Smashing Pumpkins | CYR | (Sumerian Records)
Four out of Five Stars
The Smashing Pumpkins have always been a band that’s followed the whims of their shaman of sorts, Billy Corgan, the mercurial individual who steers the Pumpkin persona by means of his own indelible imprint. At the same time, he’s taken his own detours in the past, opting for solo albums or splinter groups that were aimed at abandoning the Pumpkins’ persona entirely. There have been times when his hiatus seemed seemed a permanent proposition, only to have him reverse course and reconvene with those that are willing. Fortunately for all involved, his instincts serve him well, and given the high bar the band set early on with such landmark efforts as Gish, Siamese Dream, Adore, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, that’s a high complement indeed. Mining a mix of psychedelia, goth, hard rock, and even pure pop, Corgan and his compatriots employ tone, texture and a brooding hint of psychosis to create a sound that’s sweeps, soars and intensifies with every effort they offer.
The Pumpkins’ new album, CYR, is no exception. By turns arched, ambitious, intriguing and expressive this sprawling 20 song set recalls the band’s earlier epics with melodies that boast the same elevated intensity that’s driven their signature sound from early on. This time around, fellow founding members Jimmy Chamberlin and James Iha are back on board, given an assist from guitarist Jeff Schroeder, whose late arrival to the line-up dates back to 2016. The absence of bassist D’arcy Wretzy is notable of course, but hardly surprising considering her fractious relationship she’s maintained with Corgan throughout the group’s career. Nevertheless, it hardly seems to matter. CYR is a solid effort all the way through, one that finds quality equal to its quantity.
That said, no Smashing Pumpkins album would be complete without an ample blend of pomp and pretense, and here, those qualities flourish in abundance. That’s evident in Corgan’s dissertation on the theme itself, as included in a press release accompanying the album’s release.
“CYR represents, at least symbolically, the makings of a dissociative life, which best as we can tell IS modern life: as presented through a variety of sources; past, present, and future. Where even our own story as a band is often represented as something more grotesque and glorious than we actually experienced it. Which, it should be noted, is fine. Because we’ve never fought the dream as a collective, or it’s prickly twin (hence the snazzy title of one of our earliest records). So in CYR you get 20 pieces of fractured ideology, neither here nor there but that’s sort of the point. To ape that which in the post-technology age is not so easily defined and pinned down, but can be shown in a lithe, restless melody.”
Ummmmm,… alrighty then. Is that all clear? If not, no worries. We’re a bit baffled ourselves. Fortunately, the concept doesn’t distract from the substance of the songs, all of which are effortlessly exhilarating and vary only in terms of their kinetic crush. The sonic sweep range from the seismic surge of the album opener “The Colour of Love,” the propulsive and pulsating “Birch Grove” and the pounding, percussive title track, to the passionate plea of “Ramona,” the unlikely love song “Purple Blood” and the percolating pace of “Telegenix” and “Rath.” It’s high drama at its most effusive, told through from the perspective of an individual seemingly in search of his soul.
Somehow though, it still manages to work, and indeed, on a song such as “Wyttch,” which sounds like something spawned from a fusion of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, or a daring diatribe like “Anno Sattana” one has to wonder if perhaps Corgan isn’t simply playing to the diehards and simply seeing how far his dark demeanor will take them. Still, who’s gonna complain? The music is consistently compelling, unceasingly effusive and decidedly driven, the essence of a genuine Corgan catharsis.
In addition, brace yourself for what’s to come. The band promises a wealth of releases in 2021, including a 33-track sequel to the Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness album and a forthcoming opus titled Machina, which is beingbilled as “the third in a trilogy of expansive and conceptual works.”
Given that Corgan is prone towards creativity, the Pumpkins’ profile appears certain to remain as elevated as ever.