Thoughts On the Upcoming Smashing Pumpkins Return to the Rock World

As for those of you like me who are not as up on your music news as some people, you may be unaware that alternative era band The Smashing Pumpkins are planning on releasing a new album called Zeitgeist this July. This will be the band's first in about 7 years after breaking up for what everyone thought was for good.

Since then, there were brief solo careers for front man Billy Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, neither of which I have heard at this time and a great album from the short lived Zwan. Then using a few full page newspaper ads that ran here in Chicago (the Pumpkins are our hometown band) Corgan called for a reunion of the band and our anticipation of a new album has grown ever since.

Will the Pumpkins return to their previous glory? Will it be a short lived project that will crash and burn?

I've always been a fan of the Smashing Pumpkins from the first time I heard "Cherub Rock" off Siamese Dream. Around the release of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness I became absolutely engrossed with this band and they remained my favorite band until my tastes shifted towards classic rock.

I still hold a place for the Pumpkins in my heart though. Unlike their other grunge compatriots, the Smashing Pumpkins do not have a overtly grunge feel. Instead it is a kind of hybrid between proto punk, hard rock and grunge. This first album, Gish, is a good example of this combination. It is definitely a hard rock album with growling guitars that hints at Black Sabbath and maybe a little Rush. They don't have the same blues swagger that is present in bands like Led Zeppelin and other classic hard rock artists. The album fits in well with other grunge albums of the time, but unlike Nirvana, the Smashing Pumpkins are far more arena rock oriented, only hinting at bands like the Pixies, the Ramones and other "proto punk" acts.

After establishing their sound with Gish the band went into a period of tremendous turmoil that nearly tore the band apart. Out of this time though came one of the greatest rock albums of all time: Siamese Dream. The album that turned me on to the Smashing Pumpkins still remains one of my all time favorites to this day despite my changing musical tastes.

To me, Siamese Dream is simply one of the best hard rock albums of that era. Upon first hearing it, I immediately identified with the music because it was not the angry destructiveness that characterized other grunge era and heavy metal bands. It has the heavy fuzzed out guitar work I loved, combined with a bit of sadness and understanding while still sounding aggressive.

A few years later the band would produce Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and firmly take their place amongst the rock and roll greats. An epic double album that has a tremendous range of material. There are massively heavy metal songs, light acoustic numbers and in between songs all rolled into a massive progressive conceptual album. Where Siamese Dream toyed with progressive rock, this album has it in excess and makes a definite conceptual statement. It can be a difficult album to get into as it is massively long and really needs to be listened to in its entirety, but reoccurring themes, mutated riffs and melodic motifs make compelling. They cover so much ground on this album that it is incredibly eccentric, but definitely still sounds like the same band.

They would go on to release two more studio albums including the electronic, industrial and gothic tinged Adore and the beginning to what was indented to be an epic conceptual project MACHINA/The Machines of God. The first is definitely a different album that is at times a little over dramatic, but does feature some of the bands most unique songs, even if they are created with electronics. The second was intended to be an incredibly bold all consuming project that never really manifested and was cut short because of the band's breakup.

When looking at their catalog as a whole though, its easy to see an ever changing band that was at time in conflict, but was constantly progressing, taking new risks and breaking new ground. They are quite an eccentric band that really played all sorts of music and constantly defied classification.

It is this range of material that makes me so excited to hear the Smashing Pumpkins new release. I like all their albums, some more than others, but seeing the progression from one to the next is always interesting.

So, with the upcoming release of Zeitgeist what do I expect?

Well, to be honest, I don't really know, but I'm excited.

I would say that they would pick up where they left off but that seems to simple for the Smashing Pumpkins and so much time has passed that it seems doubtful they haven't changed. It might be a massive conceptual project, but seeing it is their first album back in 7 years, I'm expecting something epic, but not overly indulgent... then again I never would have expected Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Adore,or MACHINA/The Machines of God so who knows.

Whether you are a Smashing Pumpkins fan or not, I think its obvious that the only thing we know for sure is that this new album will be an interesting release that will not be a rehash of previous material.

It should also be interesting to see how the current mainstream rock community accepts the new album...Not that it really matters to me as I don't listen to much of what is called "mainstream" right now anyways.

Here is a Link to the Smashing Pumpkins Myspace if you're interested in keeping up with the news: http://www.myspace.com/smashingpumpkins

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