Smashing Pumpkins – [Album]

Wednesday, 01 August 2007

1993. High school parking lots, headphones, closed bedroom doors—Smashing Pumpkins were everywhere the disaffected youth needed them. Notebooks bore the long, skinny heart logo and guitar teachers taught simple, memorable songs like “Disarm” and “Today” to students begging to impress friends at bon fires. Torsos that once advertised Iron Maiden and Metallica now flaunted Siamese Dream as the new heavy. No need to follow the Pumpkins’ career through the 90s into the 21st century—it’s been told a thousand times about a thousand bands. Drugs, egos, and lack of audience forced the Pumpkins to disband in 2000. The world responded, as they have towards every Corgan project since: a thunderous shrug of the shoulders.

It was announced last year (in a full page ad in the Chicago Tribune paid for by bald Billy himself) that the Pumpkins would reunite for a tour and, possibly, an album. The births and deaths of Zwan and the Corgan solo show proved to be lackluster, so what would the reunification mean? New sounds of angst? A maturation into something unique? Another disappointment? In the Tribune ad he stated, “There is an old saying that goes ‘you can’t go home again,’ but I believe home is wherever your heart lies.” If a CT scan were done on Corgan, the doctors would be dumbfounded. “Well, Mr. Corgan, it appears your heart is located in the mid-90s. Where exactly it is, we don’t know. There is no machine for that.”

Zeitgeist opens with a simple drum intro (are those splash cymbals, Jimmy?) and the familiar guitars explode in their metallic, two-dimensional riffing. The bass is low and heavy and the drums keep the perfect balance of being heard and lurching the song forward. Corgan’s familiar, oinky bitchings come out on top of the mix (sometimes doubled), more than any previous record. Is he afraid of not being heard? Is he willing to pay the price of drowning out everything else to proclaim, “Please don't stop it's lonely at the top/These lonely days when will they ever stop?” (from “Doomsday Clock”) and “For love I keep/Silent I weep/Dead suns rule dead air/But heaven is everywhere” (from “Satrz”)? Billy’s blatant disregard for everything outside of his singular, boring mind has never been more profound than on this recording. Force fed, hacked (from his own works, even!) poetry damn the album from the get-go.

Song by song, Zeitgeist continues to dig itself deeper into a vortex of rehashed, algebraic song structure. You can almost see the guys in the studio (Corgan and Chamberlain; the newbies, Jeff Schroeder (guitar/vocals), Ginger Reyes (bass/vocals), and Lisa Harriton (keyboard/vocals), probably just rolled their eyes) as they elbowed each other in nods and remember-whens. Cliché after cliché build a structure so laughable in its familiarity and uninventiveness that its home-is-where-the-heart-is attitude nearly forces one to swear off any future musical reunions and retreat to a time when atrocities like this did not occur.

High points do happen, though when the surroundings are this low, a true peak is still shadowed into forgetfulness. The bells in “Neverlost” welcome a promising song, though it is quickly strangled by that goddamn voice. The closer, and hands-down best cut on the album, “Pomp and Circumstance,” begins with a relaxed, layered Corgan-singing that seems almost tolerable. It continues in an electronic, orchestral La La La that lulls the listener into a silent meditation (maybe to calm the nerves after getting so agitated?). It is a pleasant end, though it is not enough. A “sorry” does not negate the fact that everything is gone—burned to the ground.

After listening to Zeitgeist in its entirety, one can’t help but worry about the damage this will do to the back catalogue, when they nearly reigned supreme—Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, in particular. The days portrayed in the “1979” video are over. No more ice cream trucks, church bells, or the idea that the world really is a vampire; death came to the Pumpkins in 2000, and again in 2007.

Zeitgeist is out now on Martha's Music/Reprise

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