Smashed Pumpkins

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Being that I was born and raised in Chicago Illinois, I have a cultural obligation to fulfill today. On July 10, the Smashing Pumpkins released their first album of new material since 1999. I can remember when Melancholy and infinite Sadness came out and the first time I saw a picture of Billy Corgan in his distinctive "ZERO" shirt. For me, it was hard to deny the excitement I felt when I saw the poster promoting Zeitgeist in the Stone Road Mall.

I am writing this during and following my first listen to the album that I picked up this morning. In looking at the liner notes, not that this was unknown previously, a glaring disappointment is found. Jimmy Iha (the original lead guitarist) and D'arcy Wretzky (the original bassist for the Pumpkins) are not involved in the reunion. Melissa Auf der Maur, who filled in on bass when D'arcy first left, isn't even involved. The band has picked up two talented new members: Ginger Reyes and Jeff Schroeder on bass and guitar respectively. However, according to the liner notes the album was created in the studio with jimmy Chamberlin on Drums and Billy Corgan on "all the rest." This is the most unfortunate aspect of the album. A problem that the band ran into before.

The great hits that propelled the Pumpkins upward "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," "1979," "Today," "Disarm," etc. were created by the members jamming on something that Billy had written. The band stumbled a bit with Adore as it was difficult to jam out songs since drummer Jimmy Chamberlin had been kicked out of the band as a result of his drug problems. The new album Zeitgeist. displays the issue perfectly. With only Chamberlin and Corgan putting everything together, there is something notably missing.

Although Corgan's distinctive and cathartic lyrics remain the center-point as they always have, the life that was once present in Smashing Pumpkins' songs has grown quiet. In listening to the album... it always seems as though it is almost there. Billy's traditionally inward look has be redirected a bit with songs like "United States" and "For God and Country." However, the Pumpkins became great with the combination of Corgan's lyrics and music that fit the lyrics just right, the music was found by trial and error, by feeling it out. However, Zeitgeist feels as though it has been drawn up piece by piece like it was written by a blueprint in Corgan's mind with Chamberlin providing the beat for that pre-approved plan.

In this way, this reunion is not really a reunion of the Smashing Pumpkins. Rather, half of that band have taken the the name and applied it to a new endeavor. I believe the reason is apparent. Corgan announced his desire to reunite the Smashing Pumpkins in the Chicago Tribune with a full page ad on June 21, 2005. In the ad he discussed his desire to find the dream that had captured his imagination for so many years. To the point he said:

"For a year now I have walked around with a secret, a secret I chose to keep. But now I want you to be among the first to know what I have made plans to renew and revive The Smashing Pumpkins. I want my band back, and my songs, and my dreams. In this desire I feel I have come home again."

Corgan is trying to recapture the happiness he once held. I'm not sure how he feels today as the album hits the streets in the US and Canada. All I know is that my feelings regarding the album mirrored Billy's to a great degree. I was hoping that this music would take me back... back to Chicago, back to the nights I stayed up into the early morning listening to the Pumpkins on my computer. For me, the trip never took off. I like the album, I especially like "Doomsday Clock," "Tarantula," and "For God and Country" but hearing Corgan harmonizing with his own voice, without Jimmy Iha and D'arcy Wretzky sounding off, it doesn't sound and doesn't feel as though it is really the Smashing Pumpkins. If you check out this album, don't expect to be taken back, just expect music not magic.

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