review: Smashing Pumpkins really want ‘Shiny And Oh So Bright’ to be a comeback
The Smashing Pumpkins just released their new album Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun., and it's theoretically a more exciting one than they've released in a long time, considering it's their first with original drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and original guitarist James Iha both in the band in 18 years (and first with Chamberlin in 11). Their involvement does make it a little more exciting -- especially Chamberlin's, as his drumming was a crucial part of what made Gish, Siamese Dream, and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness the classics that they remain today -- but the idea of a "reunion" for the Pumpkins isn't as cut and dry as it is for most other bands, for more reasons than one. For one, calling this a reunion at all comes with some baggage, given the drama surrounding D'Arcy Wretzky's exclusion. Secondly, Billy Corgan famously dubbed over D'Arcy's and James Iha's parts back in the day anyway, so having Iha back doesn't exactly feel a saving grace. And since Billy has really always been the band's dictator, it doesn't seem likely that 3/4 of the old lineup would magically make him the brilliant songwriter he once was. His last couple albums Monuments to an Elegy and Oceania aren't half bad, but they've mostly seen Billy operating on autopilot, making passably good songs that sort of sound like the great songs he wrote two decades ago. It's also harder and harder to be a Billy Corgan fan, given his horrible opinions and his willingness to appear on Infowars. So, can Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. really be the comeback that Billy hopes it will be? Probably not. But like its two predecessors, it's also not half bad.
Fortunately, the actual music on Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. is not as overblown as the album title is. If Billy Corgan did one thing right on Monuments to an Elegy, it was realizing that it's easier to stomach his watered-down versions of his '90s songs when they're concisely packaged in a 30-minute album, and he did that once again for Shiny and Oh So Bright. And going along with this album's reunion/comeback theme, Billy seems like he's directly channeling his classic songs more than ever. There's the song that kinda sounds like "1979" ("Silver Sometimes [Ghosts]"), the song that kinda sounds like "Tonight, Tonight" ("Alienation"), and the sorta-metal "Quiet"/"Jellybelly" type song ("Marchin' On"). And even if they often sound like surface-level re-imaginings of Pumpkins classics, they still manage to make for enjoyable doses of nostalgia. The best of them is "Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)," where Billy really taps back into the type of unique melodicism that he had on his best songs. And more than anything else on this album, that one reminds you that no other Smashing Pumpkins drummer is a match for the chemistry between Billy's songwriting and Jimmy Chamberlin's sturdy backbeats. For the most part, Chamberlin's a bit tamer these days than he used to be, but he takes a couple moments to throw in the kinds of beastly attacks that made Pumpkins classics so lively, like on lead single "Solara." It's not quite "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," but it sounds like Billy intended this one to be the same type of football stadium-ready alt-rock song, and Chamberlin punctuates Billy's one-line hook with furious fills just like he does on "Bullet." It feels like it was designed for '90s rock radio, but if you ever heard it on what's left of rock radio today, you'd probably hum along.
The album's only true misstep is opening track "Knights of Malta," which embellishes MOR arena rock with fiddle lines and a gospel choir, and makes about zero sense in Smashing Pumpkins' discography. But just start this thing on track two and you'll be treated to a nice collection of Smashing Pumpkins Lite that doesn't overstay its welcome. It's balanced well between the rockers ("Solara," "Marchin' On," "Seek and You Shall Destroy"), the softer songs ("Travels," "Alienation," "With Sympathy"), and the in between (the aforementioned standout "Silvery Sometimes"), and really any of them would sound just fine if they came on an algorithm-generated playlist of top Smashing Pumpkins songs, or if Billy & co threw one in the mix with their '90s material at a live show (as they've been doing). They won’t have a true comeback, though, unless Billy can get back in the headspace he was in when he wrote their first three albums, which seems impossible. Would you ever actively choose to listen to this album over those, or even the Jimmy Chamberlin-less Adore? Probably not. Still, as far as ungracefully aging ’90s rockers go, there are way worse places to be than the place the Pumpkins occupy on Shiny and Oh So Bright.