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CD of The Week

Week of 11/26/18

    Smashing Pumpkins - Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. (Martha's / Napalm)

    William Patrick Corgan is, in many ways, the Morrissey of '90s rock. Since formally reincarnating The Smashing Pumpkins, he (like Moz) has been better known for his antics than his music. Corgan has been the face of multiple national wrestling promotions as well as his local Chicago cat rescue. He has had feuds with every original member of the Pumpkins, and conversations with conspiracist Alex Jones. Being a Pumpkins fan is, in some way, bracing for WPC's next move. Will it be something that reaffirms his legacy (2012's strong return to form Oceania, for example) or one more oddity that aims to threaten it (a recent concert brought out Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray for a cover of his band's hit "Fly," for reasons that still feel uncertain)? On their new, brief release, Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun, it's uncertain what has been added, but it's clear no damage has been done.

    Even more so than his behavior, Corgan's voice has always been his greatest hallmark and biggest liability. In 2018, this has mellowed with age, making the bulk of Shiny feel a bit more of an adult affair than the eternal teenager of the Mellon Collie era. The songs have mellowed too. These eight tracks all feel a bit more akin to Corgan's Zwan era than the past work of this Pumpkins lineup. "Solara" most closely approaches that old bombast and alienation (the repeated invocation of being "nothing but a body" building to a roar of guitars and Jimmy Chamberlain's unmistakable drums), making it a sensible first release this summer. "Marchin' On" also turns up the Corgan sneer but is ultimately less effective and feels out of place in a way "Solara" does not.

    The rest of Shiny, though, feels incomplete, especially considering the 30-minute run time and the promise of a Volume 2. That's not to say it's bad: "Seek and You Shall Destroy" has a great groove, and I wish it was longer. "Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)," despite its too-twee-by-half title, does feel like a single, albeit a bit of an under-the-radar one. The chorus is just about the most memorable riff on the album and I feel it's the stand-out track. Where the album falters, though, is simply that every song feels like it'd be an excellent song if it was situated in the middle of an album. While "Knights of Malta" starts things off with a super hummable earworm, the tense journey of the song feels better situated somewhere in the middle of an already-started concept. It serves as a good sonic introduction to the album but seems out of place at the beginning. "Travels" is a solid track, but it was never meant to carry as much weight as it does here.

    Ultimately, these are eight songs that can succeed on their own merits, but they don't really feel like an album. In 2018, the album is certainly a different beast than it was when Billy first hit the Chicago scene 30 years ago, but it's hard not to look at how complete and cohesive those early albums were compared to this.

    Of course, we also only have half the story, at best. The title implies more to come, and Corgan's always been a concept guy. It will be interesting to see how Volume Two informs and interacts with these tracks. For now, however, these dispatches from the '90s should keep Pumpkins fans tuned in to the band's continuing evolution and tuned out of the drama.

    Review by Alex Lupica

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