Smashing Pumpkins: Zeitgeist

With Billy Corgan, I really have to separate the persona from the art. That’s the diplomatic way of saying the guy annoys me.

That is, the way he comes across in public annoys me. Dude takes out a full page ad in a newspaper asking his band back together. Not announcing — asking. Your average former rock stars would just pick up a phone (or have their managers do it for them.)

As the undisputed creative force behind Smashing Pumpkins, Corgan let his deification in the early ’90s get to his head, and the fans of the music have had to put up with it since.

All that to say I went into Zeitgeist with an excessive dose of skepticism — perhaps even hostility — and I was summarily humbled. This album is one of the best I’ve heard all year.

Corgan always iterated Smashing Pumpkins was a band, despite the large role in songwriting and production he played. And it was true — there was tangible dynamic between Corgan, drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, guitarist James Iha and original bassist D’arcy.

I joked, as perhaps many others, that without Iha or D’arcy, the reformed Pumpkins may as well call themselves Zwan. But with Zeitgeist, Corgan distills the essence of the Pumpkins and perhaps cops to the criticism that the band was really nothing more than a glorified solo project.

Of course, Corgan couldn’t really call it a reunion without Chamberlain. His drumming provided as much melodic content as rhythmic backbone, and a Pumpkins album without him would be … well, Adore.

Zeitgeist sounds harder than anything the band has done before. Corgan has always liked excess and texture. Gish possessed remarkable nuance for a rock album, while Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness indulged in strings and prog rock gestures. The only thing in excess on Zeitgeist is guitars, guitars, guitars.

Corgan lays it on thick from the start, with the crush of guitars on "Doomsday Clock" nearly drowning him out. "7 Shades of Black" is reminiscent of "Bullet with Butterfly Wings", while the shuffle beat of "Tarantula" is taken at a maniacal pace.

The nearly 10-minute "United States" is the requisite Pumpkins epic, but the brutal pace of the song doesn’t reduce it to a wankfest. A bit of the orchestral touch appears on "Starz" but not the point of distraction as in the past.

Zeitgeist possesses a clarity the band hasn’t seen since Gish. Not a single track feels like filler, and the driving tempo set from the outset doesn’t really let up. While Corgan’s metal-inspired guitar work feels familiar, the aggressiveness of the music feels completely new. I don’t remember Smashing Pumpkins ever sounding this hard.

I may roll my eyes anytime Corgan opens his yap, but he knows his shit when he puts pick to strings. I wasn’t expecting much from this reunion, but I’m glad to have been proven wrong. Zeitgeist finds Smashing Pumpkins rejuvenated for their second act.