Nearly 30 years since the release of their first album Gish, The Smashing Pumpkins are on the crest of a second wave. When Shiny And Oh So Bright was released in 2018, it marked the first long player made by three of the band’s four founding members since their unexpected reunion. Now singer Billy Corgan, guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberin have completed the sequel, Cyr, and look set to follow up one of the peaks of their output, 1995’s Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness.
That they are a fully functioning band with a long term future is seemingly beyond doubt – and confirmation of normal service being resumed comes with Corgan’s continued profligacy in the songwriting department. He is a man machine, writing music like his life depends on it. For CYR he created a shortlist of 35 to share with Chamberlin, reducing them to a still-formidable 20 songs for an album lasting just over 70 minutes.
Business as usual, you might think – and this work is still a mere slip of a thing when measured against Mellon Collie. This time however the sound is different. With Corgan himself in the producer’s chair, there is a sleek finish equating to a beefed-up version of Adore, the band’s 1998 album. A lean undercarriage supports a strong body of synths, electronic percussion (Smashing Pumpkins with handclaps!) and comfortably supported guitars. The processed feel is humanised with powerhouse drums, backing vocals from Katie Cole and Sierra Swan and, of course, the lead singer’s distinctive nasal tones.
Corgan is in a relatively controlled mood this time around. Songs like Ramona, The Hidden Sun and The Colour Of Love are radio friendly, electro-tinged numbers that you might expect from The Killers. All very impressive, but lacking the killer edge we have come to expect from the Pumpkins’ pioneering work.
CYR itself is excellent, strutting into the open with the confidence of mid-1990s Depeche Mode. Wytch is very impressive too, the grooviest of the 20 songs and by some distance the most interesting rhythmically. The swooning Haunted and Black Forest, Black Hills have memorable choruses, while The Hidden Sun and Save Your Tears dazzle, their banks of keyboards and wispy vocals offering a starry backdrop. For all the electronic influences, CYR could never be derivative with Billy Corgan singing. His voice is easier to determine in this mood, the lyrics easy to hear if not always to understand.
The words remain on the dark side. “All hail the blackest night”, goes the chorus of Starrcraft, while Save Your Tears invites us to “swoon in chorus grays”. The album opener is also lacking in lighter shades, for “the colour of your love is gray”. The driving percussion and gritty synths give CYR its substance, but too many of its songs occupy the same musical and emotional space, delivered in similar tempos and musical keys. Birch Grove is a pleasing exception. A woozy, hazy production with a march-like drum beat, it retains at its heart a show of strength: “As my seedlings grow, and grow towards someone, someone else, the birch grove stands for us.”
Corgan, then, has made the contemporary pop record his heart has been chasing. Now it is out of the band’s system, it will be interesting to see what they have planned for the much-vaunted Mellon Collie follow-up. CYR may be a good record, but even with its overblown 20-song length it leaves the listener wanting more, given the context of this band’s capabilities. That is where the true excitement will lie for Smashing Pumpkins fans, craving music of less predictable form and greater variation than is to be found here.