Back in high school, I was known for my love of The Smashing Pumpkins. Well, “known” might not be the word: “ridiculed” might be a better one. Everyone knew they were a great band and all, but I really, really liked them a whole lot. In fact, I even had “Stand Inside Your Love” played at my wedding. I’ve been following their work for some time, through the ups and downs, and I pretty much thought they were done, honestly. On the 16th of November, the band released a new album called “Shiny and Oh So Bright”, and my hope for their future has been rekindled.
There is no one else like The Smashing Pumpkins. Some people group them in with grunge from the early 90s, which I never have done. While they have elements of that subgenre, their approach has always been outside the box, always pushing and always advancing. In other words, they were ambitious in a way that was abnormal for the mainstream, and they didn’t try to become part of any particular niche. In that fashion, I would even say they have produced progressive music on almost all of their records.
This new album features Billy Corgan, James Iha, and Jimmy Chamberlin, alongside longtime guitarist Jeff Schroeder. These players are back together for the first time in a long time. The band has labelled “Shiny and Oh So Bright” as an LP, and subtitled it as “No Past. No Future. No Sun”. Now, some people were calling this an EP because of its 30-minute runtime, but I do believe this is meant to be a full album, and it is Volume 1 of a story that will play out on future records. The album does feel complete to me, regardless of the runtime.
I’ll tell you a secret: I’ve always preferred the more laid back, melody-forward version of this band. I’ve seen some people complaining about the lack of angst, grit, or edge to this album, and my only question for those people is, “Where have you been?” If you expected another “Siamese Dream” or “Gish”, you have to remember that Corgan left much of his angst behind years ago, even before the band faded from prominence. The approach, while still critical of society, is far more refined and mature, as can be expected as they age and develop their sounds and thoughts.
What does that mean? This album is rather straightforward, offering some addictive melodies and songs that don’t try too hard. It’s a solid outing, and makes me look forward to Volume 2, but it’s certainly not their best, nor would the band ever claim that. No, this album is not a masterpiece, but it is enjoyable and intensely nostalgic to see these guys playing together, almost like they are finding their feet again.
A few tracks are standouts. “Knights of Malta” and “Silvery Sometimes” are two of the singles, and they both excel as such. The former is a beautiful track with an addictive central melody. The latter displays the band’s grasp of subtlety, as the faint violin melodies in the background really elevate this song so much. I’m also a big fan of the smooth chorus of “Alienation” and the lovely emotions of “With Sympathy”. All of the tracks are well written and produced, however.
The Smashing Pumpkins are back, and I think we’ll see some wonderful work from them in the future. While the fury of their youth is gone, I’m hoping that Corgan especially has found his voice of influence as he has grown and aged. Give their new work a fair chance, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised.