To call Chicago indie rockers The Smashing Pumpkins juggernauts of their field would be a gross understatement. The Billy Corgan-fronted rock outfit erupted on the music scene in the early 1990s with, in my humble and probably shortsighted opinion, one of the greatest album trifectas in indie rock history. Their 1991 debut, “Gish,” captured the grunge zeitgeist in a digestible and beautiful first album. Their follow-up two years later, “Siamese Dream,” improved their curated sound and brought the four-piece to the forefront of the indie scene. Songs like “Today” and “Disarm” collected the group’s raucous style into radio-level bites. However, it wasn’t until the band’s third effort, “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” that Smashing Pumpkins truly entered the mainstream. Timeless hits like “1979,” “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and “Tonight, Tonight” made the Pumpkins a household name.
“Mellon Collie” came out 23 years ago. Since their peak, the band has broken up, undergone a number of Billy Corgan-directed lineup changes and desperately attempted to adapt to the changing landscape of indie rock. Their latest effort, “Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.” (what a title) was their first with their founding four members since 2000, giving long-time fans hope that the band would find space for a late-career resurgence.
Nope. Not at all. This is bad.
For 31 brutal minutes, the Pumpkins simultaneously fail at both harkening back to the band’s early 1990s heyday and to capturing modern indie techniques. The opening track, “Knights of Malta,” captures the tasteful instrumentation that made the band’s first three albums so great, but Cordan’s laughable emo-teenager lyrics turn it from a potentially solid starter track to a joke.
“Find that open road/Catch that blazing star / And climb out of that hole / To wonder where we are” is some 2007 LiveJournal tomfoolery, not what should be coming out of one of the greatest modern rock frontman’s mouth. Come on.
Even the promising instrumentation falls apart by the midway point of “Shiny.” The remarkably bland “Alienation” sounds more like a throwaway Muse track than anything worth note. Even the guitar solo, something that used to be the cherry on top of Pumpkins’ songs of old, sounds painfully generic.
By the end of the brief album, I was begging for something that reached above mediocre, and somehow I got what I wished for. At first, I thought the final track was surprisingly fantastic and the true return-to-form I was craving while listening, but it was Spotify throwing on “By Starlight” from “Mellon Collie” after “Shiny” ended. A cruel tease to what could have been.
There are decent moments on “Shiny” that give me some hope that the Pumpkins have a solid project somewhere hidden in them. Corgan’s pure vocal chops haven’t diminished as much as other frontmen going on near 30 years of performing. “Marchin’ On” is a pretty badass and beautiful cut tucked into the otherwise forgettable second half of the album.
Unfortunately, that’s as much credit as I can give this album. Instead of returning to this simply unfortunate “comeback” album, I’ll be giving my attention to “Siamese Dream” and “Mellon Collie” in the weeks to come.
Daniel Cohn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.