There's a ramshackle quality to the new offering that is distinctly un-Pumpkins
This comeback track has been touted as the first track recorded by the three of Smashing Pumpkins’ founding members, frontman Billy Corgan, guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. The correct response to that is: “Yeah, but what about D’Arcy?” Original bassist D’Arcy Wretzky has been absent from the recent reunion, which will see the alt-rock trio return to live performances with this summer’s North American Shiny and Oh So Bright tour. She’s accused Corgan of deliberately cutting her out, and has jokingly claimed that his eccentric interviews – in February, he told shock-jock Howard Stern that he had once witnessed a person “shape-shift” into another person – were the result of a “brain tumour”.
So, this isn’t exactly a case of getting the old band back together, and the track is something of a pastiche of the Pumpkins’ beloved ’90s grunge material. That’s not a diss: the opening riff is thrilling in its ominousness, and recalls that of ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’, taken from 1995’s double CD, 28-track masterpiece ‘Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness’. Back in the ’90s, Corgan was infamous for his perfectionism, and was often accused of overdubbing Iha’s guitar parts. The trio are to release a new album; during a recent appearance on Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich’s Beats 1 radio show, Corgan explained of the creative process: “It’s a free-for-all. I brought in a few ideas, but I’ve learned to let it be what it’s gotta be. Sometimes if you think ‘It’s gotta be like this, instead of just letting it be whatever it’s gonna be, sometimes you get closer to where you hoped it would be.”
It seems, then, that Corgan may have mellowed somewhat, even if that new agreeableness hasn’t been extended to D’Arcy. It’s hard, though – perverse as this may sound – to hear ‘Solara’ and not long for the perfectionism of old. There are moments of delirious chaos: the clattering drum fill that ushers in that looping riff; the rollercoaster chorus that the band tears through at breakneck speed; the defiant lyrics (“I’m not everyone“) delivered by a man who’s spent the best part of three decades doing whatever the fuck he wants.
This is somewhat undermined, though, by the half-finished feel that haunts the track. The percussion is often ramshackle, with random, lumpen fills cluttering the arrangement, and the track promises a bridge that doesn’t quite arrive, with the gang opting instead to slow the verse and plough back into the chorus. There’s a grating pre-chorus that consists of Corgan gargling the same syllable over and over; it’s weird to hear a Smashing Pumpkins track that’s anything less than taut and precisely arranged. Yes, it’s heartening to hear this level of vigour, but ‘Solara’, in some ways a pale facsimile of ‘Butterfly Wings’, is a reminder that Pumpkins’ glory days currently belong to the past.