“I got sick of making music that people kept telling me didn’t sound contemporary,” a frustrated Billy Corgan bemoaned to NME in a recent (and forthcoming) interview about the band’s 11th studio album ‘CYR’. “So I took that on and I was like, ‘OK I’m gonna make a contemporary music record; I don’t care what it takes’.”
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It’s been a long and tumultuous road for The Smashing Pumpkins frontman since his band’s bitter break-up in 2000. By then bassist D’Arcy Wretzky had already exited the alt-rock anti-heroes and it was another 16 years before Corgan eventually found his way back to most of his original bandmates (though the blood between Wretzky remains bad to this day; she’s not rejoined). In between, Corgan released three records effectively as a solo artist, but under the Pumpkins banner.
The 2018, Rick Rubin-produced ‘Shiny And Oh So Bright Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun’ was the first taste of the Pumpkins ‘rebooted’, a solid return to their rock roots which – at just eight songs long – was surprisingly short by their standards.
Corgan’s creative juices then went into overdrive as he mapped out not one, but two double albums in ‘CYR’ (officially the follow-up to ‘Shiny And Oh So Bright’) and a forthcoming sequel to the landmark 1995 double album ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’. While the pseudo-spiritual artwork may bear some similarity to that of its predecessor, ‘CYR’ is an entirely different monster. Driven by Corgan’s love for artists on Chicago indie label Wax Trax! Records – launched in the late ’70s and big in the ’80s and ’90s, its roster included the likes of Underworld and The KLF – ‘CYR’ is arguably the Pumpkins’ most poppy and immediate album in a storied career.
Take opener ‘The Colour Of Love’, a track almost devoid of guitars and the signature sound we’ve come to expect of the Pumpkins. Instead it’s awash with swathes of synth, pop hooks and a driving New Order-flecked bass as Corgan cries: “And the colour of your love is grey… A vast amount of the time slipped away.:”
For the most part, the songs furrow a similar path throughout the 20 tracks and, unlike most double albums, which are either loaded with fillers or come in two bloated parts, ‘CYR’ feels like a single complete record crammed full of pop anthems. Pumpkin detractors may well hate this record’s simplicity, and they’d be right to criticise it for sounding same-y to a point. But there’s no denying Corgan’s ability to craft a tune, or the fact that the return of original members James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin has clearly brought back some of that Pumpkins chemistry of old.
‘Cyr’, ‘Birch Grove’, ‘Ramona’, ‘The Hidden Sun’, ‘Starrcraft’, ‘Wrath’ and ‘Adrennalynne’ are all infectious pop anthems that rarely veer from the same synth-driven formula. The few exceptions are the gothic guitar crunching ‘Wyttch’ and menacing standout track ‘Purple Blood’. Admittedly, the band’s repitition of the same synth trick does become a little wearing on weaker tracks such as ‘Haunted’ and the album closers ‘Tyger, Tyger’ and the grating ‘Minerva’, both of which almost feel tagged on.
It’ll be interesting to see where The Smashing Pumpkins frontman goes with his next magnum opus. But in ‘CYR’ Corgan has undoubtedly created the “contemporary record” he so craved; it’s far better than anything Corgan produced when he was running with the Pumpkins name on his own. It’s also amazing that after all the bad blood and messy break ups, he’s more adept at penning an accessible tune than he’s ever been.
Release date: November 27
Record label: Sumerian