Smashing Pumpkins Return To Hard-Rocking Form On ‘Zeitgeist'

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It’s not hard to fathom why Billy Corgan would want to revive the “Smashing Pumpkins” brand name. After all, his two most recent projects – a solo album, “The Camera’s Eye,” and a group record under the name Zwan -- both failed to catch fire with the public. It’s been widely assumed and reported that Billy Corgan essentially IS Smashing Pumpkins, and this new incarnation of the band does little to cast doubt on that notion. James Iha is nowhere to be found, nor is D’arcy. The new album, “Zeitgeist,” is as much a Smashing Pumpkins album as “The Future Embrace.” Smashing Pumpkins seems to be essentially a one-man project, much like Nine Inch Nails. But all of the semantics about the name aside, there is no question that Billy Corgan is one of the most eclectic, innovative and prolific songwriters of the last 15 years. He is capable of stunning moments, but also of overdoing it and burying his best work amongst the chaff. His albums tend to be a mixed bag, and he never seems to be able to leave well enough alone. Just one more track… one more verse… one more sound effect. Sometimes it’s jarring, and hard to penetrate, as was the case with the last Smashing Pumpkins album, “Machina/The Machines of God.” Too much information to absorb. “Zeitgeist” suffers a little from that, but overall it’s his strongest work since 1995’s epic “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.” It’s consistently good, and rocks with a swagger absent from the last four Corgan albums. It’s a brash return to the mid-90’s pulsing rock of tracks like “Zero” and “Cherub Rock.” Thematically, like many other artists with something to say, he zeroes in on current U.S. realities. With titles like “Doomsday Clock,” “Pomp and Circumstances,” “For God and Country,” and “United States,” it’s not hard to guess what has been on Corgan’s mind lately. With the cover showing the Statue of Liberty immersed in water with a threatening red sky as a backdrop, it’s impossible to look at “Zeitgeist” as anything but a strongly political album -- which, these days, is probably hard to avoid as a songwriter. This is Smashing Pumpkins for a new generation -- “Zeitgeist” feels surprisingly fresh and relevant. The best track might be the raucous first single “Tarantula”, a hyper-rock nthem with crunching guitars and Corgan’s trademark fey snarl of a voice as impassioned as ever. “Bleeding the Orchid” is another strong moment, a vicious rock track as edgy as anything Corgan has ever done. While “Zeitgeist” is a solid return for the Smashing Pumpkins’ brand, there is a touch of desperation to it. One can’t help but wonder if Corgan decided to revive the venerable band’s name for mostly commercial considerations. There are also no absolute killer tracks that are worthy of being compared to essential classics like “Today,” “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” “Ava Adore,” or “1979.” That being said, “Zeitgeist” is still a surprisingly powerful collection and, although it has its flaws, represents a strong return to form for Billy Corgan and/or Smashing Pumpkins. In the end, as long as the product is good, the name hardly seems to matter.

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