Review: Smashing Pumpkins Release 2 New Songs, “Cyr,” “The Colour of Love”

*Image likely subject to copy right

I was recently writing about a difficult period in my life, 1994-1995 and some of the great music that got me through those rough times (Tom Petty: New Vault Song, “There Goes Angela” From The Upcoming ‘Wildflowers’ Box). When I think about that rough patch in my life one of the bands that I think about, who got me through it, is the Smashing Pumpkins. In 1994 I had one of those milestone birthdays that make you start to ponder your life and the direction you’re heading. My good friend Doug flew in for that birthday celebration at a live-music bar down in Westport, the Hurricane. It was indeed epic but those records are sealed. As a gift Doug brought me 2 CDs. While Doug grew up in KC like me, he was living in Chicago at the time and had adopted that city so thoroughly that we referred to him as “Mr. Chicago.” Naturally this led him to gift me two CDs from Chicago-based groups. The first was from singer/songwriter Ralph Covert who eventually started recording music for children. The second CD was from this group I hadn’t really heard of named the Smashing Pumpkins.

The album he gifted me on that difficult birthday was the Pumpkins’ masterpiece second album Siamese Dream which had come out less than a year prior. I have to admit that Doug, despite not owning a stereo, has turned me onto some great music over the years. I’m trying to talk Doug into buying a turntable so we can disguise our beer drinking jaunts as trips to the used record store and yet he resists the idea, but I’m getting off topic here. The Smashing Pumpkins hadn’t really broken through on KC radio yet in 1994. Their debut Gish was so broadly ignored here that I have to admit I thought Siamese Dream was their debut (at least I did in ’94). It was years before I picked up or even listened to Gish, which I love. In 1994 I had vaguely heard of the Smashing Pumpkins. I was aware they had a video involving an ice cream truck (“Today”) but that was about all I knew.

Well it’s no surprise but Siamese Dream knocked me out. Not only the big songs like “Today,” “Cherub Rock” and “Rocket” drew me in, but some of the deeper album tracks grabbed me too – “Mayonnaise,” “Space Boy,” and “Hummer.” Needless to say, I was on the bandwagon despite still being blissfully unaware of Gish. A year and half later, the Pumpkins – Billy Corgan,  vocals/guitar/bass/keyboards/mastermind; James Iha, guitar; D’Arcy (Wretzky), bass; and Jimmy Chamberlin, drums – exploded when they released the 1995 guitar magnum opus Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. After that album everyone was on the bandwagon. Tracks like “Zero” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” were everywhere. That was the first tour I saw the Pumpkins and I was extremely impressed. Some friends and I were on the floor – there were no chairs – and we got up close to the band and they were on fire. It was scorched earth with guitars. 

Alas, toward the end of that tour the wheels came off. Jimmy Chamberlin’s heroin addiction got the best of him and he and their touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin both O.D.ed. Melvoin died and Chamberlin was subsequently fired from the band. And I thought I was having a rough time? On their next LP, 1998’s Adore, the band took a stylistic left turn and adopted a more electronica based sound. I always thought it was symbolic of how pissed Corgan was at Jimmy (who he described as his “musical soulmate,” the two had roomed together on the road in the early days) that they’d choose a musical direction that didn’t really require a drummer. A lot of people were put off by the new Pumpkins’ sound on Adore. My friend’s wife, when we saw them on that tour, turned to me and said “What is this shit?” How Greil Marcus of her! I dug that album and that tour. I was especially impressed with James Iha at that show, he was coaxing wild, bizarre notes out of his guitar. He reminded me of the Edge from U2.

Unfortunately, Chamberlin’s departure from the band began what has continued to be an almost constant churn in the line-up of the band. Chamberlin came back for Machina and a more rocking sound but then D’Arcy left. The band finally broke up in 2000 only to reform in 2007 with only Corgan and Chamberlin as members. Before I knew what was happening Chamberlin was out. The band was down to just Corgan and a guitarist named Jeff Schroeder for a while. They actually brought in Tommy Lee of Motley Crue fame to drum on 2014’s Monuments To An Elegy, an album I really dug. So it was a big deal when it was announced that both Chamberlin and to my delight Iha were returning to the fold in 2018 for Shiny And Oh So Bright. I liked that record – LP Review: Smashing Pumpkins, Iha’s Surprisingly Tentative Return ‘Shiny And Oh So Bright’ – although I have to admit, it was not the guitar assault I was hoping Iha’s return would have suggested. The line up at the time was Corgan, Iha, Chamberlin and guitarist Jeff Schroeder so you do the math – 3 guitarists and 1 drummer – I just thought it would rock harder. 

I’ve been waiting with great anticipation for what I assume will be called  “Shiny And Oh So Bright Vol 2.” I was delighted last week when I saw that the Pumpkins had released two new songs, the mysteriously titled “Cyr” and “The Colour Of Your Love.” And I have to say, like the last album, only Billy Corgan can have a band with three guitarists and record two songs that are keyboard based. “Cyr” is all keyboards and what sounds like drum machines. It sounds like what U2 has been grasping for lately, a current sounding song. I played it for the Rock Chick trying to find a modern equivalent in terms of sound – I was thinking the Killers, Imagine Dragons or someone like that. When she heard “Cyr” she said, “That sounds like hopped-up Coldplay.” Withering criticism at least in this house. I despise Coldplay. To me, it sounds like a song that would have fit nicely on Adore. Yes, I’d like more guitar but this song has such a great beat (something I never thought I’d write) and melody it drills into my brain. It’s very poppy. “Cyr” signals to me that Corgan is going to do whatever the Hell he wants to do. 

The better of the two tracks to me, is the second track, “The Colour Of Your Love.” On this track I can at least discern Chamberlin’s drumming. Again it’s not the guitar-assault you’d expect or hope for when Iha and Corgan are on guitar… It’s got a lot of keyboards. It’s of the same smooth, polished music that Corgan has been doing since Oceania. It doesn’t seem to matter whose in the band. There isn’t even a guitar solo on this track which is disappointing. It is a hooky song and again an infectious melody. These aren’t bad songs they’re just not what I expect when I think of the classic Smashing Pumpkins. 

For any of you hoping for “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” these tracks aren’t for you. If “Daphne Descends” from Adore is your thing, then you’ll really dig these songs. Again, they’re not bad, they just aren’t songs I’d recommend to anybody who isn’t a die-hard Pumpkins fan like me. One has to wonder how involved Iha really is with this new music or really with the last album if I’m being honest. I’m starting to wonder if they’re just paying him to be in the publicity photos. While I am still greatly looking forward to whatever these guys do next, I’m the last person to predict what the next album will sound like…I guess it’ll be whatever the Hell Billy Corgan wants to do. 

Be safe out there, Cheers! 

 

LP Review: Smashing Pumpkins, Iha’s Surprisingly Tentative Return ‘Shiny And Oh So Bright’

image

I had heard rumblings about a true Smashing Pumpkins reunion forever. As early as 2007’s Zeitgeist when Corgan ran a full page ad in the Chicago newspaper saying he wanted everybody back onboard there’s been talk of a Pumpkins reunion. Then a couple of years ago on, yes, social media we started seeing pictures of guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin in the studio with writer/producer/guitarist/singer Billy Corgan. Sadly, most of the buzz and talk around the reunion was around bassist D’Arcy’s absence. Apparently Corgan didn’t feel she could carry the weight of playing on a record and a tour. It’s much the same thing with Axl and Steve Adler, who actually admitted he couldn’t have played a whole show. If you don’t play, you forget how, apparently.

When I think about the Smashing Pumpkins, I think back to those glory years. My dear friend Doug gave me Siamese Dream. Obviously, that record is a masterpiece. It was the Chicago answer to the Seattle wave that engulfed the 90s. If you subscribe to the “great man” theory of history, I don’t think Corgan gets the credit he deserves. (Just ask him, he’d agree). While Cobain was the voice of a generation, an honor he never wanted, Corgan desperately coveted that tag. People spoke of Vedder, Cornell and Staley in hushed and reverent tones but Billy never got that kind of love. I guess Chicago isn’t as cool as Seattle… although I’d argue that point. Of all the big 90s bands, I think Corgan was the most “classic rock” influenced. I bought the double CD Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness and remain blown away by it to this day. That tour was my first time seeing them in concert and they rawked.

But just when it seemed world-dominance was within Corgan’s grasp things went haywire. Chamberlin who had been struggling with alcoholism and heroin addiction for quite some time, OD’d along with touring keyboardist Jonathon Melvoin who tragically died. The band had had enough and Chamberlin was fired. The line-up of the Pumpkins has really been in flux ever since. They went with an electronica thing, produced by Rick Rubin on Adore and I think they lost a lot of people. I personally loved that record. The title track, “Ava Adore” and “To Sheila” remain among my favorites. I remember my friend’s wife turning to me during that concert and saying, “What’s this shit?” How Greil Marcus of her.

Chamberlin cleaned up and returned for 2000’s Machina/The Machines of Gods but by then D’Arcy had been dismissed for undisclosed reasons. The rumor was crack cocaine. I remember hearing she and her boy friend tried to rob a convenience store… I want to party with you, D’Arcy. After that the wheels came off and Corgan ended the Pumpkins. Chamberlin, who had at one time been Corgan’s roomie on the road, joined the short lived Zwan, an album apparently only I bought. Corgan did an un-listenable solo record and opened a tea shop. Finally he ran the ad calling his old comrades back to the band. Again, only Chamberlin showed up for Zeitgiest. After that, it was really a revolving door of musicians. Only guitarist Jeff Schroeder has seemed to stick. Tommy Lee of Motley Crue actually sat in the drummer’s chair for 2014’s Monuments to an Elegy.

I will admit, I’d been ignoring pretty much everything Corgan did since the Zwan thing. But I ended up picking up Oceania and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a great record. I also bought Monuments to an Elegy but admittedly I was merely intrigued by the idea of Tommy Lee drumming for Billy Corgan. Those were both great, sort of midtempo records. Nothing as epic or earth shattering as “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” but enjoyable rock albums. Then the announcement that Iha and Chamberlin were both back hit social media… I couldn’t help but wonder what their presence would do to the Pumpkins sound.

It was a Joe Strummer documentary I watched late at night, by myself where I saw Joe say, “never underestimate the chemistry of four guys in a room.” I’ve always believed in that. No matter how badly those folks might get along, there’s something about band chemistry. You get the right guys in a room and magic happens. Chrissie Hynde just plays better when Martin Chambers is on the drum kit. He knows instinctually what she’s going to do before she does it. With Iha back, I thought some of that magic might return.

I have to admit, on first listen I was a little surprised by Shiny And Oh So Bright, Vol 1. The title actually goes on for a bit longer, but I’m too lazy to type the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong, I like this record. I like most rock and roll. But I guess I expected a little more strum und drang. I was hoping for a bunch of bombastic guitar. Chamberlin’s drumming is, as usual, thunderous. For the most part, this is an all too brief, midtempo record in the same spirit of Oceania or Monuments. Iha’s presence hasn’t really fired Corgan up. I hear Iha’s distinctive guitar sound through out the record, but there’s nothing terribly heavy on this record. Rick Rubin has returned to produce this album, and he gives it the usual organic, clean production. I like the sound of this music and that’s probably due to Rubin.

The album starts off with a trio of pretty mellow tunes. I really like “Knights of Malta,” it reminds me of “Tonight, Tonight.” There are keyboards and strings. Then they slip into “Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)” which has that same chugging rhythm as “1979.” That song slips seamlessly into “Travels.” And I mean seamlessly, I had to look at the stereo to see that it had gone to the next track. Finally the band catches fire on the rocking lead single, “Solara” (New Single: The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Solara”: The Original (3/4 of it Anyway) Line-Up’s Rocking Return). Other than “Solara” the only tracks that really rock are “Seek And You Shall Destroy” and “Marchin’ On.” “Solara” is still the pick of the litter but “Seek And You Shall Destroy” is a very close second. The only real miscue on this record is “Alienation” which finds Corgan at his cliched worst.

Overall this is a pretty good record. It just feels like a real tentative reunion, like they’re still feeling each other out. I think a little touring and time spent together will loosen these guys up. Then maybe they can get back to their usual window shattering, earth shaking rock and roll. Give this one a listen, it’ll grow on you.

Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving!

 

New Single: The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Solara”: The Original (3/4 of it Anyway) Line-Up’s Rocking Return

76025_0_wide_ver1528877710.jpg@642

“I’m not everyone…” – “Solara,” The Smashing Pumpkins

Thanks to my buddy Doug, I was an early adopter of the Smashing Pumpkins. He was the one who gave me their breakthrough album, Siamese Dream as a birthday gift in early ’94. Ok, the album was almost a year old, but I live in Kansas City, not Chicago. I quickly picked up Gish at the used-record store. I was also one of the throng of people who showed up at the record store the day Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness came out – it was truly the band’s magnum opus at three vinyl LP’s or 2 CD’s length.

In the ’90s, “grunge” was such an overpowering force that many bands, including the Smashing Pumpkins, got lumped into that category. That era when the Pumpkins came out was when I first began to hear the term “alternative rock.” Kansas City even got a new alternative rock radio station. You wouldn’t hear Foghat on that station, but you would hear the Seattle bands – Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and of course, Nirvana. That is also where I started to hear the Smashing Pumpkins. They were so much more influenced by classic rock – layered guitars, epic songwriting, and big drums – than many of their alt rock compatriots who were more influenced by punk, especially the grunge bands. I agree with the label alternative rock, but certainly not grunge for the Pumpkins. The Smashing Pumpkins were like the midwest, more specifically, Chicago’s answer to the Seattle music scene.

By the time ’95’s Mellon Collie came out the Smashing Pumpkins – principal songwriter Billy Corgan on vocals/guitar (and almost all other instruments), James Iha on guitar, D’Arcy Wretzky on bass and Jimmy Chamberlin on drums – were one of the biggest bands on the planet. That was the first tour I got to see them on and they were amazing. But alas, at their zenith is where the worm began to turn. It was on that tour Jimmy Chamberlin and touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin (brother of Prince’s old side kick Wendy Melvoin) both O.D’d on heroin, fatally for Melvoin. Chamberlin survived, but the rest of the band, who’d been dealing with his heroin and alcohol addiction for almost a decade made the decision to move on without him.

They followed up with the heavily electronica influenced album, Adore in ’98 as a trio with Kenny Aronoff on drums for the tour. I loved that record. The title track is the Rock Chick’s absolute favorite Pumpkins tune. For the Pumpkins next outing, MACHINA/The Machines of Gods, a now clean and sober Chamberlin was invited to return to the band. Chamberlin and Corgan were roomies when they were out on the road in the early days, and I think that bond brought them back together. However, just as suddenly as the foursome were reunited, bassist D’Arcy left the band. Rumors of crack cocaine use were circulating about her. Melissa Auf der Maur formally of Hole came in to replace her. It was after that tour the Smashing Pumpkins disbanded.

Chamberlin and Corgan worked together in the “supergroup” Zwan, but that ended up being short lived. Corgan released a solo album and I believe a book of poetry. Eventually, however, Billy put out a full page ad in the Chicago newspapers, stating he wanted to reunite the band. Unfortunately, only Chamberlin showed up for 2007’s Zeitgeist, an album best glossed over…

After releasing two very strong albums under the Smashing Pumpkins moniker (Oceania and Monuments to an Elegy) with Corgan as the only original member left, the rumors of a full on reunion began. The Smashing Pumpkins had really become Corgan and a loose collection of other musicians. The only guy who seemed to “stick” in the band was guitarist Jeff Schroeder. I think it was 2 years ago that both Chamberlin and Iha had signed-on to return and join Corgan & Schoreder. I was delighted to hear that, but I am still hugely disappointed that D’Arcy and Corgan couldn’t bury the hatchet. I loved their chemistry on stage. My friends Matthew and Stormin saw them in Denver and D’Arcy threw her bass on the floor and stormed off during the encore – you can’t buy that kinda passion. I’ll have to put her on my list of musicians left out of high profile reunions, My Proposed Supergroup: Those Band Members Left Out of Big Time Reunions.

There were rumors the 3/4 reunited Pumpkins would put out an album. Then I heard it was going to be a series of EPs… Who knows? Corgan, who I consider a genius, is a hard guy to figure out… he certainly means it when he says, “I’m not everyone…” While I was busy doing all my Dave Matthews Band research, LP Review: Dave Matthews Band, The Atmospheric ‘Come Tomorrow’, the Smashing Pumpkins – now Corgan, Iha, Chamberlin and Schroeder – released a new song, “Solara.” It’s our first tangible evidence of the reunion. I guess both or either Iha and Corgan played bass.

As a fan of the harder rock end of the spectrum, I like this song. It’s quite a layered, 3-guitar attack with Corgan/Schroeder/Iha all pounding out a giant riff. Chamberlin’s drumming, as always is fierce. The song actually starts with the beat of his drum. I will say, with all those guitars in the room, I didn’t hear a discernible solo. On his last few albums, the aforementioned superb Oceania and Monuments to an Elegy, Corgan’s singing has been sweeter and almost wistful. His nasally snarl is back for this track. And while “I’m not everyone,” may not be as menacing as “Despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage,” it’s nice to hear Corgan’s vocals have that old bite again. As guitar driven rock continues to seemingly disappear, I gotta say, I’m glad to hear a track like this. We need more rock n roll. It’s not on the level of that classic Pumpkins stuff, like, say, “Cherub Rock,” or “Today” but it’s a damn good Pumpkins’ song.

I urge everyone to check this out. Rumor has it there’ll be a tour soon. I’m just hoping whatever they’ve been doing in the studio will see the light of day… Corgan can be… mercurial.