on 9 October 2012
Who would think we'd have a new Pumpkins album in 2007, seven years after the band had, well, disbanded. Of course, the world knew Corgan would be reforming the band when he took out the full page adverstisement in the Chicago Tribune back in 2005, the same day his solo album TheFutureEmbrace, came out. That was the first time the public was aware of Corgan's intention to reform the band.
Apparently, it was also the first time the actual band members themselves had heard of it. According to James Iha, he hadn't spoken to Corgan in years, and D'arcy likewise was MIA. When it came to actually record the album, only Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin, the Pumpkins drug-addict drummer (at least he was a druggy back in the 1990s), were on board.
So what does this all mean to the band's image and the public'c perception of the album? Note, I'm not talking about the actual music on ZIETGIEST, which is actually quite good.
Cynics felt Corgan was trying to cash in on the Pumpkins' name, since no one has really paid that much attention to his solo efforts, either with his one-off band Zwan, or his record FUTUREEMBRACE. People tend to dismiss ZIETGIEST out of hand, simply because it only features half the original band. Both cases (though there may be some truth to the first charge), are not really valid, or if they are valid, don't really effect one way or the other how the music actually sounds, or diminishes the Pumpkins' legacy in the least.
Now, some bands can survive personnel changes. Some can't. The Doors couldn't survive Jim Morrison's death, even though they they have toured in recent years under the moniker Doors of the 21st Century, till Densmore sued Manzarek and Krieger, an so changed the name to "Riders on the Storm," still a Doors derivative. I'm a huge Doors fan, but didn't even bother with this distraction. Then we have Led Zeppelin, who, after John Bonham died in 1980 after choking on his own vomit due to drunkenness, wisely called it quits. R.E.M., perhaps unwisely, decided to remain an active recording unit after the departure of drummer Bill Berry in 1997. Then we have The Who, who not only recorded two albums after Kieth Moon's death in 1978 (they would not record a studio album for well over twenty years following these two panned records), but continued to tour and even record a new album after John Entwhistle's death in 2002, leaving only half the band.
What does all this mean to The Smashing Pumpkins? Well, a lot actually. It proves when it comes to personnel changes, you must look at each band individually. To take one aforementioned example, Zeppelin quit because the band's success relied totally on all four members. You could probably argue the same with R.E.M. With the Pumpkins, however, that's never really been the case. Sure, D'arcy and James helped contribute, but they are also there to service as much a part of the image of the band as for what they brought to the sound. And here's why.
The Pumpkins have always been about Corgan, almost to the point where you could argue that of all the major rock bands to emerge in the 1980s and 1990s, the Pumpkins sound the most like a backing vehicle for Corgan's music. Most of the Pumpkin's songwriting is credited to Corgan. There's been allegations that SIAMASE DREAM was almost entirely recorded by Corgan himself, as he was not happy with the band's playing. As it's always been about Billy anyway, though I do miss Iha and D'arcy, their absence doesn't mean this isn't a Pumpkins record. That allegation would have a lot more weight of D'arcy, James, and Jimmy all recorded an album without Corgan.
As far as Corgan trying to cash in on the Pumpkin's name, I have more respect for him than that. While I do think it's true he is trying to get back into the forefront of rock audiences, I think it's more about trying to get back into the mainstream than to do with pure money. He should be set for life anyway, but who the hell knows with celebrity finances.
All that said, what about the actual music itself? Well, thematically, it's something of a departure from the band's previous subject matter. Corgan said the album was largely about "love, loss, and the government", and largely in that order.
The music itself is largely in the vein of their previous album MACHINA, only without the confusing-as-hell storyline (if it even does have a real plot to it, which I doubt). The music is hard driving, with plenty of guitar solos, etc, and phenomenal drumming by Chamberlin. For those looking for the next MELLON COLLIE, don't bother. ZIETGEIST doesn't have the eclectic songwriting that made MC so fun to listen too, nor does the band branch out in so many different territories as they did on MC.
Chamberlin has said that was intentional - they wanted to keep the sound of the album more basic, and not really get far out into the whole artsey-fartsey scene. "The mindset of the record was to put our best foot forward and not get too artsy. We wanted to try to create a body of work that was concentrated enough to bring back a fan base and invigorate a new fan base. We kept it pretty close to the chest, and we didn't branch out too deep into art zone while we were writing the record." It's sad, really, because it was fun seeing how far out the Pumpkins could really get out back in the mid 1990s under Corgan's leadership.
The band has never been really overtly political, and this is the first really political record Corgan's ever made. Actually, this political awareness gives critics a lot better ammunition against Corgan than the whole idea he's trying to "cash in". It's clear from the whole affair that Corgan is using ZIETGIEST as a bid to become culturally relevant again in an era where the media and the public really haven't been following him for the last several years.
As there's been a lot of political commentary in rock and roll, from Greenday's rock opera AMERICAN IDIOT to the soon-to-be very dated Neil Young effort LIVING WITH WAR, you could make the argument Corgan was using politics to make himself a voice that people listen too again. Even the coverart, which reminds one of the famous ending of the 1969 film PLANET OF THE APES, feels rather reactionary. To Corgan's effort, the politics doesn't sound forced, and he does incorporate his political ideoligies pretty well into the Pumpkin's image, but it still feels rather odd, given how unpolitical the band has been for the majority of its lifespan.
Overall, a good record, and sounds, minus the politics, a natural progression from ADORE, MACHINA, and the never commercially released (but widely distributed) MACHINA II. Some good rock songs too.
Album: US #2, UK#1
"Doomsday Clock": 81
"That's the Way (My Love Is): #23
The following B-sides have been released: Death from Above (4:06), Steller (6:22), Zeitgeist (2:49), and Ma Belle (4:08).
The following outtakes are known to exist: "Gossamer", "Superchrist", "Signal to Noise".
EDITION NOTES: the album ahs been released in several different special editions, as well as having the primary colour of red on the cover art be altered on these new editions.