Review Summary: Billy Corgan, smiling politelyShiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.
opens with my favourite joke of the musical year by far, and it's not even the album title. The first Smashing Pumpkins album in nearly two decades with anything close to the original line-up – featuring human powerhouse Jimmy Chamberlin and sweet balladeer James Iha – kicks off sounding like Black Holes & Revelations
-era Muse. "Knights of Malta" is fucking hilarious, and it just gets funnier and funnier, with every Kid Cudi-ian "wee-ooh-weeee-oooh", gospel backing chorus and spacey lyric about rainbows. I'm not sure I could stretch to calling it a good song, but it's tough to imagine a better way to kick off an album where, for the first time in a long time, William Patrick Corgan relinquishes at least a little bit of his strangehold on the band and lets himself have some goddamn fun.
So we've established that it's a funny song, but Smashing Pumpkins have never been a particularly funny band. The return of Chamberlin on the skins could have heralded another attempt at more grungey big-guitar Pumpkins, but more than likely we would have had another Zeitgeist
on our hands, still the clear and obvious contender for the worst album in this band's ouevre. Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1
is a nice reminder that, sometimes, this line-up of the band works best with the brakes on, considering how "Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)" is about as good as a 2018 variation on "1979" and the acoustic tracks on Adore
could possibly be. Either Iha's calming influence or Corgan's mellowing personality (I'd say the first is a safer bet) has led the band down a softer path, and it's all for the best, considering the one-note chugga-chug "Solara" is the easy album low point. This is an album for the rare breed of Pumpkins fans who hold Adore
in high regard, with its simple pop aspirations and lack of genre-spanning ambition, though "Travels", "Alienation" and "With Sympathy" recall a return to early Teargarden by Kaleidyscope
's childish innocence without the excessive sitar or lazy attempts at prog. Far from wasted, Chamberlin and Iha sit in the back of the tracks, giving ample space to some of Billy's best choruses in years on "Silvery Sometimes" and "With Sympathy". As ever with a Pumpkins release, it's down to the listener to pick and choose which flavour of Corgan's bullshit they're willing to put up with, whether the obscenely long runtimes on Mellon Collie
or unbecoming prog aspirations burdening Oceania
. In the case of Shiny and Oh So Bright
, the album endears itself with a simpler style and digestible runtime provided the ridiculous 60s synths and wee-ooh vocals don't immediately turn you off. It clearly will not go down in anyone's book as a classic release, but for a change it's a Pumpkins album that's aware of that fact, cleverly baking that unassuming simplicity into every note and half-nonsense lyric.