The Maverick Returns

By Paul Rigg

It can’t be easy being Billy Corgan.

The maverick Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman penned a stream of smash hits in the ‘90s, filled stadiums across the world and earned himself an army of loyal followers.

His huge desire for a return to the spotlight saw him build bridges with drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and guitarist James Iha but - whoever is to ‘blame’ -, without bassist D’arcy Wretzky. In the process, Wretzky accused Corgan of having ‘a shitty voice’, ‘being manipulative’ and potentially having ‘a brain tumour’.

As if that was not difficult enough, other critics have stuck the boot in harder with the Pumpkins’ tenth offering, Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol 1, released 16 November 2018. One reviewer, for example, has slammed the lyrics for being totally and utterly vacuous. Another, writing about the content, said: “There is, in fact, almost nothing here at all. In the annals of ’90s bands that have reunited to thrust a new album into the void where inspiration used to be: Shiny might contain the least imagination, the least personality, the least effort, the least love. […] There is nothing for you here.” 

On the other hand, Corgan’s decision to work with producer Rick Rubin has been called a ‘masterstroke’ because of the album’s added bite and focus (there are just eight tracks on it, totalling around 30 minutes).

There is certainly some truth in all of this. Firstly, the lyrics are not really worth quoting. If you want to have a chance of enjoying this album it is best to look past those and focus on the music. And here there are undoubtedly flaws as well, but the album has what many fans want: the Pumpkins’ stamp. The strong beats and the distorted guitar riffs are both there, and most essentially the man himself adds his distinctive voice, and guitar, and pulls it all together.            

Knights of Malta
, that kicks off the album, is not one of Corgan’s best pop songs but it does have something about it, with its big piano chords, female gospel style vocals towards the end and the swaggering frontman wielding his 1974 Fender Billy Corgan Strat to fine effect.

The following track, the lead single Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts), is similar in that it is not going to be a Pumpkins’ classic but it will be welcomed by fans and does have a catchy hook and some charm about it. The next track, Travels is not as strong, but again it holds its own. On the other hand, Solara, that follows, contains dirty riffs and a profoundly gloomy hook, which makes it one of the standouts on the album.

Marchin on
continues in a similar vein, this time with Chamberlin’s heavy drumming breathing life into the song. Chamberlin again shines on the album’s final track Seek and You Shall Destroy, which is more upbeat and offers another strong riff to close.   

Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol 1
is not one that is going to be added to the list of classic Smashing Pumpkins’ albums but with Iha and Chamberlin’s presence and Corgan’s iconoclastic style, it is bound to be warmly received by many fans. It can’t be easy being Billy Corgan; but then he can’t be anything else.