|By Zach Patterson||Thursday, 6 Sep 2007|
When Dinosaur Jr. released Beyond earlier this year, one thing that was clear from the first note of the album was that it was a true reunion, and a return of a band that hadn’t been whole since the late 1980′s. A few months later, Smashing Pumpkins releases their first album in 7 years, and from the first note of the first song, you…uh…well, you don’t really know who you are listening to. My first thought was “wow, this is pretty fucking heavy for Smashing Pumpkins”. While it’s not necessarily bad, it just doesn’t feel like the same band.
What’s even more odd is just how much of this album seems to be in the genre of ‘soulless machine rock’. The first few tracks just have no real life to them, and are seem overwhelmed by these metal-sounding guitars, Corgan’s droning voice, and some frenetic drumming by Chamberlin. While some of these songs sound good by themselves (“Tarantula’, for example, is a pretty good single when taken outside of the album), the entire first half of the album just kinda feels like generic modern rock tracks. As the album progresses, thankfully there’s more variety to pick from. “United States” is a giant bloated-in-a-good-way 10 minute stoner-prog rock epic that’s enjoyable from beginning to end. Other standouts include “Bring the Light”, which recalls some of the Pumpkins golden years recordings. It has a certain softness musically (as well as Corgan’s voice) that most of the rest of the album is missing, and it’s just has this ‘free’ feel that songs like “Today” evoked back in the day. Then, probably the next best song is the closer, “Zeitgeist”. It’s just a short acoustic song, but it has a certain genuine emotion and warmth that the rest of the album lacks. I also mentioned “Tarantula”, which has a very strong stoner rock vibe to it with some nice guitar solos and is the best true rock song out of the bunch that populate the top half of the album.
Lyrically, the album is a mixed bag. There’s a few songs I really like, and then there’s a few that seem like Zwan rejects (see “(Come on) Let Go!”), some that are just kinda lame (see “Starz”), or overwhelmingly generic (looking at you, “That’s the Way (My Love Is)”). And outside of the soulless machine rock songs, the other songs are a strange bunch. “For God and Country” feels like something from Adore and doesn’t really go anywhere, “Pomp and Circumstances” has this weird new age soft rock feel to it that’s completely out of place, and then there’s “Neverlost”, which is just kind of a flat, boring, slower song that has hints of classic Pumpkins at points, but really seems like it was added for filler.
Also, some people might not care about this, but it really irritates me that there were like 3 different versions of this album released that all had different exclusive tracks, depending on who you buy it from. I buy it from Target, so I get the bonus track “Zeitgeist”, which is a great song, but I didn’t get to hear either of the other two songs, which could be equally awesome. This shit doesn’t benefit anybody. No one wants to buy 3 versions of the same album, and if anything, it encourages more people to pirate the album and the tracks they didn’t get. I didn’t like it when comic books tried this tactic with slightly different stories on alternate covers of the same issue, I didn’t like it when Namco released 3 different versions of Soul Calibur II with exclusive characters on each system, and I don’t like this now. It’s a terrible marketing tactic and just makes the album look like a money grab.
Overall, I can’t say it’s a terrible album, as there are a few really good songs that make this a decent reunion. And really, the whole album is listenable from beginning to end, with nothing that’s just god awful. But it’s mainly filled with pretty good songs here and there mixed with a lot of forgettable stuff. It probably won’t quite satisfy long time fans, and it likely won’t attract too many new listeners, but it’s not bad.