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“I don’t wanna be alone,” sings Billy Corgan on “Tarantula,” the first single from the first Smashing Pumpkins album since 2000’s
Machina discs. Thank Mellon Collie for that: Two years ago, on his disappointing solo debut The Future Embrace, Corgan lost his grip on all that made Smashing Pumpkins the awkward kings (and queen) of post-grunge misery rock, his infinite sadness diluted by watery synth-pop settings no more assertive than the wimpy singer-songwriter ballads on Pumpkins guitarist James Iha’s own solo debut, Let It Come Down.
There’s no Iha on Zeitgeist, nor any trace of bassist D’Arcy Wretzky: When Corgan placed ads in the
Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times proclaiming his desire to “renew and revive” the Pumpkins, only drummer Jimmy Chamberlin—the same guy kicked out of the original group approximately 18 times as a result of his drug abuse—showed up at (or was allowed through) Corgan’s door. Still, the drummer’s participation must’ve given Corgan a sufficient feeling of togetherness, as most of
Zeitgeist finds the singer-guitarist once again in the cone-destroying zone of Siamese Dream.
In fact, thanks in part to the presence of Pantera producer Terry Date, this is the Pumpkins’ hardest-rocking record ever: On opener “Doomsday Clock,” Corgan builds a wailing wall of sound with immense slabs of doom-glam chug, while “United States” grinds away like the intro to “Iron Man” for nearly 10 minutes. Sadly, the tunes aren’t what they used to be—nowhere on
Zeitgeist does Corgan stud the amp-shredding guitar fuzz with a hook as sweet or as sharp as those that powered “Today” or “1979.” Yet at a moment when alt-rock radio is saturated with sly emo bands long on songcraft but short on sincerity, it’s Corgan’s unembarrassed anguish that feels unique. The butterfly has his bullets back.
Smashing Pumpkins play Live Earth at Giants Stadium July 7, liveearth.org