A mere seven years after he called an end to one of the most successful bands of the grunge era, goth-gloom poster boy Billy Corgan has resurrected his most famous band/brand in that hopes that there's still legions of fans aching for more of his patented brand of self-loathing, arena sized glam-cum-indie rock. Of course, the entire landscape of music has changed in their absence - digital music downloads, internet streaming radio, podcasts, emo -- and one can't help but wonder how the downsized (original members James Iha and D'arcy Wretzky are not partaking) alt rock giants now fit into the grand scheme of things; Corgan has always been an album rocker, almost to a fault, but do today's ADD-saturated audiences have the attention span or wherewithal to digest an hour's worth of Pumpkins' bleeding-heart bombast?
Hopefully the answer is yes, because while it doesn't eclipse their earlier work, Zeitgeist is nevertheless a welcome return to form after a pair of failed endeavors on Corgan's part - the mega-talented but rarely impressive Zwan and his ill-fated electronic-tinged solo outing TheFutureEmbrace. Billy hasn't roared this loudly in years, and as the ranked masses of overdubbed guitars announce "Doomsday Clock"'s arrival, it becomes abundantly clear that he hasn't lost his touch with a riff, piling on layer after layer of six-stringed majesty until the whole thing erupts in a hail of Jimmy Chamberlain drumfire and a radio-conquering chorus. Corgan revisits his stardust splattered Zwan persona on the twinkling "Bleeding The Orchid", and conjures a reasonable "Muzzle" facsimile with the circular love logic of "That's The Way (My Love Is)". But more than anything else, Zeitgeist proves that Corgan's penchant for epic bluster remains firmly intact, if not stronger than ever, and in that spirit "7 Shades of Black", "Tarantula" and "(Come On) Let's Go!" are all staunch rockers in the grand Pumpkins tradition, which is to say they mimic Sabbath, Queen and Styx in equal measure.
As a lyricist, Corgan occasionally forsakes his heart for his head -- as on socio-politico diatribes "United States", "Death from Above" and "Starz" -- and while his unique brand of poetry-as-absolution was, at best, era-defining ("Today"), and at worst, cringe-worthy ("Try Try Try"), it seemed forever destined to remain a powerful weapon in the Pumpkins' fierce stylistic arsenal. While he doesn't fall flat on his face as a pundit, but the broad strokes he paints his political views with seem forced and awkward, and the world needs another political songsmith like they need a nuclear war. Besides, everyone knows he's at his best when he gets quasi-mystic and chases falling stars through the realms of his own destiny.
If there's an area where Zeitgest really fails it's in terms of sheer diversity. Sure, you always looked to Corgan & Co. for mountainous swells of buzzing guitars and god-like pummeling, but they were always wise enough to throw in musical curios like "Thirty Three", "Disarm" or "Apples & Oranjes" to help cleanse the palette, so to speak. Here it's pretty much balls-to-the-wall, amps-to-eleven bluster the whole way through, which, like being belted again and again with a sledgehammer, becomes rather daunting over time. While there's nothing inherently wrong with songs like "Pomp and Circumstance" and "Neverlost", they suffer from a landslide of similar-sounding material that comes along earlier in the proceedings.
Anyone expecting reinvention on a grand scale will undoubtedly be disappointed by Zeitgeist. Granted, everything here is done on a grand scale, as is Corgan's usual M.O., but this far into his career, he's doing far more refining than redefining. They still sound like nobody else, which, depending on how you look at it, is either the best news you've heard in ages, or the death knell of a man once hailed as a creative genius. Final verdict: Meet the new Smashing Pumpkins, same as the old Smashing Pumpkins, for better or worse.
"That's The Way (My Love Is)"
"Bring The Light"