The Smashing Pumpkins
or starters, the title really sucks (I’m talking beyond the fact of it just being a pretentious-knobby idea to title anything Zeitgeist). In this case it would appear that the "spirit of the age" the Pumpkins are aiming to capture is one of political disillusion mixed with a faint but desperate hope for a better tomorrow. OK, fine, I can buy that, the Statue of Liberty is sinking along with all of our civil liberties on the cover, but there’s also a possibly rising sun (Obama in '08?).
But can a bunch of murky, fustian gripes about spiritual isolation and the burdens of being an artist constitute even a halfway excusable diary of America’s psychic state in 2007? Not even Trent Reznor has the hubris necessary to affix such a representative appellative to his equally trite (but so, so much funkier) kvetchings.
I just hope to Christ that Billy isn’t insinuating that this record is embodying some kind of musical Zeitgeist. That would be like the Spin Doctors putting out a record called Got My Finger on the Pulse of Today that sounded exactly like Pocket Full of Kryptonite.
Of course, the Pumpkins were far better than that, and even Colossus-striding great for a time. Unfortunately, Billy’s scarcely made any adjustments since the turn of the century.
In what certainly feels like an attempt to cut off at the pass any naysayers who might assume Corgan’s softened with age (and he did for a time, quite beautifully actually, as all of the best songs on 2000's MACHINA were the ballads and lightly-kissed pop songs), Zeitgeist is almost unrelentingly loud. And quite often fast. In fact, even the songs that aren’t fast feel that way because they’re so overstuffed, which is really this record’s unmaking.
It’s all just too "over-"—overcooked, overheated, whatever you want to call it. There’s always too much going on and Corgan doesn’t give anything or himself a chance to breathe. I’ll concede I may have greeted "The Doomsday Clock" with an appreciative nod and a grunt of approval—it’s vital and alive and for one song at least it’s OK to eschew a melody in favor of kicking ass. But Corgan’s written so many sublimely melodic songs in his career, so many that beautifully blended darkness and light, that nearly an entire record of static riffing is a sore disappointment.
Granted, there are moments, but they come at a cost. “God and Country” is a spooky little Numan-esque blast from the New Wave past, albeit with toothless rhetorical lyrics. Sonically, the doomy riff and haunted moans of “Bleeding the Orchid” are equally alluring, only they’re not in service of an actual melody and this time the words are even worse, full of tediously self-referential tortured-artist blather (it’s a recurrent theme here, echoed in “(Come On) Let’s Go” with the line about “playing to a dark back row). “Neverlost” has an evocative refrain (“Let’s fill these hours / And kill desire”) but musically feels too arch and stilted. A few songs, like “Starz” and “Bring the Light,” are almost made by cool little squealy guitar bits going on in the background—until they get steamrolled under Jimmy Chamberlain’s ‘roided-up drumwork.
Only once does it really all come together, on the tenderly anthemic “That’s the Way (My Love Is).” Corgan’s voice goes achingly soft at the end of his verses and with an air of seeming effortlessness he delivers something that conjures up the best of MACHINA, the heart-melting likes of “With Every Light” and “Try, Try, Try.”
Otherwise, you’d be inclined to think that maybe that sun on the album cover’s going down after all, and taking Billy Corgan’s melodic levity along with it.