|Reconsidering the Smashing Pumpkins
||[Jul. 28th, 2007|11:09 am]
|||||Smashing Pumpkins - Frail and Bedazzled||]|
The first turning point came five years ago when I threw Adore out my car window. At that moment, I left behind a comforting teenage fanhood, one of complete devotion to The Smashing Pumpkins. Between 1995 and 1999, I sponged up everything I could find from them, collecting all their EPs and box sets. I met my first girlfriend at a Smashing Pumpkins concert. From two of their song titles, I created the AOL screen name that I've kept for over a decade—a name that I carried over to my Livejournal (fortunately the name was cryptic enough to disguise its provenance).
A week after getting rid of Adore, I listened to Machina for the last time and barely touched another Pumpkins record in the few years since. I once half-heartedly listened to Siamese Dream, once my unrivalled Favorite Record Ever, but couldn't finish it. Thankfully, it wasn't terrible, but instead pretty dated, with the heavy distortion a telltale sign of its early-90s origins.
In the two years since I had my laptop, I never even bothered to import a Pumpkins CD to its hard drive. So with some trepidation, last year I put Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness in my laptop. This was the first CD I ever bought.
The thing is, it's still pretty good. Its major weakness is the closing of the second CD, a problem easily remedied by iTunes. Unclick those last five songs, and you've a sprawling but not unwieldy album with a encouragingly strong proportion of good songs. Sure, some problems still exist. The production is awful; at some points its notes have been honed down to artificially sharp points—the high notes in "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans" in particular make me physically recoil. Nevertheless, it happily remains in my iTunes library. I was reconciled with my past again. Sure their final records were largely dross (although the free Machina II nearly redeemed them), but on the whole, their whole career shouldn't be thrown in the trash.
But now they're back.
Let's get the obvious out of the way. This is a sham reunion. Wire, Mission of Burma, Pixies, Dinosaur Jr.: all of these bands' reunions have been welcomed because they brought together the original line-ups to great results. But for the Pumpkins, only Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlain are present from the original band. But those two have been playing together for varying projects since the Pumpkins' breakup in 2000. Still, Corgan and Chamberlain pretty much single-handedly recorded Siamese Dream, so there's a basis for returning to the name. It's a bit of cheat, though.
So. Zeitgeist. The new album.
I was expecting a fucking embarassment. But it's not terrible. In fact, it's better than Machina. If this came out in 2000 instead of Machina, I probably wouldn't have left this band behind so bitterly. But, that's the point. It's 7 years too late. Where the aforementioned bands have recaptured their past magic, something's palpably missing here. Corgan's trying to overcome his past tendencies toward sentimentality that overwhelmed his last two albums, but he swings the pendulum too far in the other direction. Every song on this album tries to be a balls-out rocker. Even the ballads like "For God and Country" are all fuzzed out. Corgan has a range of songwriting talents—the later albums suffered from his failure to reign in the excesses that come from such a range, but in this case, the songwriting feels limited and by-the-numbers.
And that's not mentioning the dogs. "Starz" chugs along pleasantly enough until the bridge when Corgan's production-tricked-out voice pops out, intoning: "We. Are. Starz. We are. We. Are. Starz. We aaaaaaaaaare," sending this song plummeting into unintentional hilarity. "United States" tries to recapture their penchant for nine to ten minute epics, but feels stretched out, with a long forced breakdown in the middle.
It's not a total embarrassment, but The Smashing Pumpkins were already past their sell-by date when they first broke up.