Those of you hoping that the Smashing Pumpkins’ comeback record is an unmitigated disaster will be disappointed. It’s not. Those of you afraid that head Pumpkin Billy Corgan made another The Future Embrace (his synthpop, somewhat cheesy 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 briefly for one extended period of instrumental wankery on “United States,” a song that ends up functioning as a transition into 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, heavily influenced by wistful shoegazers such as My Bloody Valentine, dominate. The ghostly synthesizers (very Scary Monsters-era Bowie) and cloudy drones of “For God and Country” also feel fine, and the guitars of “Doomsday Clock” scream in like a bottle-rocket and distort almost immediately, complementing Chamberlin’s Animal-from-the-Muppets drumming.
Sure, a few weak tunes sound like Smashing Pumpkins karaoke, and Zeitgeist‘s tricks aren’t quite as revolutionary today as they were when the Pumpkins debuted — just as 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 pomp and circumstance.