Sound — 7
Billy Corgan has been on a fairly anti-climactic roller coaster for the past 10 years. After losing 2 key figures of the original Smashing Pumpkins, Corgan has just not been able to quite make things click musically. Yes, there will always be his staunch devotees who adore every note he plays, but albums like Machina/The Machines Of The Gods and his brief outing with Zwan failed to live up to the glory days of Siamese Dream. Now with the Smashing Pumpkins' latest offering Zeitgeist, the creativity is still somewhat inconsistent. There are moments of brilliance on the 12-track record, but things get a little odd when the political side of the Pumpkins takes over. When Corgan released a full-paged add in the Chicago Tribune in 2005 to express his desire for a Smashing Pumpkins reunion, the action only lured in drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. Some may argue that Corgan has been the mastermind behind every Pumpkins' song anyway, so Zeitgeist shouldn't suffer from having only 2 original members. It's true, the album is absolutely centered around Corgan's trademark riff work and nasaly-yet-powerhouse vocals. While there are standout moments, the songwriting unfortunately doesn't live up to earlier works. If you're a fan of the early '90s era of the Pumpkins, you'll relish in the song 7 Shades Of Black. The primary riff has a strong similarity to Melon Collie's XYU, and the song just gets better from there. Between an unexpected key change and solid backing from Chamberlin, it's easily one of the best tracks on Zeitgeist. By now it's likely you've also heard the first single Tarantula, which likewise has that sonic-sounding guitar line running through it. Tarantula doesn't quite match up to a classic like Geek USA or Cherub Rock, but it still features a brilliant solo that (when you listen through headphones) almost sounds like 2 dueling guitars. Bleeding The Orchid starts off with a Beatles-esque harmonized intro and represents the best of the slower-tempo tracks on the album. Corgan really delves into harmonies on Zeitgeist and it paid off. The moments that really come to the forefront are the instances where Corgan throws in layer upon layer of vocals, adding a whole new dimension to the tracks. The harmonies only play against the band in Pomp And Circumstances, which at times feels eerily like a track that could have been on My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade. Corgan adds in some la-la-las at the start with more Beatles' flair and it just feels a little contrived. That particular track is the closer, so it just feels like it's trying too hard to be the grandiose epic of the collection. Zeitgeist has plenty of moments that have been obviously well-constructed and thought out, but the songwriting is just not as memorable as past Pumpkins' releases. For God And Country features a very cool, but subtle synth/piano track underneath everything, but the song itself is somewhat dull. Bring The Light has almost a love child feel to it, but the positive message can't masquerade the mediocre songwriting. All in all, the production quality on the entire record is exemplary, but that's not enough to make a flawless album.
Lyrics — 8
Smashing Pumpkins' fans know that introspective, emotional lyrics have been at the core of Corgan's work in the past, but the frontman has decided to go political this time around. It's understandable that the present state of America is troubling to Corgan, but some listeners might find it all a bit too much. For God And Country is the main offender, and it gets a tad repetitive on top of everything. Corgan sings, For God and country, I'll fight; For God and country, I'll die; For God and country, my soul is so alive, my soul is so alive. The theme is absolutely significant, but it is a distinct jump from the romance-driven lyrics he's written in the past. The subject of love is still represented on Zeitgeist, but there's been a definite decrease in the amount of songs dedicated to it. That's The Way (My Love Is) and Bleeding The Orchid are the most prominent examples, with the latter being the most memorable. Corgan sings, If life is my witness; Love is my song; If nothing means no one; Then blank, I belong. The lyrics are laid out fairly simply, but there's still a poetic quality about them.
Overall Impression — 7
If you're a Pumpkins' fan like this reviewer, it's never an easy thing admitting that Corgan, Chamberlin, and newcomers (bassist Ginger Reyes, guitarist Jeff Schroder, and keyboardist Lisa Harriton) fell short. Zeitgeist does not match up with earlier releases, but it's not an overwhelming disappointment by any means. Some reviews have been merciless, and that's probably directly related to the fact that Corgan has been, shall we say, a domineering personality in the past. If you can get past the personalities, the album is still fueled with some classic guitar solos courtesy of Corgan, and tracks like 7 Shades Of Black and Bleeding The Orchid prove that the Pumpkins still have some magic in their arsenal.