Every other weekend I get my daughter for visitation. The drive to pick her up/drop her off is a time vampire, so it’s always a fun thing for us to listen to some music to make the round trip more enjoyable. I have some of her favorite songs on my BlackBerry Passport (which wears many hats, one of which is my music player) to keep her happy, but every now and then I like to throw her a curve ball and dig deep within the vault of music from when I was younger to keep her repertoire cultured and diverse. One time I decided to reach WAY back into the mid 90s and picked an unreleased gem entitled “Siamese Dream” for her to listen to. Keep in mind that my daughter is only nine years old and leans towards Nick Jonas and Taylor Swift as most kids her age do, so when she was able to identify that the band performing the song was the Smashing Pumpkins, I was both proud and impressed. But aren’t the Smashing Pumpkins no longer together? Wasn’t their last album completed in 2000 and distributed online for free (Machina II: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music)? So how is it that a child can identify a band that was before her time? It’s simple. The groups that my daughter favors are ones that do not have a real voice for their generation, but it’s that absence that she and others continuously seek to fulfill. No matter how young or old, anyone can hear words of hope, reassurance, and life situations they can relate to, and she has identified as much through the songs she has been introduced to which include those of the Smashing Pumpkins. Though the melodies change, the message is always there, and ultimately that is what people gravitate towards.
While unbeknownst to some, the Smashing Pumpkins are very much still a band and continue to remain relevant and create new material almost annually (ranging from a song or two to a full length album, with 2014’s “Monuments To An Elegy” being their most recent work). I’m not the only one still listening to them, and the fact that they can have an impact on my daughter is astounding given the current state of pop music and the stronghold it has on today’s youth. Whether you’re an old fan from their heyday, or simply in search of something different (which is how ‘alternative’ music got its name), the material the Smashing Pumpkins are cranking out now has the elements of what made them a hallmark on the alternative scene some decades ago blended with new sonic guitar riffs and synthesizers that hearken back to the Classic Rock and New Wave bands that they grew up listening to. What you get as a result is the same band that was larger than its four original members; the Smashing Pumpkins were always an idea and a movement forged to combat the lack of imagination and depth that was poisoning the airwaves. As long as the mainstream industry as a whole strays off into run-of-the-mill acts with empty words and lousy hooks, the Smashing Pumpkins will always have a reason to stay and fight the good fight.
If you weren’t aware that the Smashing Pumpkins were still making albums prior to this article, then I invite you to begin your listening journey with Zwan, a band created by Billy Corgan with founding Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. Zwan’s “Mary Star of the Sea” effort from 2003 (basically seen as a pseudo-Smashing Pumpkins album by many fans including myself) was critically acclaimed but the band was short lived, disbanding only a year after the debut album was released. Zwan was followed by Billy Corgan’s 2005 solo album, “TheFutureEmbrace”, which was nothing short of a brilliant experimentation with heavy electronic instruments and synthesizers; some might say that it was not well received due to the absence of Corgan’s typical layer upon layer wall of guitars and heavy drums approach, but that’s what made it even more crucial towards progression.
Those two projects laid the foundation for the first Smashing Pumpkins studio album in seven years since closing down shop (reformed with Jimmy as well with the addition of guitarist Jeff Schroeder as a permanent member), 2007’s “Zeitgeist”. The only two members not present in this ‘reunion’ of sorts were founding guitarist James Iha and bassist D’arcy Wretzky, but Billy was publicly open about the fact that he was trying to renew and revive the band regardless of its lineup (he even took out a full page newspaper ad explaining it in great detail before the album’s release). Zeitgeist was a powerhouse and had a few extra singles such as “G.L.O.W.” and “Superchrist” but it was the Zeitgeist companion E.P., “American Gothic”, that really had some of the strongest work of that era which was conceived during the course of the supporting Zeitgeist tours. After “American Gothic”, one stray studio song was issued for a Hyundai Superbowl car commercial, “F.O.L. (Feel Our Love)” which was a blast of distortion and trademark Smashing Pumpkins goodness; unfortunately, it would be the last recorded with Chamberlin who exited the band shortly after its release.
The departure of Jimmy Chamberlin sent Billy Corgan back to the drawing board, and out of that brainstorming session, 2009’s “Teargarden by Kaleidyscope” was born. It was intended to be a 44-song album released for free a few songs at a time over the course of several years with physical E.P.s and a boxed set available for purchase in limited quantities, but in 2011 they scrapped that progressive idea (since the free singles were getting positive feedback) and instead decided to give the traditional album format another shot with “Oceania” (considered to be part of the 44-song collection) It was a fantastic album, but it was apparent that the band was experimenting with each track looking to find a place where they were most comfortable. For the next couple of years things would remain relatively quiet in terms of new material and the band would instead invest time in box set reissues of vintage material.
Emerging late 2014 as a much more stripped down band with Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee on drums, the Smashing Pumpkins released “Monuments to an Elegy”. The consequential sound was such a stark contrast to what they had done in previous years that it felt like Billy was feverishly trying to return the band to its original mission from nearly thirty years ago: make music that THEY want to make without regard to money or fame. They are markedly better for it in every track, and there is definitely something for everyone. This is why no one knows the Smashing Pumpkins are still around: they have integrity. IF they have something to say and WHEN they have something to say, they will do so on their terms. They refuse to spend all day chasing their tails trying to cater to the masses, and that’s absolutely a band worth listening to.
If you have any inclination to rekindle your passion for the Smashing Pumpkins, I recommend following the time line as described above to get the full progression of how their music evolved. If after that any of the albums have grabbed your attention, look for “Day for Night” later this year as the Smashing Pumpkins continue their musical crusade.