As any fans of The Smashing Pumpkins who have been following them since their first album Gish will tell you, it’s been quite a ride. Back in the early 90s Billy Corgan had hair and their dreamy pop rock was a refreshing change from the noise bands coming out of the Seattle grunge scene. They also launched themselves with impressive videos for ‘Siva’ and ‘Rhinoceros’ which were so different you might be fooled into thinking they were two different bands. It was this that I, and many others, loved about them. They excelled at rocking out and doing the quite melodic stuff. The follow-up, Siamese Dream, was just as impressive and then, like Guns N’ Roses, they dropped a double album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which was about two hours long and was an impressive collection of music. This was also when they added ‘The’ to the name Smashing Pumpkins.
From the start though, The Smashing Pumpkins never functioned well as a band. They suffered from a clash of personalities, tragedies and a few different line-up changes. Corgan bounced between solo projects and what seemed like a continual reforming of the band. James Iha, founder member and guitarist, left in 2000 – only returning this year – Jimmy Chamberlin has been their drummer on and off – quitting then rejoining them three times. Along with that, Corgan’s outburst over the years have either got people scratching their heads or laughing at him.
So on to the new release with almost the original line-up, except D’arcy Wretzky who has not really done any musical work since leaving the band almost 20 years ago. So, is it a classic Pumpkins album?
Well the first thing that hits me as soon as the vocals come in on the first track is this is not the same dreamy mix as the original records. I used to love how Billy’s vocals would hover just above the rest of the music, drifting in and out of being the dominant sound. I remember once reading how Billy hated it when the record label wanted him to have the lyrics on the album because it meant he had to work out what he was singing. I miss the droney vocals where it’s more like an instrument, on the new album it’s much more like one of those remastered classics where they take away the dynamics, turn up the vocals and over compress everything. I guess that’s what the current trend is though and, after a couple of listen throughs, I managed to get over that and start taking in the songs.
This first track, ‘Knights of Malta’, is a classic Pumpkins dream pop type song than nicely opens the album, though lacks the layers of reverb you used to get. ‘Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)’ picks up the pace and is a perfect stadium rock anthem. ‘Travels’ is a mixed dream song where the vocals sit nicely in the mix. ‘Solara’ is probably one of the stand out, pure rock tracks on the album and has got all the right hooks to really stick in your head. ‘Alienation’ is a dynamic building track that flicks between drawn out melodies with a pure manic rock middle section. ‘Marchin’ On’ returns to the all-out rock song rammed full of those lovely drum fills. ‘With Sympathy’ feels closest to one of their non-single album tracks of old and the relatively short album finishes off with the rock track ‘Seek and You Shall Destroy’.
So, while I’d say it’s maybe not 100% a classic Pumpkins album, it’s only a few percentages off being one and the closest they have come for years. If you liked the first three quarters of their albums then there is a good chance you will grow to love this one too and I’m sure they will sound great live alongside the older tracks.