Smashing Pumpkins : Zeitgeist

By: Karl-Erik Stromsta

For a decade still so relatively close at hand, the 1990s – and with them the Smashing Pumpkins – have a funny way of feeling very far away.

So much has happened since the "Decade of the Pumpkins" drew to a close – the 2000 election, 9/11, Iraq – that it seems more than fair to expect evidence of major musical and emotional evolution on Zeitgeist. But, as it turns out, artistic evolution doesn't mean much in the face of consistent and powerful excellence.

Zeitgeist is easily the best Pumpkins album since 1996's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, filled to the brim with the same fuzz-metal lullabies and demon-laden pop hooks that made them famous in the first place. Everything a great Pumpkins album should contain is well represented here – Billy Corgan's orchestral monsoon of overdriven guitars, his deranged but accessible howl and Jimmy Chamberlain's precision-guided insanity on the drums.

It matters little that half the original Pumpkins lineup has disappeared, with a batch of fresh blood subbed in for erstwhile second-guitarist James Iha and bassist D'Arcy Wretzky. The Corgan-Chamberlain marriage has always been the fulcrum of the Pumpkins' sound, and after nearly two decades of mosh pits, drug overdoses and commercial successes, their musical relationship is strong as ever on Zeitgeist.

Most of the minor departures from their earlier work are more concerned with style than substance. Most notably, Corgan seems more comfortable in his own skin. The music on Zeitgeist may be as melancholy and overreaching as ever but it's also less self-pitying and surer of itself.

The album's first song and single, "Tarantula," is an immediate return to form for Billy & Co. with its surprisingly hummable melody managing to blossom amid the jaw-shattering wall of guitars. "Bleeding the Orchid" is near-perfect Sad Rock, while "Neverlost" – framed by xylophones and buttressed by subdued vocals – offers the album's most unique four minutes. Gone are any traces of the electronica that infused 1998's underrated Adore. Zeitgeist is unapologetically guitar heavy, even by Pumpkins standards.

If the album contains any disappointments it is the lyrics, which perhaps suffer more from built-up expectations than anything else. Songs with titles like "United States" and "For God and Country" promise some sort of lyrical revelations – or at least a few political cheap shots. For the most part, they fail to deliver. At 40 years old, Corgan's lyrics still rely on the same monsters, vampires and tortured relationships that populated his mindscape in his early twenties.

It is probably too early for Pumpkins nostalgia, and definitely too early to judge their musical legacy. Nevertheless, Zeitgeist lends miles of credit to both ideas.

JamBase | Sadboyville
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[Published on: 7/29/07]

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Comments

kirkbrew star Tue 7/31/2007 08:12PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

kirkbrew

This article really says all you need to know, but you need translation. “Zeitgeist is easily the best Pumpkins album since 1996's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”. Meaning that the Pumpkins have 3 much better efforts out there. Much, much better!!! Gish is the best.
“Everything a great Pumpkins album should contain is well represented here.” Meaning everything in those first three albums has been recycled here (but not pulled off all that well).
“If the album contains any disappointments it is the lyrics.” No, there are many disappointments. Just the lyrics are first and foremost.
Basically, if you like the Pumpkins and have not listened to Gish, Siamese Dream or Mellon Collie, try those out before you even bother listening to (let alone purchasing) Zeitgeist. It really isn’t all that good of an album, but the Corgan media machine and big tour is in the works, so some may think otherwise.
Also – Is anyone going to ask what the deal is with Corgan and women on bass? D'arcy Wretzky (old school “real” Pumpkin), Melissa Auf der Maur (ex-Hole, late-comer to replace D’arcy after the heyday), Paz Lenchantin (Zwan) now this gal out of nowhere Ginger. What is Billy’s fascination with a feminine influence in the rhythm section? Could he really be in love with Tina Weymouth?

shainhouse starstarstarstar Wed 8/1/2007 03:20AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I disagree with the author's view, as I dislike the record, but he said it eloquently enough, and something must be said about that. I do, however, did not warm up to Zeitgeist. I guess I am missing something.