By Logan McRay
Ah. The 90’s. “Grunge” exploded onto the popular music scene and a handful of artists would go on to become some of the biggest acts around. Some pretty good (Pearl Jam) and some vastly overrated (Nirvana), all steeped in an unwholesome mix of ennui and nihilism. While some of these acts voluntarily called it a day, the Smashing Pumpkins have persevered under the vision of sole consistent member and main songwriter Billy Corgan.
“Shiny” is the 10th studio album released under the Pumpkins moniker. It also marks the return of guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain. While the formers contribution may go unnoticed, Chamberlain’s creative flourishes mark a stark improvement over Tommy Lee’s mindless thumping on 2014’s “Monument To An Elegy.” Speaking of that album, this one also clocks in at an abbreviated run time of 32 minutes (Elegy was 33). This album was originally conceived as 2 EPs but packaged together as an album. What a departure from the multi-platinum double album “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” (1995).
Late stage Pumpkins is a hit or miss affair. There is an emphasis on releasing “singles” that are packaged together rather than pursuing a grand vision. There are driving, catchy songs on here. Hard hitting “Solara” benefits from scorching guitar riffs and Chamberlain’s hyper-kinetic drum rolls (I’ll pass on the Aerosmith phrasing). “Marchin’ On” sounds like it could have been a Queens of the Stone Age outtake and “Travels” hearkens back to the lush 2012 Pumpkins album “Oceania.”
The biggest misstep for me is the strange opener “Knights Of Malta.” With a laid-back rhythm, gospel singers, and Beck-like vocal effects; this track may have been forgivable on a double album but not the opener of an 8 song LP. I also have no idea what “I’m gonna ride the rainbow” means (does anyone?). Lyrically, that's SOP for most of this album.
Enjoyment of new Pumpkins material is predicated on feelings of nostalgia at this point. There are passable tracks but no standout songs like “1979” or “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.” Rick Rubin, who has worked with Kanye West and Metallica as of late, produced this album. I’m not sure what he really brings to the table other than vegan recipes and beard trimming tips. This sounds like any other Pumpkins album of the last 20 years, just a bit less. I get the feeling Corgan is going through the motions and fulfilling obligations (and paying bills). There’s worse ways to make a living.