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Billy Corgan turned up to 11 is not necessarily a good thing
on 28 July 2009
And so, the Smashing Pumpkins return from a LONG hiatus...or, to be more accurate, only half of them do. A lot of fans were up in arms when this was first announced, but let's not kid ourselves; the Pumpkins were always Corgan's baby, and if he can write, record and play `Siamese Dream' pretty much single-handedly, then this `back-from-the-dead' thing should be a doddle...right?
Wrong. `Zeitgeist' doesn't so much announce its arrival as it does aurally punch you in the face. `Doomsday Clock's droning, angular riffs demand your attention, even if you don't particularly like what you hear. `7 Shades of Black' follows this formula, combining stabbing riffs with quick-fire singing that almost instantly becomes irritating. `Bleeding the Orchid' and `That's the Way (My Love Is)' offer some welcome respite from the aural assault being, respectively, a down-tempo number that wouldn't have felt out of place on `Adore' and a cheery, sunny pop song that carries itself with an infectious energy. `Tarantula', unfortunately, swiftly follows. It's not that it's a particularly bad song, it's just that there's no real chorus to speak of, and the stabbing-riff formula set by the first two tracks is, by now, becoming very repetitive. `Starz' meanders around with no clear direction, `Neverlost' fails to take flight at all, and album closer `Pomp and Circumstance' feels completely out of place in this world of crushing dynamics. So far, so mediocre.
There is, however, some serious quality on the album. `Bring the Light' is played with the same infectious energy as `That's the Way...', and you just can't help but be swept up along the way. `United States' is a near-10 minute epic, showcasing some of the best drumming of Jimmy Chamberlain's career (it should be said, the drumming on the album as a whole is uniformly excellent). `C'mon, Let's Go' features a great riff, reminiscent in spirit to `Bullet with Butterfly Wings'. `For God and Country', despite being drenched in synths for the majority of its running time, emerges as a damn fine song. When he is willing to strip his compositions to the bare bones, Corgan's ideas work wonderfully; as he slowly recites `for God and country, I'll die' over a hypnotic bass loop, you'll have to remind yourself that he is probably being sarcastic, such is the dramatic power of this moment.
The album is, in parts, very good, and reminds you what was great about the Pumpkins in the first place, but at its worst it is nostalgic in the unkindest possible way. The man that wrote `Bullet...', `Today' and `1979' seems to have run out of ways to make any impact on listeners aside from bludgeoning them over the head with tedious riffs and sub-par song writing. It's as if he wants to make ANY sort of impression that he can by playing as loudly as possible. There doesn't seem to be any sort of quality control, something the Pumpkins have been guilty of since the bloated-but -brilliant `Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness'.
I should probably point out that I adore `Mellon Collie...', and I wanted to LOVE `Zeitgeist'. I really did. Unfortunately, this album serves as little more than a reminder of why the Pumpkins were one of the defining bands of the nineties and why they are no longer as culturally relevant a decade on, which is pretty damn ironic considering the album title.