Monday, July 09, 2007

Smashing Pumpkins - Zeitgeist



Download: Smashing Pumpkins - "Doomsday Clock"
Download: Smashing Pumpkins - "Tarantula"
Download: Smashing Pumpkins - "(Come On) Let's Go"
Download: Smashing Pumpkins - "That's The Way (My Love Is)"

Smashing Pumpkins
Zeitgeist (Reprise, 2007)
Grade: C+

If you were to look up the word “antagonistic” in a dictionary, I bet that you wouldn’t be surprised at all to find a picture of Billy Corgan’s face. Indeed, Mr. Corgan has ruffled many a feather, both in his tenure as leader of the legendary alt-rock band The Smashing Pumpkins (which, in its first incarnation, lasted a dozen years) and in his years since as a solo artist. Whether it’s spiting popular Gen-X punk influences by making epic concept albums, dueling with rock critics, or releasing multiple versions of the same album to different stores (with nary a difference between them), it can definitely be said that Corgan has a reputation for uncompromising positions. This, as any rock fan can tell you, can be both a burden and a blessing.

With this information in mind, and with the imminent release of the first Smashing Pumpkins album in seven years (the last being the internet-distributed Machina II: Friends and Enemies of Modern Music) now upon us, one question must certainly be asked: If the Smashing Pumpkins are trying to become relevant again, and show that they can provide new listeners with the volatile piss and vinegar that they gave their old fans, why did they make a record as mundane as Zeitgeist?

The lackluster results of Zeitgeist aren't due to a lack of effort. The musicianship on here is very solid. Jimmy Chamberlain, the only other original Pumpkin who signed on round two, beats the drums like they owe him money and Corgan certainly can shred wickedly on guitar - the overdubbed harmonized guitar solos on "7 Shades Of Black" show that the band hasn't lost its penchant for the - fist pump - rock.

In other words, Zeitgeist's problem isn't the performances, but rather, with the songs themselves. Most of the album feels utterly perfunctory even when the Pumpkins are trying to stretch their compositional dynamics, (as on new-wave influenced songs like "Pomp and Circumstances" and "Neverlost") or channel its prog-rock ambitions, like on the nine-minute epic "United States."

Ironically enough, given the amount of lyrical attention given to serious issues like global warming, terrorism and the end of the world, it's Zeitgeist light-hearted songs that are its most enjoyable. "(Come On) Let's Go" is the record's most enjoyable, and straightforward, pop song, while the Sabbath-esque "Tarantula" gets by on sheer sonic momentum. Elsewhere, "That's The Way (My Love Is)" bears a favorable thematic and musical resemblance to ...Trail of Dead's "It Was There I Saw You." Those highlights, however, are few and far between.

Ambition that is the Shakespearean quality of the Smashing Pumpkins - it's both responsible for the Pumpkins greatest successes and their most abysmal failures. The frustrating thing about Zeitgeist as a whole is that its boring and weighed down by its own ambition. Considering the title of the album, the Pumpkins are promising a album that is definitive of the times. Instead, they have given us an album that's barely definitive of modern rock in the 21st century.

(Jonathan Graef)

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