The Smashing Pumpkins, “SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT, VOL. 1 / LP: NO PAST. NO FUTURE. NO SUN.” (Napalm Records)
It’s no question The Smashing Pumpkins has had a tumultuous past. Multiple iterations, breakups and solo careers later, three founding members of the 90’s Chicago-rooted rockers — Billy Corgan, James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin — are back to release their first collaborative album in 18 years, “SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT, VOL. 1 / LP: NO PAST. NO FUTURE. NO SUN.”
The title of the LP is fitting, considering there’s a past the band likely wants to leave behind.
The Smashing Pumpkins has teetered between dissolution and reconciliation since 1996, after the overdose death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin and the firing of Chamberlin. Members have been in flux ever since, with the current roster featuring Corgan, Iha and Chamberlin with guitarist Jeff Schroeder.
Ahead of their latest tour, one founding member, bassist D’arcy Wretzky, was left in the dark. The circumstances surrounding her exclusion from the band’s reunion started a feud between Wretzky and Corgan, complete with publicized text message screenshots and name-calling.
Peel away the dramatics and dysfunction that marked the launch of “SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT” — and the Pumpkins’ past, for that matter — and you’re left with an album that stays true to the band’s classic sound with the help of legendary producer Rick Rubin.
Triumphant strings and distorted vocals open the album, as “Knights of Malta” crescendos to a choir singing with the guttural Corgan singing, “We’re gonna make this happen/I’m gonna fly forever.”
While the album captures the nonconforming spirit of eccentric frontman Corgan — swinging between manic, obsessive and edgy tracks like “Solara” and delicate, trance-like songs such as “With Sympathy” — overall, “SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT” is no masterpiece. Songs build then fizzle, like “Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts),” a catchy tune lacking the chorus to be considered vintage Smashing, despite its nostalgic and distinctive Pumpkins feel.
Highlights on the 8-track album include “Travels” and “With Sympathy.” The optimistic “Travels” affirms the album’s commitment to “No Past. No Future.” in a fluid reality where Corgan sings, “See love, see time/see death, see life” before unfolding into a chorus of, “It’s where I belong/but far from here or else I’m gone.” There’s an element of opacity, common to Pumpkins lyrics, but one that manages to feel pleasantly unresolved by the anthemic track. “With Sympathy” pleads, “Please stay confused/disunion has its use,” but wraps itself in a comforting, steady melody.
“SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT” brings hope that the band’s dark days are distant. Millions of Pumpkins fans certainly hope so.