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Despite being the most popular and best-selling alternative rock band of the '90s, Smashing Pumpkins always had a somewhat dated quality to their sound due to their affinity for '70s metal, poppy melodies and cheesy arena rock. Billy Corgan's lyrics were as full of alienation and outsider musings as were Pearl Jam's and Nirvana's, but his music was more bombastic, drawing on psychedelia, Boston-like "boys night out" FM classic rock guitars and fist-pumping anthems. That's what made albums like Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness such generational touchstones.
Time, however, seems to have left the Pumpkins behind. Corgan's post-Pumpkins band Zwan went nowhere, and an underwhelming 2005 solo album The Future Embrace left few fans clamoring for a band reunion - even the pseudo-reunion found on Zeitgeist.
Guitarist and bassist James Iha and D'arcy Wretzky wisely declined to rejoin the group leaving Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin to handle the chores, which probably suited the creatively possessive mastermind just fine. Allowed to run wild in the studio, Corgan creates a thunderous wall of sound on Zeitgeist that butts up against his own ego.
For a good two-thirds of the album he prefers a mind-dulling metallic drone which hammers the already anemic melodies into a TKO submission. Only the more hook-filled mainstream rockers "That's the Way (My Love Is)," "Bring the Light" and "(Come On) Let's Go" come close to recalling the band's heyday. And the kind of dreamy symphonic pop that Corgan patented a couple decades ago which emerges on the closing "Pomp and Circumstance" is a case of too little too late.
Once singing to and for an entire lost generation, Billy Corgan seems quite lost himself on Zeitgeist.
Twilight of the Innocents
Irish punk-posters Ash have gradually lost their abrasive edge they broke out with as teen wunderkinds and settled into a chiming power pop groove that suits them well.
Twilight of the Innocents, likely the band's swan song, is full of concise, guitar-driven, hook-filled pop songs, a little short on originality, but long on spirit. Guitarist/singer/songwriter Tim Wheeler has developed into a topnotch frontman - part Liam Gallagher, part Bono. The powerhouse opener "I Started A Fire" is a nearly perfect synthesis of punk spirit and pop heart, a height that most bands would stake their careers on. Unfortunately, that peak isn't reached again on any of the subsequent songs.
Which doesn't mean they don't try. With the departure of guitarist Charlotte Hatherey, the band's trio interaction is more streamlined and focused. Whether channeling Green Day on "Blacklisted" and "Polaris" or delving farther back with Glen Tillbrook and Squeeze influences permeating the breezy "Ritual" and the Marshall Crenshaw-worthy "Shadows," Ash is a band that can honor the past while sounding totally current.
Frustrated over their relative lack of success, especially in the US, the band announced they'd probably not be releasing any more albums, and would concentrate on singles and touring. But with any justice in the world, Twilight of the Innocents should be the album to make Ash a household name.
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