Friday, February 8, 2008

Zeitgeist - Smashing Pumpkins


Smashing Pumpkins
Warner Music

SCQ Rating: 63%

The year 2000 was a very long time ago. So long, in fact, that I can’t blame most people for losing track of what Machina actually sounded like. Even I, a once massive Smashing Pumpkin fan who collected every import and b-side available, had to reach into memory to recall the wall of sound synths and Black Sabbath tributes which collected the mundane gist of the Pumpkin’s sixth and thought-to-be last record together. Well, it was and it wasn’t – make no mistake, the absence of James and Darcy officially make Zeitgeist a product of Smashing Pumpkins version2.0 – but to make my case against the paint-by-number critics who all made quick comparisons: this sounds as much like Machina as Machina sounded like Gish.

Say what you will about the discography of the Smashing Pumpkins (first generation, circa 1989 through 2000), even the most steadfast Pumpkin-haters had to at least surrender some understanding of why they were so popular. Even Machina, for all its obvious weaknesses, held a pocketful of excellent songs to add to the SP catalog (Stand Inside Your Love and Try, Try, Try), and Zeitgeist is no different in that respect. Anyone who enjoyed Siamese Dream can feel a nostalgic softening when listening to Chamberlain’s percussive talents in the opener ‘Doomsday Clock’, and rock radio around the world would be deaf to exclude ‘That’s the Way (My Love Is)’ from the same airwaves that welcomed ‘1979’ so whole-heartedly. These examples, as well as the massive hit ‘Tarantula’ prove that Corgan remains capable of writing hit songs and channeling his inner talent through such a preposterous ego. However, that doesn’t mean that Zeitgeist isn’t the Smashing Pumpkins’ least interesting album.

When news of the SP reunion dropped jaws all over the western front, I recall feeling confident that the band could move forward, unfettered by the absence of James Iha and Darcy. And while I still believe BC and JC (as they refer to themselves of late) are the most essential contributors to the Pumpkin sound, the lack of depth in much of Zeitgeist offers a healthy difference in opinion. Gone are the soft and hazy ballads, the psychedelic instrumentals, the androgynous anger that crowned them kings of a genre as carelessly titled as Alternative. In fact, the most exciting moments I found on this record were the seconds I heard the introduction of tinkering piano or, basically, any instrument that isn’t a guitar. While these moments are extremely rare over the course of the album’s 52 minutes, they do offer a hint of atmosphere to songs like ‘Neverlost’ and ‘For God and Country’, which are all the better for it than ‘(Come On) Let’s Go!’; a brainless rocker which, sadly, gives away all the lyrical content with its title.

Aiming to make a rock record and succeeding is easily the band’s least ambitious statement so far, and with lousy album art and grade-eight caliber lyrics, you might find yourself disappointed as often as you are surprised. Best to keep this in mind: Machina was no Abbey Road and Zeitgeist does little to destroy the SP legacy. It’s better than it could’ve been, and that is better than nothing.

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