Whenever someone brings up the legitimacy of The Smashing Pumpkins these days, it seems that you fall into one of two camps. Either you believe that there really is no such thing as The Smashing Pumpkins anymore, and that died back in 2000 (or when Jimmy Chamberlin finally left in 2009). Or, you believe that Billy Corgan always was The Smashing Pumpkins and any present incarnation of them is just as valid as the ones before.
Of course, there is no denying that Corgan was the controlling creative force behind the project since they were a little indie band toiling away in the clubs of Chicago in the late 1980’s. When Corgan wasn’t writing the majority of the songs, he was also acting as the band’s manager, ensuring his influence was felt in every decision. That said, the present Pumpkins have very little in common with the old James Iha, D’Arcy Wretzky and Jimmy Chamberlin crew. Sure, there’s another woman on the bass (Nicole Fiorentino) and Corgan’s still a shockingly tall bald man with opinions up the ying yang, but it’s a very different sound. Altogether, it’s just a different band.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing here; music evolves and changes. Once you accept that they’ll never be releasing another Siamese Dream again, it makes it easier to appreciate Corgan’s songwriting efforts on a whole new level.
The pompous-sounding Teargarden by Kaleidyscope Vol. II “The Solstice Bare” arrives as the newest LP from The Smashing Pumpkins, consisting of just four tracks that had been slowly released by Corgan. His plan, eventually, is to shun the conventions of traditional albums and release all 44 songs of Teargarden slowly throughout the years. It’s an ambitious and experimental way of doing music but in this iTunes, short-attention span, a-buck-a-tune generation of music listeners, it’s actually a concept that’s pretty smart.
And the albums are pretty smart as well. Teargarden by Kaleidyscope Vol. 1: Songs for a Sailor surfaced earlier this year, a set of four songs with a darker edge to them. However, Vol. 2 has a happier, more radio-friendly feel. Corgan’s usual whine and opinions seem to be kept to the Twitter page and off of his songs, which in turn cuts down on the preachy-ness that can often be his downfall.
“The Fellowship” opens with a jarringly electronic beat that might ruffle the feathers of some purist Pumpkin fans (I have to say I was caught off guard), but it turns into a catchy, enthusiastic song with a pumping bit and rousing chorus (“Are you with us or against us?”). The combination of the electronic noises and the guitars is a bit reminiscent of his more experimental songs on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and, especially, on Adore. Some might even draw comparisons here to Corgan’s solo work, as well.
“Freak” is a cheery, straight-forward pop-rock song with Corgan’s trademark layered guitars and fuzz, and singalong lyrics. “Tom Tom” is a psychedelic, sitar-spiked balancing act between soft and rock. It’s a fine song, though there’s nothing really memorable about it. Listening to the album, it’s easy to get “Freak” stuck in your head but “Tom Tom” just doesn’t go anywhere.
The final song is the slow, syrupy “Spangled”. The opening guitars conjure forth images of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, and, like the Beatles tune, it’s a pretty, atmospheric song that wouldn’t sound all that out of place as a Fab Four B-side. What’s more, Corgan uses his unique voice to the best of his advantage.
In hindsight, it’s hard to review an album that is essentially just a work in progress. After all, the finished product could be years away. It brings up a lot of questions, too. Will Corgan lose interest in the project five albums down the line? Will people still care? Do people care now? Regardless of the outcome, though, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope Vol. II “The Solstice Bare” stands as a pretty good EP and not a bad change of direction for the band. We can only wait to see where the direction goes, but for now, it works.