To fans of a certain age, this is the album they have been waiting all year long for. If you were in Smashing Pumpkins’ camp over say Nirvana, or Pearl Jam, congrats you were a “grunge kid”. Not to describe the music in such banal terms, but pop culture is gonna pop, you know? In the mold of alt-rock giants like Sonic Youth, Billy Corgan’s brainchild never wanted to set limitations on the music, only that it reflects the entire kaleidoscope of sounds and emotions. Sure, band reunions are a dime a dozen today, but there is an undoubted mythos of Billy making a new album with both James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlain. With Corgan on bass over exiled D’arcy Wretsky (boo) and Jeff Schroeder contributing on guitar, it was unclear what kind of results to expect. Yet, this new era, the old-school band definitely had some tricks up their sleeves for Shiny And Oh So Bright, Vol. 1: No Past. No Future. No Sun. (Martha’s Music/Napalm Records).
The band hits us right in the 1990s feels with opener ‘Knights of Malta’. The catchy, anthemic song is pure Corgan at his best. Catchy, sad, and beautiful all at once. Right out of the Melon Collie… playbook musically. Few bands can get away with a jaunty piano ballad to open an album, but Billy does what he wants when he wants to. You’ll be singing the “whoa whoa whoa whoas” from this song until the next great thaw. Strings, restrained backward-masked guitar soloing, keys, and a backbeat. Note the Pink Floyd/Rolling Stones soulful backing choir needs to become a regular thing to support Billy’s reedy voice.
‘Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)’ is practically a full re-imagining of ‘1979’, from the vocal timbres, the same drum beat, guitars, and melodies. At least that is what my ear is hearing. These are bold statement songs for the band to open the album with. It’s also been a minute since I’ve listened to anything Rick Rubin has produced, but so far this one sounds “plugged in” instead of his usual “dialed in” efforts. Everything in its place in the mix, nothing imposing or jarring. Well done.
‘Travels’ is another mid-era Pumpkins type track with listicle lyrics and laconic sounding verses. The older, smouldering Corgan seems to be mining in a lot of philosophy and aged reflections these days lyrically. Not a lot of rats in cages to be found here. A solid song and likely another future single.
Now that we’ve had months to digest ‘Solara’, it really was the perfect track to reveal the bands’ comeback to the world. It’s a little more sinister and upbeat, with a built-in tension and a guitar riff that comes straight out of The Cars songbook. This rocking song would have been the album opener if it was written by any other band. Great work by drummer Chamberlain on this track and the entire album. He was always the pumpkins secret weapon to their success.
Next track ‘Alienation’ has a swaggery David Bowie vibe to me, with amazing guitars, keys, and yes, even vocals. ‘Marchin On’ is another rocker. Glad to hear Corgan sticking to his mid-range for vocals, and the digging the punctuated phrasing of each vocal line. Plus a great, unconventional chorus makes this another great track.
Late album cut ‘With Sympathy’ is a little too much in the opposite direction, but I get what they were going for. ‘Seek and You Shall Destroy’ is a fun song to end things on. Sort of a modern alt-rock tune that would not have been out of place on Gish with a little less raging guitars, kind of bringing things to a familiar feeling close.
Good to have the Pumpkins back in this form, or any form in 2018. Perhaps not as essential as their first few albums were, but also worthy successor to those classic 1990s long-players.