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Album Review: The Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania [EMI/Caroline/Martha’s]

Plenty has been said about Billy Corgan. Too much, probably. The man has been and continues to be a polarizing figure in rock music, and when he’s not being judged for antics on stage or on records, he’s running his mouth and provoking critics or other bands. He also has the phrase “difficult to work with” tacked onto his resume, something he’s not apologetic about so long as his personal vision gets fulfilled. It’s why the original Smashing Pumpkins fell apart, and every project he’s done since then has failed to gain as much traction. Even when he reclaimed the Pumpkins moniker several years ago and unleashed the relatively forgettable Zeitgeist in 2007, the new people he was working with all eventually abandoned ship. That includes drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, the only original Smashing Pumpkins member left besides Corgan. You could almost audibly hear eyes rolling when the search for Chamberlain’s replacement became an online contest that ended with fresh-faced 19-year-old Mike Byrne earning a place alongside bassist Nicole Fiorentino and guitarist Jeff Schroeder as Corgan’s “hired hands.” These people are faceless entities compared to James Iha, D’Arcy Wretzky and Chamberlain. It’d be wrong to say they’re not good musicians though, and the last couple years of touring with this lineup has gone remarkably well for the Pumpkins Version 2.0.

Never one to sideline his ambitions, in 2009 Corgan announced the Smashing Pumpkins were embarking on a project he dubbed Teargarden By Kaleidyscope. The plan was to release the 44 tracks comprising this gigantic album in multiple pieces parsed out over time, all of it available for free download. The first two volumes, four tracks apiece, were released in 2010. A third volume was started, but has yet to be completed. Apparently the whole concept is undergoing a little bit of a makeover, as releasing music on a song-by-song basis wasn’t quite as successful as the band hoped it would be. Part of that makeover is the new album Oceania, marking a return to the full length format while still feeding into the conceptual Teargarden… whole. Maybe it’s the personnel shifts, maybe it’s the fact that they took the time to road test most of these new songs, or maybe it’s something else entirely, but these 13 songs are surprising because of the way they bring new life and a level of intelligence back to the Smashing Pumpkins name. For the first time in a long time, Corgan and friends have stumbled upon rock’s sweet spot.

Perhaps the biggest reason why Oceania is such a successful Smashing Pumpkins record is because of lowered expectations. On Zeitgeist, Corgan was creating the first Pumpkins record since 2000’s Machina II: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music. His attempts to restart his career via Zwan and a solo record both fell flat, and reclaiming his old band name was a somewhat desperate attempt to remain relevant and prove his talents to a now jaded group of fans. It didn’t help matters that Zeitgeist was an overblown affair of psychedelic proportions as songs went longer and featured more solos than ever. Call it a case of trying too hard. After that point it became easy to write off the band as an act built for a certain time and place, both of which had long since passed by. Plenty of the die-hards stuck with them, and all the touring the last few years certainly didn’t leave many or any tickets left to sell at the door. Yet such devotion seems to have paid off, as time has allowed wounds to heal, people to forget and Corgan to get his memory back. The drive, wisdom and talent it took to craft amazing records like Gish, Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness have largely been reinstated, and the entire band plays like they’re out to prove their worth and worthiness. Only Byrne doesn’t fully succeed, simply because Chamberlain was such a powerhouse of percussion he’s irreplaceable.

Things start off strong with the acid rock riffage of “Quasar,” which bears an almost eerie resemblance to the guitar work on “Cherub Rock.” The religious affirmations he makes in the lyrics, “God right on!/Krishna right on!,” are very “Siva”-like in nature too. Such calls back to classic Pumpkins material are enough to at least inspire a little hope that maybe the band has found their mojo again. “Panopticon” holds that idea steadfast, surging ahead with confidence and intricacy before soaring into a massive chorus. “There’s a sun that shines in me,” Corgan sings at the end of the song, and for once you can almost hear him smile as he sings it. The acoustic guitars and sawing violins of “The Celestials” bring in some nice balladry reminiscent of “Disarm,” but as with almost every Corgan record, there’s a questionable lyric or two. “I’m gonna love you 101 percent,” is not one of his better moments.

What really makes Oceania tick are the transitions it goes through while you listen. It’s impeccably structured with some tracks bleeding into one another, and logical sonic progressions that never seem too far out of left field. The movement from the lighter pop-rock of “My Love Is Winter” into the synth-heavy pop of “One Diamond, One Heart” feels almost organic – their connective tissue bound by the same lyrical topic and a keyboard. Where such sonic glue is most prevalent is within the three tracks at the center of the record. The steady and beautiful “Pinwheels” flits around in its intro with some twinkling synths and cello, devolves into introspective acoustic folk then incorporates some gorgeous female backing harmonies. It feels like an appropriate slice of bread before the sandwich meat reaches your tastebuds in the form of the nine minute epic title track. Instead of simply descending into swirling psychedelic rock that was largely explored on Zeitgeist, the song instead sustains itself by continuously shifting sounds every couple minutes to keep the listener engaged. The final two minutes or so do get a little gratuitous with the guitar solos, but by that point they’re pretty much earned. The final piece of this mid-album trilogy is “Pale Horse,” a sad, pleading piano ballad that plays like a mellow version of “Thru the Eyes of Ruby.” It’s not Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness that best ties into these three songs though, it’s Adore. They might not have the electro-pop vibe of that record, but they do have the darkness and self-loathing in both lyrics and melody.

The crunchy heavy metal guitars on “The Chimera” suddenly whip Corgan and the rest of the Pumpkins out of their funk like somebody waking up from a nightmare or a bad drug trip. It’s an invigorating kick in the teeth worthy of future single status, as Corgan comes to the realization that, “All you need is you, lover/so please need me too.” Ignoring the romantic implications of the song and those lines, you could well interpret this as his desire to have the love and support of a larger and more avid fan base once again. While he’s maintained in interviews that such things aren’t important to him and all he wants to do is maintain his artistic integrity, the reach backwards and near copying of material from classic Smashing Pumpkins records on Oceania appears to suggest otherwise. Either that, or he’s just out of fresh ideas. Whatever the cause or reason may really be, there’s still something inherently exciting about having such a great ’90s band rediscover what made them great and prove there’s still plenty of life left in them. Then again when you’ve got a lineup of all new members, it’s not so much a rediscovery as it is just a discovery. If they can keep this going, we could well be looking at a new era of Smashing Pumpkins excellence. Let’s just hope Corgan remembers the many lessons he learned the first time around.

Buy Oceania from Amazon

Album Review: Silversun Pickups – Neck of the Woods [Dangerbird]

The alternative rock genre is in a painful state these days. Radio stations around the globe that play the genre are dying or already dead, even as bands like Linkin Park and AFI press onwards like there’s nothing wrong. So long as they’re still doing well and playing to huge crowds, they don’t see any problem. That, or they’re aching to grab whatever semblance of popularity they have left. When persons of a certain age get tired of the angst-ridden, guitar-heavy rock, there’s always another generation of pubescent teenagers to take their place. Your teens are a very emotional time, and sometimes you need that angry, scream-riddled music to connect and help you through. And some people never get past that phase. Not to generalize, but the construction worker population of America seems to really like rock music, possibly because it’s the only thing that can cut above the noise of power drills and buzzsaws. Others still prefer it to hear songs from the genre’s heyday, as 90’s songs from Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Bush, Deftones and Korn all continue to get the bulk of airplay on the remaining radio stations committed to the format. The good news is that not all is lost, and a number of more independently-minded rock bands have been working hard to keep people listening. The rise of The Black Keys, Cage the Elephant and Silversun Pickups have all breathed new life into old sounds, while Mumford & Sons, Foster the People and Death Cab for Cutie have created more sonic diversity. While these groups may be sharply lacking in truly experimental sounds, they’re proving that like some mainstream pop artists, you don’t need to sacrifice tried and true elements to make good music.

Silversun Pickups have had a remarkably easy time reaching mainstream popularity. Their 2005 EP Pikul was quickly adopted by a number of music blogs and independently-minded radio stations, where comparisons to the Smashing Pumpkins were evident from the get-go. Brian Aubert’s singing voice is strikingly androgynous, though it has a nasal quality reminiscent of Billy Corgan. The swirling, heavy guitars and power chords bring to mind mid-90’s records like Siamese Dream or Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. The band has confessed that the Pumpkins are an inspiration, though their second full-length record Swoon attempted to break free from that familiar mold just a little bit. Mostly that meant incorporating a more pristine production structure complete with a string section, and extending the lengths of most of their songs to somewhere near the five minute mark. What it lacked was real conviction, and genuine movement or shifts in tempo to justify the song lengths. The band was smart in choosing singles for that record though, as both “Panic Switch” and “Substitution” were probably the best two tracks on the entire record.

For their new one Neck of the Woods, Silversun Pickups pretty much pick up exactly where they left off. Clocking in at almost 60 minutes, over half of the album’s 11 tracks make it to at least five minutes and two more cross the six minute mark. They can’t get a single idea across in under 4.5 minutes. If your material is good and interesting enough to sustain those sorts of lengths though, it’s not a problem. For this record they brought famed producer Jacknife Lee (U2, R.E.M., Bloc Party) on board, and it appears he holds the key to making Silversun Pickups a better band. A very cursory and inattentive listen to the album might not reveal its unique charms or make the changes from the band’s first two long players evident. Indeed, they still pummel you with a wall of sound, and Aubert’s voice isn’t about to lose its Billy Corgan-ness. However the closer you examine these songs the more you notice the creative and interesting choices made when putting them together. The band has tried out plenty of shoegaze sounds before, but they’ve never come so close to the excellence of My Bloody Valentine as they do on first single “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)”. Opening number “Skin Graph” has a very familiar flair to it as well, yet does an excellent job managing tempo changes, electronic experimentation, and a memorable hook. Even a very cut-and-dry track like “Mean Spirited” fares better than you might expect because it foregoes a hard-edged and clinical approach in favor of something warmer and more organic. Credit to Lee for softening the production and taking off the excess of polish that was all over Swoon. The band sounds much better when they’re bathed in a choppy fog.

Aubert’s vocals gain a different perspective on Neck of the Woods as well. The past couple Silversun Pickups records he was always at the very top of the mix and leading the way without hesitation. On this album his voice slides where it’s needed and gives other instruments center stage at times. He’s also apparently taken some notes to heart and succeded in taking a bit of the androgyny out of his vocals. The deeper register suits him better than you’d think. So too does incorporation of synths in the band’s overall sound. Listening to “The Pit”, it becomes easy to recognize that for their next record they might explore the possibility of using later period New Order as a source of inspiration. The balladry of “Here We Are (Chancer)” is impressive as well, taking electric guitars somewhat out of the equation in favor of skittering electronic beats, piano and even a touch of piano. All these sonic adjustments across the record don’t amount to a world of difference when all is said and done, but they are very important in how they push Silversun Pickups beyond the flaccid label of being an alternative rock band forever indebted to the Smashing Pumpkins. On Neck of the Woods they’re finally starting to truly separate themselves from the formless pack and earn their place among the remaining and true devotees to the genre. They’re not yet ready to save mainstream rock, but for once they appear to be moving in the right direction.

Buy Neck of the Woods from Amazon

Click past the jump to stream the entire album!

Show Review: Smashing Pumpkins + Fancy Space People + Light FM [Riviera Theatre; Chicago; 10/14/11]

As a music venue, the Riviera Theatre is one of the worst in the city of Chicago. In fact, it kind of borders on abysmal. I dislike it so much that I’ve had a personal ban on going to shows there for the last several years. That was a result of attending multiple shows there and having normally great live bands turn in terrible performances. The common denominator among them all was the Riv, so I imposed a ban, vowing to only break it in the case of a show so rare it’d kill me to miss it. This is why it has been close to 7 years since I last set foot in the venue. Naturally then, I was by no means excited to get back there, but a situation finally emerged that I could not pass up. The Smashing Pumpkins were returning to their hometown for the first time in a long time (not counting the charity show they played at Metro last fall), and The Riv just so happened to be the moderately small venue they chose to play. They could have sold out a venue at least 3x the size, which made the experience special. Not only that, but they’ve been putting a dent in their 44-song “Teargarden by Kaleidyscope” project and are set to unleash their ninth full length “Oceania” next month. So add in the chance to preview some of that and despite my apprehension about the venue along with how well this revamped lineup is doing, I felt it was something I needed to see at least once.

One other reason I was a bit excited about the show was that the band Light FM was opening. They’re out on their first national tour in support of their freshly released album “Buzz Kill City”. I’ve been listening to that super catchy, fuzzed out synth pop record quite a bit in the last couple weeks, and was interested to see how it translated in a live setting. There’s also a certain charm to see a band in a state of relative infancy (they’ve been around awhile but are just now gaining national attention) try to win over a whole new set of fans. Given that the start time was a prompt 7PM, The Riv wasn’t yet at full capacity when Light FM took the stage. The band was still grateful to those that did show up early, and in my opinion it was worth it. They breezed through a 20 minute set, giving them only enough time to perform a handful of songs, but making each one of them count. They may not be the most active band when on stage, something that might make sense given the sort of music they make, but sometimes those things need to be sacrificed to ensure the quality is there. Similarly, it’s comforting that Light FM take a very basic approach to their live show and are successful. There are so many bands that feel the need to dress up their performance with a gimmick to try and set themselves apart, but more often than not it’s a measure to try and counter mediocrity. One of the bands on this bill fits that description perfectly, and I’ll get to them in a minute. On the whole, Light FM’s set was pretty good, in spite of only getting a relatively brief snapshot of what they’re capable of. Those that were there seemed to enjoy what they heard too, even if they had just shown up to get as close to Billy Corgan as possible. This is a promising young band with plenty of growing left to do, and the more time spent playing live the faster that growth will occur.

Light FM – Mercy
Buy/Stream Light FM’s album “Buzz Kill City”

The two bands opening for the Smashing Pumpkins on Friday were hand-picked by Billy Corgan. That’s probably the only reason that Fancy Space People were on the bill. Corgan is essentially serving as a “mentor” for the band, pulling them from relative obscurity and working closely with them on the relatively small amount of music they’ve released so far. Their debut EP was released on Starry Records, which is directly connected with Coldwater Studios, both of which are owned and operated by Kerry Brown, of the former Chicago band Catherine. Corgan has known Brown from way back in the day when the Pumpkins shared a practice space with Catherine in Chicago. More on that connection later, but the point being Corgan has his fingerprints all over Fancy Space People. My initial impression of the 8-piece band that showed up on stage was one of odd curiosity. I wasn’t terribly far from the stage, but from my vantage point it appeared that this was an all-female band dressed to the nines in sparkly leotards. Upon closer examination however, and after noticing that one of the band members clearly had facial hair, I came to realize that at least half the band was wearing long-haired wigs and all sorts of makeup, effectively creating a gender-bending androgynous situation. That was the first oddity. The second was how committed the band was to staying “in character”. They consistently referred to the crowd as “Earthlings” and spoke of offering up intergalactic protection from forces that might otherwise threaten to harm us. The song lyrics also backed up the banter. It was pure theater, and entertaining as it was, the whole spectacle wasn’t enough to distract from the moderately poor quality of the music itself. First of all, having 8 members in your band for a sound that clearly doesn’t require it is simply excessive and it wouldn’t surprise me if a few of the parts were doubled over just to add some more power to the songs. Secondly, while there’s certainly a void in the glam rock/hard rock genre since Kiss has become less and less active over the years, is that a void that needs to be filled? Different strokes for different folks, I guess. There was nothing outright terrible about Fancy Space People’s set, but it’s clear these guys and girls need to work on their sound first and their stage presence second. Make some songs worth hearing and tone down the rhetoric a little and people will pay attention. It seemed to me that much of the crowd was apathetic towards the band or scoffed at how showy the whole thing was. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night though was how Fancy Space People effectively bridged the gap in sonic styles between Light FM and the Smashing Pumpkins. By incorporating the synths of Light FM and the psychedelics of the Pumpkins, the three-act bill ultimately made sense, and that’s at least something Billy Corgan got right.

Listen to and buy music from Fancy Space People

Prior to speaking directly about how the Smashing Pumpkins’ set at The Riv was, I’d like to issue a small disclaimer first. My history with this band has been a tumultuous one. The Smashing Pumpkins were a staple of my years growing up, and records like “Gish” and “Siamese Dream” were (and remain) essential listening for fans of 90s rock. So many people loved this band, which is why it was such a shame to see personnel like D’arcy Wretzky and James Iha go. When the Pumpkins broke up in December of 2000, that was the end of an era for me. In my opinion, the real Smashing Pumpkins died that day, and when Billy Corgan put out the call to re-establish the band in 2005 sans everyone but drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, to me it hasn’t been the same since. There have been multiple lineup changes since then, with the only constant being Corgan, and devoted fans will argue that’s all you need. After all, one of the main reasons people keep leaving the band is because Corgan takes on a dictator-like status, seeking to control every aspect of the Pumpkins sound and going so far as to re-record the parts of other members if he feels they are not good enough. Then there are the post-reunion live shows, which often find Corgan in a less than jovial mood and berating the crowd for getting upset the band isn’t playing more of the hits. It would seem that the Smashing Pumpkins version 2.0 are seeking to erase the legacy they developed in the early years. That’s what disappoints me the most I think. But I also give some modicum of credit to Corgan for some of the ballsy moves he’s made in the last few years. Projects like the 44-song “Teargarden by Kaleidyscope”, which has been getting released piece by piece since winter of 2009 is a daring and bold attempt to be different. As that song cycle continues to progress, the majority of those songs have also been released as free downloads, which is Corgan saying he hopes people will try them and be inspired to purchase a limited edition box of them packaged together. In the last couple years the live shows have gotten less angry and more devoted to the power of the music, likely because many of the old fans have quit following the band and the ones that remain truly believe in what he’s doing. I consider myself a purist, disliking much of what the Pumpkins have done recently but still intrigued enough to keep an eye and ear on them in case something brilliant happens. So with fingers crossed, my hope on Friday night at the Riv was to try and enjoy what would likely be a set heavy on post-2000 material. Believe it or not, Corgan & Co. managed to actually surprise me.

As the Smashing Pumpkins took the stage at The Riv, I immediately felt out of my depth. They launched into the epic “Quasar/Stella Polaris and the People Mover” and immediately backed it up with “Panopticon”, the trio of which kick off the upcoming Pumpkins record “Oceania”. Very few (if any) people have heard that upcoming record yet, and while the crowd was cheering because the band was on stage, there was a sense of bewilderment to it. You can’t sing along to these songs because you don’t know them and have no idea where they’re going. The first bit of genuine excitement came with the black curtain behind the band dropping to reveal two large, mirrored propellers and an intricate lighting rig. Yet that unveiling was marred by the lights all shining on full blast at once, effectively blinding the audience for a bit as their pupils played catch up. As to how good the new songs at the start of the show were, they’re far more psychedelic in nature than the older Pumpkins stuff, and The Riv’s shoddy sound system created a much muddier and uninspiring mix than the songs themselves probably deserved. My bet is they sound better on record.

The first surprise of the evening came four songs in, when the band played the 1992 “I Am One” b-side “Starla”. That one really separated the hardcore fans from the more casual fans, and it would turn out to be just the beginning of a night largely devoted to looking back. Many of the songs were distinctly old school, but it was about the farthest thing from a greatest hits parade that you could get. The first third of the set was rounded out via deep cuts from “Gish” and “Siamese Dream”, with “Mellon Collie…” single “Muzzle” sandwiched in between. There was a weirdly balanced mayhem as the set progressed, with a pair of songs from “Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, Vol. 3” getting played, but having the first two volumes completely ignored. Also completely ignored were “Zeitgeist” and both of the “Machina” records. Outside of about half the “Oceania” record, the main focus appeared to be on “Gish” and “Siamese Dream”, along with b-sides and outtakes from those records. It’s been so long since I’ve listened to “Pisces Iscariot”, the rarities compilation from the band’s earliest recordings, that I was fumbling to remember cuts like “Frail and Bedazzled” and “Obscured”. Yet there’s also something discomforting about the few oddities that the Smashing Pumpkins pulled out of their back pockets on Friday night. Those b-sides and outtakes were cut from the main records for a reason, even if they were put onto compilations later. Very few bands can claim their b-sides are nearly as good as their main catalogues, and the Pumpkins are probably not one of them. So why whip them out and why now? Well, turns out there will be deluxe reissues of “Gish”, “Siamese Dream” and “Pisces Iscariot” before the end of the year. So was it promotionally motivated? You bet it was. Does it make them any less interesting to hear? Not really, as much of it is better than the band’s later catalogue. As evidenced by their touring around “Zeitgeist” a few years ago, Corgan seems to have a distaste for any of the old Pumpkins singles. Hence only four made the cut for the evening, with “Muzzle”, “Siva”, “Cherub Rock” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” each clearly garnering the loudest crowd responses of the night and some intense sing-alongs. After the show I heard a few fans grumbling about the lack of easily recognizable songs in the set, but saying it was still “better than a few years ago, when they played even less than that”.

If there was one thing I learned from watching this Smashing Pumpkins set, it was that Billy Corgan is a much better guitarist than I’ve ever given him credit for. Sure, he’s been responsible for writing and composing almost the entire Pumpkins catalogue, but I always figured that he took the ideas of James Iha or whatever guitarist that was in the band and repurposed them for his own self-aggrandization. With more nameless and faceless personnel surrounding Corgan than ever before though, it’s less and less likely they’re writing these brilliant parts that he’s taking advantage of. They seem to be more about following his lead than challenging it. And you know what? It works for them. The dynamic allows for some give and take between all of the band members, even if they’re not as talented as those that came before them. The back-and-forth guitar lines between Corgan and Jeff Schroeder on “Siva” gave the song a little fresher life than it does on record. Bassist Nicole Fiorentino and drummer Mike Byrne both kept a strong rhythmic dynamic to most of the songs, and the former’s vocal harmonies intertwined remarkably well with Corgan’s nasal tones. You still should probably call this the Billy Corgan Show though, because whenever he wasn’t playfully sparring with his bandmates, he was off on some extended guitar solo. Over 2.5 hours, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed somebody take more solos than Corgan did. It reached the point where it was excessive and also physically painful for Corgan himself. He cracked a smile through much of it, but there was a point during an intense version of “Silverfuck” that he had to shake his hand out because it had gotten so cramped up from all the soloing. All that intricate guitar work ultimately served a purpose, which was to unite the past, present and future of the Smashing Pumpkins under one large umbrella. He purposely chose the more prog-rock and psychedelic moments out of the older material to merge it better with the newer stuff that places distinct emphasis on it. On the couple songs that didn’t serve that unifying purpose, he forced them into it by drawing them out into longer arrangements, accented with more solos. And you know what? It wasn’t half bad.

At the start of the encore, Corgan came out to deliver some of the only stage banter of the entire night. After acknowledging his brother up in the balcony, he talked briefly about the early days of the band and how they shared a practice space on the North Side of Chicago with this great local band Catherine. Catherine broke up in the late 90s, but Corgan has remained friends with them and has been working towards getting them to reunite. So it was with great pride that he re-introduced Catherine to the world as they performed together on stage for the first time in over a decade. They played a two song set, with Corgan contributing some guitar, and it was some great post-punk rock that appeared to indicate Catherine hadn’t lost much of a step. “A fine wine we are not,” one of the guys in Catherine proclaimed before launching into “Broken Bunny Bird” off their 1994 record “Sorry!”. It was exciting that they were back together, but a younger-skewing crowd gave clueless stares and polite applause to the band as most were entirely unfamiliar with the material. Most likely many were disappointed that Corgan was giving the encore time to this other band rather than playing more Pumpkins songs. The truth is, it was a little shocking that Corgan yielded the stage to anyone given his love of the spotlight. To close out the night for good, he seemed to want to throw the crowd a bone and leave them wanting more by breaking out “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”. Ironically it was the one moment of the entire set where Corgan appeared to be uninspired. He raced through the song at a faster than normal pace, like he was trying to remove a band-aid that was stuck to a thick patch of hair. The hope was the pain would go away quicker if he just ripped it right off in one quick motion. The crowd was more than satisfied though, and smiles were easy to come by. For a night that was largely built on the unfamiliarity of new material, rarities and deep cuts, it was just a little surprising they were smiling at all.

Smashing Pumpkins – Owata
Smashing Pumpkins – Lightning Strikes

Set List:
Quasar/Stella Polaris and the People Mover (Oceania)
Panopticon (Oceania)
Starla (I Am One single b-side)
Geek U.S.A. (Siamese Dream)
Muzzle (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)
Window Paine (Gish)
Lightning Strikes (Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, Vol. 3)
Soma (Siamese Dream)
Siva (Gish)
Oceania (Oceania)
Frail and Bedazzled (Siamese Dream outtake)
Silverfuck (Siamese Dream)
Obscured (Gish outtake, Today single b-side)
Pale Horse (Oceania)
Thru the Eyes of Ruby (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)
Cherub Rock (Siamese Dream)
Owata (Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, Vol. 3)
My Love Is Winter (Oceania)
For Martha (Adore)
Idiot (Catherine song)
Broken Bunny Bird (Catherine song)
Bullet with Butterfly Wings (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)

Remaining Tour Dates
Oct 17 Washington, DC 9:30 Club
Oct 18 New York, NY Terminal 5
Oct 19 Providence, RI Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel
Oct 21 Boston, MA Orpheum Theater
Oct 22 Philadelphia, PA Tower Theater

EP Review: The Smashing Pumpkins – Teargarden By Kaleidyscope Vol. II: The Solstice Bare [Self-Released]

“Are you with us, or against us tonight?”

That sentence makes up the chorus of the new Smashing Pumpkins song “The Fellowship”, which leads off the second of eleven 4-song EPs underneath the “Teargarden By Kaleidyscope” series. Billy Corgan and his band of faceless strangers officially started the whole 44-song project this past May, when they unleashed the first volume subtitled “Songs For A Sailor”. To be perfectly clear though, the band has been steadily releasing songs, one at a time, in the months preceeding each EP, but it’s only when a four song cycle is completed that everything gets packaged together and sold in a limited edition set with all sorts of little trinkets and goodies. Really that’s stuff for the hardcore fans, and those of us simply wanting to hear and/or own the music can go digital and download the songs for free via the band’s website. In other words, at absolutely no cost to you, turning down new music from The Smashing Pumpkins could be considered foolish, unless of course you really hate the band. Lord knows they’ve done plenty to attract the wrong kind of attention these last few years since Corgan recruited a bunch of randoms to replace the great musicians that helped create classic records like “Gish” and “Siamese Dream”. The official “return” of the band came in the form of the record “Zeitgeist”, which was something of a left turn into a more prog-rock territory with long form compositions rather than easy-on-the-ears singles. Corgan claimed he could write those in his sleep and was consciously choosing not to. Then came the angry rants at live shows after fans would get angry over the lack of old material being played. Controversy follows The Smashing Pumpkins around like a lost puppy. But to say the least, this “Teargarden By Kaleidyscope” project has been interesting thus far, and the first batch of songs wasn’t half bad, even if they could often feel scattershot or random in their placement together. The new volume is subtitled “The Solstice Bare”, and it physically went on sale earlier this week in very limited quantities.

At nearly 4 minutes long, “The Fellowship” follows a pretty standard verse-chorus-verse structure. Synths and keyboards take an early lead on the track, but electric guitars swoop in and take over the mic soon enough to surge ahead and bring the track the anthemic quality it needs to succeed. This is the sort of song the band can get away with playing to start their shows – one that’s catchy single-bait and with enough energy to get fists pumping and crowds “on their side”. It’s a surprisingly decent song from the band, that is, in comparison to the rest of the “new school” Smashing Pumpkins and not the “classic” one. The official first single and one that’s actually earned the band radio airplay recently is “Freak”, a crunchy, fuzz-riddled guitar song in desperate need of a James Iha solo. Despite this, it’s another surprisingly good track that works on multiple levels while simultaneously making a strong case for why the very young drummer Mike Byrne could just be a suitable replacement for Jimmy Chamberlain. Acoustic guitars, drum machines and synths start “Tom Tom”, but are quickly tossed aside for live drum work and electric guitars. Mid-way through the song though, there’s a small gap of silence before the whole process starts over again. Once again you get what amounts to a pretty normal-sounding Pumpkins song, but in this case not a whole lot happens in general. Once you get the build up to the first chorus, only the bridge veers off course and even then not very much. No guitar solos, nothing really noteworthy about the song at all, which ultimately makes it a bit bland. Bland doesn’t necessarily equal weak though, inoffensive and standard are two similar words to use that make about the same amount of sense. If “Tom Tom” were playing in the car or in another situation where I’d have the option of turning it off, 9 times out of 10 it’d stay on with little complaint. The keyboard gets set to “harpsichord” at the start of closing track “Spangled”, but once the electric guitars come in the setting changes to “organ”. There’s something that resembles a string section in the background during portions of the song too, there’s just so much else going on higher in the mix that it’s tough to tell. In the case of this 2.5 minute song, it remans instrumentally interesting from start to finish, but lacks the easier catchiness of the other songs. That “problem” become easier to accept given how brief the track is, and that it closes out the EP. There are very few artists that save their best for last.

As this “Teargarden By Kaleidyscope” series progresses, it appears more and more like Billy Corgan is learning a whole lot from past mistakes. When he “reunited” the Pumpkins a few years ago, Corgan very much retained his dictator-type personality that drove his bandmates off in the first place. Jimmy Chamberlain, perhaps his greatest and best friend, stood by him through it all. At some point after the touring cycle for “Zeitgeist” though, he finally had enough and abandoned ship. Not saying there was a straw that broke the camel’s back, but after remaining so defiant and in defense of every piece of music he’s ever released, Corgan now seems to be okay with looking backwards to a time when the masses loved him despite his perceived faults. It was a generation of kids that grew up listening to the band and fully identifying with the sheer angst and outright honesty that Corgan was throwing in their direction. Those fans have grown up now, yet Corgan seemed to be steadfast in his finger pointing and generalized anger. Starting with the first entry in this 44-song project, “Songs For A Sailor” was a small shift in direction for the Pumpkins, retaining just a little bit of that prog-rock from the maligned “Zeitgeist” while showing faint hints of a classic-but-new progression towards a normal rock song. Anger is much less on the menu these days, and in its place are songs about having an imaginary son and Corgan’s own take on spirituality. There’s also hooks, which had been taking a back seat for awhile in an effort to do something different. The Billy Corgan we hear on “The Solstice Bare” is a more adult, mature and aware Billy Corgan than we’ve heard in a long time. He’s starting to come around and is meeting fans old and new somewhere in the middle. It’s the smart move to make, and one can hope it may eventually result in a true rebirth of The Smashing Pumpkins that may someday rival the classic stuff. Both the last EP and this new one are beginning to carve out a new legacy, slowly but surely. We’ve got 9 EPs and a few years left in this “Teargarden By Kaleidyscope” project, but if each successive set of 4 songs continues to improve on the one before it, this could be a real great and meaningful thing once it’s finally wrapped up.

The Smashing Pumpkins – Freak
The Smashing Pumpkins – Tom Tom
The Smashing Pumpkins – Spangled

Buy a physical copy of “The Solstice Bare” EP from Amazon for a limited time only!

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