Ever the outsider, Billy Corgan updates his sound for 2014
There’s been a sense of diminishing return about the records Smashing Pumpkins have released since Billy Corgan resurrected them seven years ago. They’re now the Pumpkins in name alone. Guitarist Jeff Schroeder, who replaced James Iha for 2007’s revival, is the only other permanent member involved on this tenth album and, bizarrely, 52-year-old former Mötley Crüe reprobate Tommy Lee plays drums on it. Thankfully, his influence hasn’t inspired Corgan to release an ill-advised hair metal album or a sex tape filmed on a yacht.
Instead, ‘Monuments To An Elegy’ is essentially a Corgan solo record which shows flashes of his old power, while also straying into some seriously dodgy attempts to update the Pumpkins sound for 2014. ‘Tiberius’ is a promising start, employing a Pixies-esque loud-quiet-loud dynamic and sounding fittingly imperious for a song named after a Roman emperor. ‘Being Beige’, where Corgan rails against modern, selfie-obsessed narcissism, is the album’s strongest moment, casting the 47-year-old on familiar territory as the erudite outsider, always his greatest strength. ‘Anaise!’ catches Corgan at his most romantic, while closer ‘Anti-Hero’ is the album’s most raucous, most punk moment.
Less successful are his stabs at synthpop. ‘Run2Me’ has a cringe-inducing text-speak title and opens sounding like a forgotten 1980s Eurovision entry. The saving grace of ‘Drum + Fife’, which employs its titular instruments, is that at least we’re spared bagpipes. Equally ill advised is ‘Dorian’, which is full of horrible, clunking lyrics: “Dorian/What have you done?/As you run/A setting sun”.
It all smacks of Corgan being no longer sure of what it is that he or his audience want. While he’s presenting this album as the central part of his ‘Teargarden By Kaleidyscope’ sequence – the first was 2012’s ‘Oceania’ – he seems to have lost that wild, headstrong attitude that once made him great. It’s no surprise that this is half the length of ‘Oceania’ (which makes it a quarter of the length of 1995 opus ‘Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness’). The final part of the trilogy, ‘Day For Night’, is promised for next year. His master plan needs a good tweak before then.