Those of you hoping that the Smashing Pumpkins’ comeback record would be an unmitigated disaster will be disappointed: It’s not. Those of you afraid that head Pumpkin Billy Corgan made another The Future Embrace (his synthcheese solo album) will be happy: He didn’t. With drummer Jimmy Chamberlin the lone member of the classic Pumpkins lineup remaining — a good move because his influence keeps Zeitgeist reigned-in and focused — Corgan embraces the quintessential hit-making calculus that brought him critical respect and rabid fandom in the early 1990s. Distortion, noise, heavily layered vocals and quiet-to-loud dynamics permeate the first half of Zeitgeist, letting up only for one extended period of instrumental wankery in “United States,” a song that ends up functioning as a transition to the second half of the album, which contains keyboard-heavy (and poppier) songs. Highlights include “That’s the Way (My Love Is),” on which sheets of melodic guitar dominate; the ghostly synthesizers (Scary Monsters-era Bowie) and cloudy drones of “For God and Country”; and “Doomsday Clock,” in which guitars scream in like a bottle rocket and distort almost immediately, a companion to Chamberlin’s Animal-from-the-Muppets drumming.
Sure, there are a few weak tunes that sound like Smashing Pumpkins karaoke, and Zeitgeist‘s tricks aren’t quite as revolutionary today as they were when SP debuted — much the way other grunge-era bands sound far less dangerous today than they did in 1993. But fans of a certain age (20- and 30-somethings mostly) who were inundated with Pumpkins music in high school and college will find Zeitgeist familiar, if not nostalgia-inducing. It’ll be more interesting to see how a generation of kids weaned on bands influenced by the Pumpkins — especially Muse, Silversun Pickups and My Chemical Romance — respond to Corgan’s distorto-pomp and circumstance.