When I started BourbonAndVinyl I vowed to myself I’d try to be positive. There is so much negativity out there, especially online. Twitter is a cesspool of anger and grievances. At least Instagram is out there for pictures of people’s cats and what they’re eating. I joined Instagram to follow rock bands and I ended up following a bunch of cats and restaurants, but I digress. B&V was founded in order to throw light on older bands, artists who have been around for a while that are putting out new music that probably isn’t making it to your car radio (Bourbon and Vinyl: Mission Statement). I try to write about albums that I like, that excite me about rock and roll. At times, I fear that ethos has made me sound overly positive, which if you knew me is pretty ironic.
I have indeed been critical in the past. I subscribe to the “important man (person)” theory of rock n roll. Important artists do big things. So when one of those “important” artists puts out a record that misses the mark, I have in the past felt compelled not only to comment but to be less than positive (LP Review: Creativity And The Curious Case of Jack White & ‘Boarding House Reach’). I’m hopeful that this post will not come across overly negative. However, as always, I’m going to give you my honest opinions here.
I consider Billy Corgan, leader of the Smashing Pumpkins, to be one of those “great men” of rock and roll. Anyway you slice it, the guy has done some amazing work. However, even I must admit that Corgan, well, doesn’t lack self-confidence. No artist, if they’re being truthful, has enough ego to actually want to be the “voice of their generation.” Dylan struggled with that tag in the 60s. In the 90s that tag literally helped drive Kurt Cobain to suicide. Heavy weighs the crown. I saw Corgan interviewed years ago about Cobain and how he brought Grunge to the mainstream, changing music forever. Corgan said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that there were a lot of artists pushing rock and roll’s new sound, grunge or alt rock, and Cobain ended up getting credit for it. I got the sense watching him, that Corgan was actually kind of disappointed he wasn’t tagged with that “voice of his generation” thing because I truly think he believes he was the voice of that generation and not Cobain. It’s like he feels gipped. Who knows… he did date Courtney Love so he shares that in common with Kurt, maybe he was the voice all along. I can’t adjudicate that but the guy has had a chip on his shoulder for a long time.
I’m on record stating that I’m a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan. I was a big fan of Siamese Dream after my friend Doug gave me that disc for my birthday many moons ago. It began a lifetime of fandom for me. I love the grandiosity of the epic Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. I followed the band through the radical shift to electronica on Adore. That album remains amongst my favorite of their work. After the band fell apart following Machina/The Machine of Gods I followed Corgan (and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin) on their next band, Zwan. I actually dug that album but I think I’m in the minority there. When Billy rebooted the Smashing Pumpkins I didn’t get back on the bandwagon until Oceania. I liked Monuments To An Elegy that featured Tommy Lee on drums. By that point Corgan was the only original member left. When it was announced that original members James Iha (guitar) and Jimmy Chamberlin (drums) were rejoining, I was excited at the guitar rock possibilities. Admittedly, I’d liked to see original bassist D’Arcy back but I’ll take what I can get. 2018’s Shiny And Oh So Bright Vol 1 was not the hard rock reunion I was expecting, but I still liked it (LP Review: Smashing Pumpkins, Iha’s Surprisingly Tentative Return ‘Shiny And Oh So Bright’. I figured they were just taking their time to re ignite the chemistry.
The Pumpkins have finally returned with the follow-up(?), not with “Shiny And Oh So Bright Volume Two” but with what’s being billed as a double-album CYR. And in classic Billy Corgan fashion, with the chip securely on his shoulder, he’s delivered an album no one would have expected. Instead of the classic guitar-epic music we’d expect, he’s delivered a keyboard heavy album. It’s as if Billy has decided to join the dark side… The Dark Lord of the Synth, he’s Darth Keyboards. The first time I heard this record I thought I’d accidentally played a Flock of Seagulls’ disc from 85. I will say, his vocals still have that immediacy, that urgency you would expect, it’s just the music is such a surprise. What makes this all the more confounding is that drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and guitarist James Iha are purportedly playing on this record, just like the last one. Chamberlin is one of the more aggressive drummers ever and on this record he’s mostly confined to being a metronome, he’s totally neutered here. If James Iha is playing guitar on this record it’s like a “Where’s Waldo’s Guitar.” Even Jeff Schroeder who plays bass and guitar is seemingly awol. This is the sound of one man who spent way too much time playing with the latest technology. The only proof that anybody but Corgan contributed on this record are the female backup singers.
Practically half of these tracks were released as singles… I only posted about the first two, Review: Smashing Pumpkins Release 2 New Songs, “Cyr,” “The Colour of Love”. I have to admit those two tracks have grown on me. I especially like the title track, “Cyr.” Corgan sings “I’m on the verge” so many times I have no choice but to believe him. There are other good moments here. “Confessions Of A Dopamine Addict” is actually interesting… I think it actually has some real drums. “Dulcet In E” is a nice Corgan ballad. The two tracks that generate the most heat, for me, were the curiously titled “Anno Santana” and the overly affected title of “Wyttch” (ie, Witch). Both have a bit of actual guitar. Neither is “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.”
I’m not faulting the guy for wanting to go in another direction. I loved Adore. But by the second half of this album, washed in all the cold keyboards and synths it all sort of turns into white noise. The songs are just not that memorable, especially on the second half of the record. Corgan has always written great hooks and there just aren’t any here. While this is described as a double-LP it just feels like a boring, long single disc. If Corgan is this ambivalent about songwriting and the songs he’s putting out, why wouldn’t we be too? To call this album monochromatic doesn’t do it justice… at least Picasso’s “Blue Period” was interesting.
This album is, in a few words, a huge disappointment. I think we were all waiting for a great Smashing Pumpkins’ album. Sadly, this isn’t it. I can’t imagine Iha and Chamberlin will stay on with the Pumpkins if all they’re going to do is pose for publicity photos. This one is a hard pass for me.