Some bands find a genuinely fresh spark of inspiration in their second life. More recent reunions have led to great new albums from groups like Sleater-Kinney, LCD Soundsystem and Slowdive. By comparison, The Smashing Pumpkins, former heroes of ’90s alternative rock, have not been so lucky.
Things have been far from smooth sailing for original members Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlin and James Iha since the band’s almost complete return in 2018. A public feud with former bassist D’arcy Wretzky left a sour taste in fans’ mouths. On top of that, comeback record Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1/ LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. was, by all standards, a total disaster, painfully nondescript and seemingly void of personality.
If that album signaled trouble for the future of The Smashing Pumpkins, then the band’s latest singles, released Aug. 28, are as big a final nail in the coffin as it gets. Here, the band takes another empty swing, this time at the sounds of new wave synth rock, and fails harder than they ever have before. There’s no sugar coating it: “Cyr” and “The Colour of Love” are two of the dullest songs The Smashing Pumpkins have ever released.
“Cyr” lacks noteworthy elements of any kind. The drums pulse along in a way that feels entirely automated, supporting an arrangement of synthesizers and a bassline that are supposed to sound menacing, but lack any edge. Even Corgan seems totally out of place on his own song, putting on the style of Depeche Mode even though it doesn’t suit the band well at all. The Smashing Pumpkins sound uninteresting, and they don’t sound particularly interested either.
Lyrically, “Cyr” is insufferably vague to the point where Corgan’s words are entirely stripped of tasteful rhyme or reason. Corgan fills the song with lines that somehow lack both subtlety and clarity. Not even the most forgiving listener could excuse the appearance of ugly, overly wordy lyrics such as “Tangents vex the whorl/ The void arrives, then leaves,” much less explain what they mean. Lines such as this run throughout the song — phrases that insist on being cryptic while coming across instead as incoherent science fiction.
“The Colour of Love” is the more successful track of the two, though it doesn’t fare much better. While a livelier rhythm section and the occasionally noticeable presence of Iha’s guitar barely give the song something to justify its existence, what’s here isn’t exactly exciting. In fact, the level of craftsmanship on display is astonishingly low. No part sounds particularly inspired, as if each member of the band knew they could get away with doing the bare minimum.
You can even hear it in the vocals. Corgan’s wailing loses its charm almost immediately in the refrain, becoming more of an annoyance as he drones on and on through the song’s end. The Smashing Pumpkins haven’t ever sounded this limp or monotonous — a new low for a band whose creative output seemed limitless all throughout the 1990s.
“Cyr” and “The Colour of Love” are total duds. These are empty shells of songs, loud enough to be mistaken for having signs of life, lame enough to be mistaken for self-serious parody. The release is one of the year’s biggest disappointments from a group capable of creating songs that feel timeless and distinct, such as “1979” and “Cherub Rock.” Surely, when Corgan sang “the more you change the less you feel” on the greatest The Smashing Pumpkins song of all time, this is not what he meant.
Vincent Tran covers music. Contact him at [email protected].