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Music Review: Smashing Pumpkins – Zeitgeist

Let's get this out of the way first: I was never a big Smashing Pumpkins fan. In fact, aside from maybe "Cherub Rock," I more or less couldn't stand them. As usual, the issue was one of voice. Billy Corgan's voice bothered me. It overshadowed the gigantic walls of molten guitar. Believe me, it takes a lot to push me away from gigantic walls of molten guitar.

The first Pumpkins-related recording I made it all the way through was Corgan's 2005 solo album The Future Embrace. While Billy's voice hadn't exactly won me over, it was pretty obvious that the man had talent, making songs absolutely full of texture and melody. Still, there was that voice. I liked that record but wasn't closer to diving into the Pumpkins back catalog.

So now comes the first Smashing Pumpkins record in seven years. Since I was never a part of the first wave, there's no historical cruft to drag me down: Is this a "real" Pumpkins album, with D'Arcy and James Iha missing? Is Corgan just a cynical bastard, using the Pumpkins name to squeeze a little more blood money from the stone? Sorry, I don't care.

It was "Tarantula" that won me over. I'd been listening to the promo single for a few weeks before seeing the Pumpkins crush it on the Dave Letterman show. As always, central to the sound was Corgan's solar flare guitar and Jimmy Chamberlin's aggressive drums.

But would the complement of Zeitgeist live up to my new found excitement and interest? So far, the answer is 'yes'.

On the the softer, pop record side of things, Corgan has brought in some interesting influences. "Bleeding The Orchid"'s vocal introduction wouldn't be out of place on a Brian Wilson record. Voices are also heavily layered on the choruses, dialing back (at least to my ears) that part of Billy's voice used to dig me in the ribs. "For God And Country" starts of with a lone, chiming piano that's later spiced up with almost Cure-like synth tones. "Pomp And Circumstance" repeats the use of Beach Boys-tinged vocals, while adding other bits of texture like the vibraphone and plucked strings. Ah, and the guitar solo that channels Brian May? Gee, ya think producer Roy Thomas Baker had anything to do with that?

As for my giant walls of molten guitar, there's more than enough to go around. The album kicks off with the adrenaline rush of Chamberlin's drums and Corgan's snarling guitar. Yessir, "Doomsday Clock" is right up there with "Tarantula," as far as my ears were concerned. The rock centerpiece of this record is probably "United States." Nearly ten minutes of guitar squall, drum rumble, and political angst.

To be honest, I don't know what Corgan is getting at either on "United States," "Tarantula," "Starz," or any other song for that matter. The lyrics will "come to me" after about 20 listens. I'm just not there yet. Now that I can though, please let me enjoy alla that guitar. You too, maybe.

About Mark Saleski

  • http://www.lookoutforhope.com Tom Johnson

    I was never a big fan of theirs in their heyday either. I picked up Mellon Collie more because I was intrigued by any popular act having the gall to put out something that bombastic in 1995. It turned out that I liked it. I’m never going to have an undying passion for the band, but what I like, I like a lot – and that includes Zeitgeist.

  • http://midnightcafe.wordpress.com Mat Brewster

    I kind of lost track of them after their first two albums, but I can remember spending many an hour as a teenager lying flat on the floor in my room with my speakers surrounding me, letting those swirling guitars take me out there.

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh

    I wrote a little about Corgan as guitarist over at Fanboy awhile back. He has this unique way of layering amazing amounts of guitar on their records. If you want to hear one of Billy’s best layering jobs — to say nothing of Jimmy Chamberlin’s powerhouse drumming — check out “Ride a Black Swan” from the Zwan record. Glorious is the only word for that.

    I like Zeitgeist more than I thought I would. Lyrically, the album is spotty but musically there is a lot to like. “United States” has more minutes than ideas, but I like the record.

    Seriously, “Ride A Black Swan.”