough single MmmBop
Essentially this album is made up of eleven tracks built on, at best, two separate ideas that I am hard pressed to claim have a respectable amount of variation, if any whatsoever. On one side you have a collection of radio-ready pop numbers and on the other a lousy mess of lethargic lullaby ballads. In fact, for the most part, you can differentiate the two easily if you simply separate the first half of the album (the jingles) from the latter half (the ballads). It's that
dull. Other than the divide between the "upbeat" and the "not-upbeat", everything else is pretty much a constant drone of little variation and there is an absolutely dismal absence of interesting material here.
Every song is an acoustic number, none of which demonstrate Iha's true ability in any degree, and each drags on with his unremarkable draw toward tonal instability and whiny baritone drone of a voice acting as the only "driving force". Thankfully, oftentimes Iha is accompanied by other vocal harmonies, including the equally boring D'arcy Wretsky in One and Two
, but never is it nearly enough to mask his poor performance into sounding tolerable. More than ever before Iha also executes his awful straining head voice as in the majority of back to back tracks Country Girl
, a duo of songs so excruciatingly bad that I have a difficult time believing this is the same James.
The album slights at the idea of redeeming itself in some of the slower, more intimate songs where Iha strays away from catchy chorus lines and sticks to his baritone register. However, the majority (if not entirety) can be found at the back end of the album starting with Lover, Lover
up until the final track No One's Going to Hurt You
. By the end of the five tracks it is much easier to forget about the garbage dominating the first half of the record, but a new frustration presents itself. Each track here seems like an amnesiac afterthought reminiscent of great Pumpkins ballads but each and every one ends up falling a good distance short of being able to captivate the listener in the same way. There are a number of times Iha comes dangerously close to drawing a parallel to, say the aforementioned Take Me Down
, but by the time the disc ends it's impossible to ignore that you've listened to the same generic ballad five times over.
I have a great deal of respect for James Iha and I know for a fact that he is a talented artist and musician. Unfortunately, Let It Come Down
feels like a deliberate pull away from the Pumpkins, one that achieves only some embarrassingly bad tracks. The slower songs are not nearly as awful but they come off more like another breed of bad than a particular kind of good. The singing here is quite horrific, and keep in mind we're talking about a guy who sided next to Billy Corgan
's shrill cry for a good while. There's an abundance of acoustic guitar strumming that rarely deviates into anything interesting, if you count the gimmicky keys and hand drums that show up in brief instances as interesting.
I've tried very hard through my listens to find at least one track that stood out as impressive to me and the truth is that I have found none. Standards and expectations aside, this is inexcusable, especially for the artist in question.