Wednesday, July 11, 2007

First Blush: Smashing Pumpkins - Zeitgeist

And so “they’re” back. The man everyone loves to hate, Billy Corgan, has reformed Smashing Pumpkins and released a new album. Of course, by reformed he means that he and Jimmy Chamberlin recorded a bunch of new songs and he hired some musicians to tour with them. Truth be told, I’m probably one of Corgans’ staunchest defenders simply because the man has a lot to do with why I’m a music fan to begin with. I’ve never had a deeper personal connection to an album than the one I had with Siamese Dream. For the impact that album and subsequent concerts had on my young life, I am forever grateful to Corgan. While he has certainly earned everyone’s scorn thanks to his out of control ego, I find him compelling nonetheless. And since this is the first Smashing Pumpkins album in seven years, you know we’re going to give it the First Blush treatment. Here we go!

Track 1 – Doomsday Clock
0:03 – Jimmy Chamberlin kicks off the album. A wise choice (he had been gradually mixed out of the band over the years, and the only way this possibly works is if he’s featured).
0:10 – This is heavy as hell.
0:47 – Harmonized “aaaahhhhhh” behind his vocals on overdubs. Not sure if I dig that.
1:18 – “This doomsday clock, ticking in my heart (not broken).” Billy’s in peril all over again.
2:05 – This track, despite Jimmy kicking ass on it, is really straightforward. It sounds like Filter circa 1994. Or maybe Stabbing Westward. With a little Nudeswirl thrown in? Eh – look ‘em up. Decent band.
3:10 – “You should want it aaaaallllll!” It’s a catchy ending, but I definitely can’t consider this song the least bit artsy.

Track 2 – 7 Shades of Black
0:07 – This may be heavier than the last one. It’s definitely faster.
0:25 – But again, a straight-ahead rocker.
0:57 – Ohh, a Pantera-esque break in the action.
1:55 – Nothing much has changed in this song aside from the above break.
2:09 – Megadeth guitar solo! A brief one.
2:38 – Again, we’re just rolling here. So far, I’m impressed with how heavy everything sounds. Usually when bands “reunite” it’s a flaccid affair. Corgan is clearly trying to avoid that. But I am getting concerned about the album just being hair metal at this point.

Track 3 – Bleeding the Orchid
0:03 – And this song title doesn’t fill me with optimism!
1:15 – A lot more of that “aaaaeeehhh” going on here.
1:34 – Jerry Cantrell guitar solo. I’d like to hear a Billy Corgan guitar solo. Whenever you’re ready, Billy.
2:09 – I’m not sure how many guitars are overdubbed on this track, but the sound is thick as hell. The vocals are somewhat terrible, though.
3:15 – This track is what it would sound like if you took the worst elements of Soundgarden and merged them with the worst elements of Alice in Chains. Now, I consider both of those bands to be strong outfits, but, yeah.
3:50 – Very brief Billy Corgan guitar solo!

Track 4 – That’s the Way (My Love Is)
0:10 – My greatest fears are allayed. This is not a Marvin Gaye cover.
0:34 – “They’ll say that nothing matters. Not even your will to survive. Of course I love you, baby, ‘cause I’m alive.” Not sure what to make of that.
1:16 – This chorus is sappy at best. Think really boring Zwan song.
2:29 – A technically good, but musically bad guitar solo. Corgan’s solos used to be brilliant because they always took the song to a different level, or put a different spin on it while staying within the overall theme of the track. But these are not creating excellence. They’re just riffs that follow the track.

Track 5 – Tarantula
0:03 – I have to admit that when I heard this single, I got excited for the album. Mainly the fact that Chamberlin’s drums are friggin’ awesome, and they haven’t mixed him down at all.
0:42 – Technically, this song isn’t a first blush since I’ve heard it many times already. It’s catchy. A great first single, even if tons of people can’t spell the word tarantula.
1:34 – This guitar solo is better, but it’s still not giving me what I want.
2:50 – Much better now. Riff away, Billy. That’s what we’ve been waiting seven years for.
3:22 – “Can’t stand the blazing sun. Can’t stand the morning rain.” Now is when this song really kicks ass. Great single.

Track 6 – Starz
0:03 – To my knowledge, this is the first song we’ve ever First Blushed that’s named after a premium cable channel. Doesn’t fill me with high expectations for its quality.
0:29 – “We. Are. Starz. We are!” OK. Does that mean all of us? Or just you and Jimmy?
1:37 – Jimmy Chamberlin just made the best fill I’ve heard in ten years. And it was on some little, unimportant part of the song. His presence raises everything three notches.
3:12 – Jimmy’s great here, but the song is just another straight-ahead rocker. I know I keep saying that, but I expect more from this band.

Track 7 – United States
0:04 – and this is the ten-minute track, so maybe we’ll get more here.
0:30 – Woah. This first guitar riff sounds almost identical to Ironman. Not a bad thing!
0:48 – I haven’t discussed the art yet. There’s clearly a statement being made about the media and what people focus on. Paris Hilton is featured prominently as is the president as the grim reaper, a bodybuilder, a Spartan with a machine gun, and it’s all apparently on television.
1:24 – I am digging this guitar here. Heavy as can be without being loud.
3:45 – We’re still building. The riffs and drums are quick, but not pounding on us yet. It must be coming.
4:45 – Still waiting. It must be coming.
6:01 – Things have broken down – there’s just a little Neil Young’s Dead Man soundtrack echoey guitar with Jimmy tapping away.
6:36 – There we go! Pow.
7:05 –This one will definitely be played live as it’s the only track we’ve heard so far that seems at all fun. “Fight. I wanna fight. I wanna fight. Revolution!”
8:33 – “Prying open my third eye!” OK, he didn’t really say that, but he might have. The whole end of this song sounds like Tool, right down to that Third Eye riff. But I’m OK with that. Better than sounding like Extreme!
9:44 – I do feel like this song could have been easily done in six minutes. There was a ton of filler.

Track 8 – Neverlost
0:51 – This is the quietest song on the album thus far. Billy’s doing his “trying to sound sweet” thing. It’s going OK.
1:24 – Also in the liner notes… “performed artfully by: Jimmy Chamberlin: Drums / Billy Corgan: All the Rest.” See, that’s why people don’t like you, Billy. I s’pose you don’t care.
2:27 – Not a lot of action on this one thus far.
3:26 – There are strings, but they’re on a synthesizer. Is that so Billy could still say he was “all the rest” in the liner notes? This would sound so much better if they hired some real strings.

Track 9 – Death From Above
0:01 – I bought the special Best Buy edition that Pitchfork was so angry about. This is the bonus track. I was shocked that they would insert it into the middle of the album. That seems like an odd move for a band that generally considers itself artistic.
0:26 – So far this is like getting free fat on your steak.
1:30 – “Sure it comes, death from above.” This is sung very nonchalantly. It clearly doesn’t matter to Billy.
3:08 – “Yes, Lord, I’m sinkin’.” I can’t recall a previous God reference in a SP song. Seems out of character for Corgan. Like he doesn’t mean it.
3:55 – Seriously, if you buy this album somewhere else, you’re not missing all that much. This was a B-side waiting to happen.

Track 10 – Bring the Light
0:36 – It’s pop-metal. Another straight-ahead rocker. Just a bit cheerier than the previous songs.
1:56 – I’m just of waiting for something to happen here.
2:11 – Overdubbed solos reminiscent of more late 80s metal. But they’re good.

Track 11 – (Come On) Let’s Go!
0:02 – More fears allayed. It’s not a Shout Out Louds cover.
0:22 – Guitar sounds very similar to Mellon Collie’s Zero, but the song is not as heavy.
1:37 – Some cooler stuff here. This song has some potential. Man, I haven’t made many comments along those lines today, have I?
2:26 – “Lord save me!” There it is again. Interesting.
2:51 – Again, even though I am liking this track better, it’s nothing unique or overly special. This whole album, they seem to be relying on musicianship rather than songwriting craft.

Track 12 – For God and Country
0:32 – Well, there’s some new stuff going on here at least. Some Oriental sounding string instruments.
1:21 – So maybe the big problem here is that Corgan is framing so much of this about the state of our country and what’s taking place. That’s all very hard to ignore, to be sure. But his best songs were always just about himself. He’s an egomaniac, but that’s how he reached such heights in his music before. I wonder if he is trying to shed that image by tackling other people’s problems for once. Obviously, it will take more listens to figure that out, but this song about “God and country” where he asks people to “lay down your arms to me” seem to have very little to do with his inner being.
3:47 – Again, this track is a bit different from the others, and that’s a good thing. The album needed more variety. That was always a strong feature for Corgan’s talents.

Track 13 – Pomp and Circumstances
0:02 – Pink Floyd-esque vocal overdubs: “Lalalalalah-lah-lah-la.”
1:22 - “What was once new, now gone. What was once praised now wrong.” This could be about America, or it could be about The Smashing Pumpkins. Interpret as you will.
2:24 – I like this last track. Spacey and echoey and perhaps a bit too saccharine, but it’s something new at least.
3:06 – “I’m cold, worn out, and shamed.” An attempt at humility here? Is he speaking for our nation or himself? Again, interpret as you will.

Sooooo, what do we think? I’m not sure what I was expecting. The aggressiveness and mix of Tarantula got me kind of excited, but I was unsure of what the entire album would be. Unfortunately, it’s clearly not very diverse. Every track is roughly 4 minutes long, and they’re all kind of the same. The guitars are very layered, so perhaps there’s more going on that will grow on me, but I can’t see myself slogging through this album over and over again. I will admit, in an era when Kelly Clarkson is considered “rock”, there are certainly some refreshing aspects about this release, particularly the way they brought Jimmy’s drums more to the front of the mix. But I wonder if they even had a chance to work through these songs before making the album. Usually bands can try things out in front of audiences first. Since their first show was about a month ago, I assume the album was already cut. Clearly, there’s a ton of cash to be made by these guys, but I don’t think that’s what they’re about here. They have plenty of dough to last a lifetime. Corgan definitely tried to really rock it out here. Clearly, Corgan is a fantastic guitarist, and Chamberlin one of the finest drummers in rock history. It’s hard not to at least pay attention. I hope this album grows on me, but I’m not very hopeful. Right now, I’m real glad I never got that Smashing Pumpkins tattoo…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did you notice the AC DC type abbreviations for BC and JC in the production notes on the back of the album?