Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Album Review:
Smashing Pumpkins - American Gothic EP

Smashing Pumpkins - American Gothic EP

(iTunes Exclusive)


[mp3] "The Rose March"

One of the more common complaints about Zeitgeist (other than the generic "it sucks", which as true as it may be, hardly counts as constructive criticism) was that softer, mellower songs were sorely missed. In the band's halcyon days, a nice balance of both hard and mellow rock could be found, and for many fans, including yours truly, hearing the Smashing Pumpkins as a one-dimensional hard rock band, as they are on nearly all of Zeitgeist, was probably the hardest aspect of the album to swallow. So it's probably not a coincidence that six months after the initial release of Zeitgeist the Smashing Pumpkins decided to release a mellower, mostly acoustic four- song EP. And given the band's track record with singles/EP's/B-Sides collections, it probably should not come as a surprise that a couple of the songs are actually pretty good.

American Gothic, opens with "The Rose March," a song originally written when Billy was touring behind his solo album in 2005. With plucks at an acoustic guitar, the song initially sounds very much like some of the latest Thurston Moore songs, but soon Billy settles into a gentle strum, and lets his voice, which sounds warmer and more natural than it has in years, carry the tune. At about the three-minute mark, Jimmy Chamberlain lays down a militaristic drum pattern, the kind of stuff he could do in his sleep, and Billy spices things up a tiny bit by layering some distorted guitar patters over the rhythm, singing, "We've only just begun to grieve." The song sounds like a throwback to Adore, an album that was written off by many critics and fans, but also gave birth to some powerful and delicate work. It's easy to see why someone like Pete Townsend is apparently a big fan of the song, it is pretty fucking good. Which is why it's such a shame that the next three songs can't sustain the momentum that "The Rose March" builds, because with only four songs, there's very little room for error.

"Pox" sounds like it was originally intended for Zeitgeist, as it sounds like Billy re-recorded the guitars to fit the EP's acoustic motif. The song probably would have fit better on Zeitgeist, even as an acoustic song, but here it sounds a bit awkward. "Again, Again, Again (The Crux)" has quite possibly the hokiest opening line ever, as Billy sings "I love you / I don't even care," which might be interpreted as romantic if not for his delivery, which I assume he thought sounded passionate but to me just sounds like he added a new twist to his trademark whine. From there, it's impossible to get any worse, but the song never really gets much better either, the best part honestly being when the song ends. "Sunkissed," like "Rose March," sounds like a good Adore outtake, even with the slightly distracting organ tones that fill up the song, but the production is a bit overwrought, a problem consistent throughout the album. Acoustic guitars sound unnatural, and the mixing feels like it could have been handled better, starting with turning down the organ on "Sunkissed" or turning up some bass on the other three songs.

While American Gothic represents a step in the right direction for the new Smashing Pumpkins, and provides a glimmer of hope to old fans who feel that Billy has lost his way, it also reinforces what's wrong with the current incarnation of the band: terrible lyrics, overwrought production, and uninspired performances.


Mandy said...

I was irritated that SP kept releasing different versions of Zeitgeist to make a buck. And then this EP comes out and I'm wondering why? They could of just released 5 more versions of Zeitgeist at Target/Best Buy and stuck a new track on each one. Haha, totally kidding about that last part, but to me they have become completely ridiculous...It would be nice if they could put out some quality tracks though.

Josh said...

I'm with you on the "terrible lyrics" thing. Jesus, they're bad. Or maybe we're not angsty enough anymore? ... hmm... no, they're bad.

The Moon said...


panopticon said...

Every time I play Cherub Rock on Guitar Hero III it makes me cry a little for those bygone days of Pumpkins glory.

Not like really cry, but Hillary Clinton cry.

Have the Pumpkins really become that irrelevant? It's like Billy forgot how to put a narrative together.