Last year Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin promised – threatened? – that the veteran grunge act would “write and record until we are dead”. It seemed a wildly over-confident statement at the time, and so it has proved: on 21 March it was announced that Chamberlin had left the band.
This leaves Billy Corgan as the sole original Pumpkin. It was never even a proper reunion in the first place (the Pumpkins split in 2000, and officially reformed in 2005), since guitarist James Iha and bassist D’arcy Wretzky (“a mean-spirited drug addict”, according to a typically generous Corgan blog post) were not invited to take part.
And yet, despite this handicap, Corgan vows to plough on with another studio album. Why? What’s the point? To record another so-so studio album for the benefit of a dwindling audience? Another arena tour, visiting slightly smaller venues than last time round? The Pumpkins were magnificent in their prime, but the longer they go on, the less dignified they become.
Not even Corgan appears to enjoy it anymore; he’s taken to lashing out at his own fans. In 2008, in response to a genuinely aggrieved heckle (“Last night’s show sucked, man”) the vocalist waited until his teenage critic had left the stage before unleashing a retort of quite startling puerility: ‘Oh by the way, I like that song you wrote: ‘Take Your Dick Out Of My Ass And Stick It In My Mouth’.”
Classy. But Corgan’s stubborn refusal to give up is of a piece with today’s ossified musical landscape. As we pointed out last week, there are depressingly few acts who won’t blithely reform at the first wave of a promoters’ cheque-book. Even bands who openly despised each other first time round, like Spandau Ballet, are on the comeback trail.
Everywhere you look, the old guard reign supreme. Duran Duran are heading into the studio with Mark Ronson. Lionel Richie’s doing a run at the O2. It reeks of death, frankly, and bears out the dispiriting accuracy and prescience of The Daily Mash’s headline: Music To Stay Exactly The Same Forever.
What we need is a shake-up, a musical sandblast. We need more acts capable of recognising when their time is up, of taking themselves out of circulation to make way for a new generation of artists.
Which bands, then – beside Smashing Pumpkins – would benefit from a dose of sober self-analysis – a calm look in the mirror followed by the sad, but ultimately cathartic, revelation: ‘Yes, we were great once… now it’s time to let it go’..?