First proper album in 18 years has hits, misses, and hope
Let’s be clear: the world is a better place with The Smashing Pumpkins in it. Let’s also be clear that means actual, integral members, not necessarily just frontman Billy Corgan. There is a difference between growing up and getting old and on Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun, we get a little of both.
The opening verse, “Gotta Make This Happen,” is perhaps the most unironic line Corgan has ever sung. Not quite as prophetic as Nirvana’s “Serve the Servants” but maybe just as poignant. The album lineup of Corgan and original members James Iha (guitarist) and Jimmy Chamberlain (drums) are reunited for the first time in 18 years. Weird as it is to hear The Smashing Pumpkins not being overly dramatic, it’s more off-putting to hear the band sound like Oasis on the album opener. The lush arrangements and cursory guitar chords sound closer to “Don’t Look Back in Anger” than “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.”
Produced by Rick Rubin, his hands-off approach may have kept egos in check and the band playing but monotonous songs and substandard EQ aren’t part of the producer’s mystique. “Silvery Sometimes (ghosts)” is a nice B-side, an update to the laid-back groove of their classic hit, “1979.”
“Travels” is all about the journey and not the destination meaning it’s a long slog of a song. A prevalent thought throughout the album is ‘Why are they trying to be grown up?’
Then the album’s centerpiece, “Solara” hits just in time. Finally, the power chord crunch of Corgan’s guitars, Iha’s wailing distorted solos, and Chamberlain’s pummeling drums have arrived. Full of overdramatic lyrics and a bridge that’s just a little too long, it’s still 80 percent of a vintage Pumpkins classic. “Solara” is important if only as proof that the band is still capable of throwing their fastball when needed.
And then, just like that, the band spends the rest of the album sounding like Oasis. “Alienation” could’ve been off Corgan’s ill-fated solo album. “Marchin’ On’” sounds like 2008’s Zeitgeist at its best: more crunch, more power chords but it’s amazing that this is their worst sounding album with Rubin at the helm as producer. “With Sympathy” and “Seek and You Shall Destroy” are both facsimiles, a Pumpkins-by-numbers rock songs that never achieve lift off.
Shiny and Oh So Bright is uneven at best while leaving more than a sliver of hope for the band’s future. When they want, that anthemic, arena-sized bombast disguised as a doom and gloom alt-rock is still their weapon of choice. It’s there. Let’s just hope volume two shows the band with a better trigger finger.