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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