First and foremost, I have to ask the question: Why are the Smashing Pumpkins not in the Rock Hall? If anyone has a good answer, please, drop me a line.
Now, If Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is the album by which all other Pumpkins records will forever be judged, and I believe this is the case, then CYR falls short.
This isn’t to say that it’s not good or even great, at times it is, but the bands best days are behind them in terms of popular culture. That said, they are exuding the sort of confidence that comes with being a tenured band. The fact that they haven’t been inducted into the Rock Hall speaks volumes about the judgement of critics (or lack thereof) and this album shows just how much they probably give a damn.
It’s a quiet, melodic, sonic departure from anything they’ve released since Mellon while taking the softer, symphonic elements of that album and injecting it into today’s version of what reminds me of eighties new wave.
In general terms, I think it’s brilliant. Billy Corgan has found his poetic pulpit once again, neutered with age as it may be this time around. With huge success and the inevitable downfall of almost every band of the Pumpkins’ era, they were the ones that never really fit in and succeeded despite all the rage for the grunge rock sound. There isn’t any anger or hard rock sounds on this album, in other words. While Mellon had the ups and downs this one is just the right amount of artsy for todays listener. Staying true to Pumpkins past, this album is a left turn landscape of harmony and synth despair.
My first exposure to it was a live version of the single “CYR” on broadcast television in music video form. I was blown away. This song, this version in particular, reminded me of the sheer awesomeness of this band. They’ve been blessed and cursed in almost every way in their career and have forged a new path with CYR that, if the industry doesn’t change very soon, will be a fitting cap to yet another incarnation of Smashing Pumpkins.
While the live version of CYR utilizes a guitar to achieve what a synthesizer does on the disc version, the studio cut still holds up. The drums are light but fantastic, the harmonies are on point, and Corgan’s voice hasn’t changed. The groove of the song gets you right away and it’s reminiscent of ‘Til Tuesday, or something like that. The lyric “Say I done told you” and “Stare down your masters” are what can be construed as a rally cry for the times we are living in. Appropriate it how you will. But it definitely has an inherent defiance that defined the alt-rock songs of years ago.
Beyond the single, it’s difficult to parse through and critique every single song; partly because it’s so big (a double album like Mellon) and also because it blends together Billy’s over the top wordsmithing with references to folklore all the way through and partly because it sounds like the band was in a certain headspace while in the recording process and intent on creating a sound as opposed to singles.
Songs like “Adrenalynne”, “Telegenix”, and “Shaudenfreud” are perfect examples of this. They are good, arguably the best on the album, but there isn’t any punch; no detuning, no heaviness to speak of. Just one solid track.
Other tracks like “Dulcet In E” and “Black Forest, Black Hills” tend to place Corgan’s vocals front and center. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing. He hardly gets any credit for bringing the grunge era back to moderation. I will say, it seems as if the production techniques used from that era were employed here as well and I personally don’t feel it does the songs justice. Maybe this is why the live versions that I’ve heard sound slightly better (with each instrument getting a chance to be in the spotlight).
Other tracks, like “Wyttch” are a bit too hokey for my taste but the music videos are cool. Again, in the minds of the people nothing will ever compete with Mellon in this arena, and though I tend to agree, it does bring a sense of nostalgia that I think fans will enjoy seeing. “Wyttch” is a dark track and the video is just as dark and it probably was the right choice to make it the singe for a video. It’s not plagiarism of their former selves; Corgan looks like a vampire and who can argue the guy isn’t one? He doesn’t seem to age.
Tracks like “Minerva” and “Tyger, Tyger” are also well rounded Pumpkin offerings.
In all, the album is a solid B+ in my estimation. Keep in mind that my opinion is formed from comparing it to the bands opus Mellon Collie. Compared to everything else out there (that I’ve heard, anyway) it would most likely get a higher rating.
How will music history treat this band? That’s my question. For a time they were the biggest band on the planet. I think they’ve maintained a loyal fan base and have been fairly consistent throughout their career. They also didn’t crash and burn like so many others. While I don’t think this matters when it comes to music, I think it’s important to note because they’ve transcended a genre of music. “Tonight, Tonight” will always be my example of this and I’d put that song up against anything released in the last thirty or so years.
CYR is dynamic. It’s really good. Probably good for an ambient listen in the winter or as background music if you can’t devote full attention. But if you do, you’ll find that it’s full of gems. Sit back and enjoy.
Here’s to hoping that the Pumpkins get the respect they so deserve.