Rather than a '90s-rock pastiche, the reunited Pumpkins' comeback album is a showcase in artful songcraft
“I want my band back, and my songs, and my dreams,” wrote Billy Corgan in a full-page ad in his hometown’s Chiacgo Tribute in 2005, declaring his plans to ‘renew’ the Smashing Pumpkins. After the alt-rock anti-heroes disbanded in 2000, Corgan’s dabblings with the technicolour Zwan and the electro-shoegaze of debut solo album ‘TheFutureEmbrace’ had clearly not satisfied the dizzying heights of game-changing ambition.
Returning with drummer Jimmy Chamberlin but not founding members D’Arcy Wretzky or James Iha, the new incarnation of the Pumpkins found themselves back at the top of festival bills but failing to capture the hearts of fans and critics with 2007’s ‘Zeitgeist’. With new guitarist Jeff Schroeder on board, they’d continue to fight the good fight with two further albums and a shifting line-up, with 2014’s ‘Monuments To An Elegy’ proving to be their finest work, arguably, since ‘Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness’.
Alas, the world at large remained cold to them. Perhaps the dream was dead?
At the dawn of 2018 following months of rumour, Smashing Pumpkins announced that they’d be returning to tour with Corgan, Chamberlin, Iha and Schroeder. Relations with Wretzky had soured so publicly and bitterly as she slammed frontman for being ‘manipulative’, having ‘a shitty voice’ and potentially ‘a brain tumour’. The rest of the camp reported that relations within the band itself had never been better, with the now mature Corgan stating that he was ‘done playing the heel’. They were back to celebrate their legacy and create something worthwhile, but would that be enough to outshine the salacious headlines?
With the achingly Pumpkins title of ‘Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.’, the band’s ‘reunion’ album is eight tracks that boast the finer strands of their DNA without relying too much on nostalgia as a crutch. Opener ‘Knights Of Malta’ has Corgan with one foot in his usual mystical realm as he groans for ‘serpents and scarabs’, but musically one of their most unashamedly infectious moments as they blend Led Zep-esque choirs and strings with a modern pop vocal refrain.
‘Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)’ continues the thread of their more subtly graceful moments. File this one next to ‘1979’, ‘Thirty Three’, ‘Try Try Try’, ‘Perfect’ and ‘Try, Try, Try’ as understated for maximum impact – but rooted with a timeless class rather than sounding like it belongs on a ’90s compilation.
They sound equally as comfortable in their own skin on the aching slow-burner of ‘Travels’ and arena-ready stomp of ‘Alienation’. They’re back in full nihilistic rock sludge mode on ‘Solara’ and on the firey chase of ‘Marchin’ On’, featuring oh-so-Corgan enigmatic opening line: “she kills the anti-clock”. Still, the heavier moments refuse to act as a sledegehammer of alt-rock pastiche, which this record could so easily have been. Instead, it’s a showcase of songcraft that’s allowed to breathe and reveal itself. Bring on volume two. The dream lives on.
Release date:: November 16
Record label:: Napalm Records