- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Smashing Pumpkins

Martha’s Music/Reprise

Who will save rock ‘n’ roll? For years after the last wave of rock dominance that peaked with Nirvana, that question was asked repeatedly by music critics, and speculation became a bitter party game for rock fans depressingly eyeing the rise of pop, hip-hop, and garish fad genres like nu-metal.

Now, of course, we know that no one will save rock. Like jazz before it, the genre will fade into a vibrant but unremarkable niche scene.

Rock is dead. Long live rock.

Not that there’s any shortage of faded guitar-slingers still hoping to claim the mantle of Savior of Rock. Case in point: “Zeitgeist,” a new album from Smashing Pumpkins, the Billy Corgan-led alt-rock heavyweights who saw rock’s last shining moment up close and are now riffing away in hopes of a rock revival.

The band hasn’t released an album in seven years, but Mr. Corgan’s reputation as a six-string genius with a gift for recording-studio wizardry has been enough to build a sizable buzz around the band’s return. However, calling the new project a Smashing Pumpkins album is disingenuous: Mr. Corgan was always the band’s focal point, but now it’s essentially all him; of the other original Pumpkins, only drummer Jimmy Chamberlain returned for this outing.

Previously, the band had drifted into realms both softer and more electronics-heavy than the mid-‘90s records that made them famous, “Siamese Dream” and “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.” “Zeitgeist” seems intended to remedy this: It kicks off with “Doomsday Clock,” a sprinting, power-chord driven rocker that recalls the riff-driven singles of the band’s early records, but with a thicker, dirtier sound, and nothing approaching the experimental production-studio fireworks that blew so many minds in the mid ‘90s.

And it leads into another irritatingly similar track, “7 Shades of Black.” It, too, is a heart-racing, energetic rocker of suspiciously little substance. Like “Doomsday,” it turns out to be a formulaic rock song, three and a half minutes long and with the same basic structure as a Britney Spears single. Unfortunately, this is more or less how the album proceeds — all safe and radio-friendly, with nothing approaching the mad, spiraling guitar-scientist frenzy of early Pumpkins.

None of these tracks are actually bad, just forgettable. And there are even some standouts: The album’s first single, “Tarantula,” is no “Cherub Rock” or “Today,” but it’s approximately on a par with “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.”

In an effort to recapture rock’s last heyday — and, presumably, his fan base and record sales from that era — Mr. Corgan seems to have played his return too cautiously, eschewing the sonic experimentation that made his early work stand out.

The good thing, at least for those of us who still mourn rock’s passing, is that this is unquestionably a real rock album, not indie rock or disco punk or freak folk or any of the other variants to appear in the last decade — just rock, thank you.

And it’s a solid rock album, full of unapologetic, straight-ahead guitar riffs, slam-bang drumming and shout-along choruses. But it’s never more than that, and no matter how many people once thought of Mr. Corgan as a guitar god, his merely adequate record, rock though it may be, isn’t about to save anything.

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