Monday, July 9, 2007

Album Review: Smashing Pumpkins - Zeitgeist

Grade: 54.0%
Official Score: 46.8%

What the Other's Think:
Pitchfork Score: 4.9
Tiny Mix Tapes Score: 1 1/2 Out of 5
Coke Machine Glow Score:

You know the older kids that crash a college (or high school) party? Of course you do. Chances are if you're reading this blog you've been to enough college parties to witness it firsthand. As for myself, I feel all too familiar with it. As I near the quarter century mark in life, I can't help but notice the kids getting younger and younger at shows and parties, and at times feel a little awkward being the "old guy" (in age only, I assure you). So I hope you'll excuse me while I give Billy and Jimmy a brief pass for being the old guys arriving at the party, as I have a feeling that their new album is going to be ripped to shreds. P4K started began the ceremonies today, and I'm fairly certain it will continue as the album reaches the hands of intelligent, discerning music listeners with access to blogs or MySpace accounts. Personally, I can't bring myself to really tear them a new one, yet.

You see, the Pumpkins are from a different generation, or at least cut their teeth in one. The Pumpkins started releasing albums when hitting the big time wasn't such a big deal. MTV used to have one helluva cool show in 120 Minutes, and even Alternative Nation wasn't so awful. But things changed, the music business became Big Business, and the Pumpkins were sort of left behind, shaking and scratching their heads. Frustrated, Billy dissolved the band, and tried to start from scratch. We all know what happened next, so lets just leave it at that and come back to the present. The Smashing Pumpkins are back, sort of, and poised to reclaim their spot atop the Alternative Rock charts with their new album, Zeitgeist. The only problem is, the album is not that good.

Or should I say, the album is good if you're fine with listening to the Smashing Pumpkins, what's left of them, sounding uninspired, or perhaps only inspired being the Smashing Pumpkins for the sake of being the Smashing Pumpkins. Many of the songs, notably the album's rockin' first half, hearken back to the Mellon Collie days, especially the album's opener, "Doomsday Clock", and its successor, "7 Shades of Black". Other songs sound a little overproduced and synth heavy, recalling the Pumpkins' most recent Machina albums. There are also a couple of neo new-wave songs that sound like the covers they tried on the "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" portion of the Aeroplane Flies High box set to close out the album. I imagine if you listened to Zeitgeist not expecting anything new, hearing the albums 12 songs(*) might not be a problem, but as a reviewer its hard to give credit to a band for writing songs that sound like songs that sounded better the first time around.

The biggest offenders, please stand up. "7 Shades of Black", a song that would have been perfect addition to the "Zero" single back in 1996, rides its static, heavy rock riff past the point of boredom. "United States", Billy's latest attempt at epic songwriting falls waaaaaay short. If we include only Smashing Pumpkins material, Billy Corgan's track record is pretty solid with lengthy jams like "Starla", "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans", and the underrated "For Martha". "United States is just plain awful. Again, riffing past the point of boredom, a solo of just squeaks and harmonics (and Billy can shred too, at least when he's bothered to), heavier riffing, screaming, blah. By the way, just repeating "Revolution" isn't enough reason to actually, you know, start one. Without a reason, the song feels empty. "Bring the Light", and "(Come on) Let's Go" have boring song titles, and right away I feared that they would be boring songs. Yep. The former is 70s pomp while the latter sounds like it was written for Zwan (honestly). The skip button is never too far away for these four songs songs.

Aside from the four terrible songs, the rest offend merely for not standing out. They aren't awful songs necessarily, but nothing worth resurrecting the Smashing Pumpkins for either. What's sorely missing on Zeitgeist is Billy's softer side. You get it for about four-and-a-half minutes of the entire album, and 98% of that is my personal favorite, "Neverlost". Coincidence? I suspect not. The other gem is the leadoff single, "Tarantula", a hard hitting rock song to be sure, but one that is reminiscent of "Geek U.S.A." in how it kicks ass, takes a quick break, and then kicks some more. Still, its unsettling to know that one of the best songs is the single. The Pumpkins have a plethora of great singles, but as any Pumpkinhead knows you had to buy the the albums to hear the really good songs. Sorry folks, there is no "Mayonaise" or "Thru the Eyes of Ruby" for you here.

Zeitgeist may be a couple of songs shy of Steaming Pile of Crap status, but in some ways its good to have them back. At the very least there's a tour going on, and once the "others" learn more songs the sets are likely to become more and more eclectic. Plus, there's always hope that the inevitable b-sides collection will have a few gems for those who, like me, feel a bit disenchanted with our latest Smashing Pumpkins romance.

(*)Note: This is a review of the standard, 12 track edition. To be quite frank with you, I see no point in seeking out any of the additional tracks that accompany Target, iTunes, or any other version, when the 12 standard tracks do little for me.

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