By Lane Moore, Contributor
Key tracks: “Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)”, “Solara”, “Seek and You Shall Destroy”
The stone-washed arena grunge of The Smashing Pumpkins was a defining sound of the ‘90s, but the group found themselves at an impasse after the release of 1998’s Adore. As the band fell apart and stumbled back to “Zero” territory rather than alt-rock hero status, a cavalcade of shaky lineups, unsuccessful releases and harsh criticism ensued. Now, with their release of – deep breath – Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun., The Pumpkins begin to make up for lost time, missteps and bad blood.
Including all original members of TSP (minus bassist D’arcy Wretzky), this album is a step in the right direction. That being said, Shiny and Oh So Bright is far from perfect. It is clear that the band – especially frontman Billy Corgan – feel at ease with this release, but the songwriting lacks the conviction that allowed them to initially flourish. The songs often feel devoid of any purpose, and as Corgan states in an interview, “It’s just some music . . . with no conceptual base.” It is the product of a few great musicians making songs just because they can, and getting the band back together seems to be the driving force of the album.
This results in an opening track, “Knights Of Malta”, that is slightly cringe-inducing with the lyrics, “I’m gonna fly forever / We’re gonna ride the rainbow.” Oddly, it sounds wonderful but feels uncomfortable. In fact, the majority of Shiny and Oh So Bright sounds incredible, thanks to producer Rick Rubin, but the songwriting feels as if it was executed in a sensory deprivation tank. The drums are generally unimaginative, the solos feel forced and some tracks resemble a scenario in which The Smashing Pumpkins copied their own homework but changed it a little in hopes that no one would notice. “Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)” comes off as an attempt to make a slick sequel to “1979”, while “Solara” and “Marchin’ On” harken back to the fuzz-driven days of Siamese Dream.
The band’s pursuit of reclaiming their long-lost selves rests in a peculiar place. It is constantly contradicted by The Pumpkins’ attempt to create something new in their rebirth, making Shiny and Oh So Bright a mixture of things done incredibly right and horribly wrong. This dynamic leaves “Alienation” sounding like the product of Corgan being hyper-aware of his own aesthetic. In short, it sounds like a page out of a Charles Dickens book.
The context of Shiny and Oh So Bright makes up for a few of its shortcomings, and the guitar and bass tones are impeccable. Everything sounds the way it should be, but the songwriting needs to follow suit. Hopefully, Volume 2 will prove that its predecessor is merely a warm-up and an opportunity for old bandmates to become new friends. It’s a whole new lineup (sort of) with a whole new attitude. As disjointed as it is, this record is what The Smashing Pumpkins sound like as they pick up their own broken pieces.