The Chemistry Returns
It is not known whether Smashing Pumpkins’ guitarist James Iha missed playing his Gibson Les Paul on the band’s new album, Cyr (27 November 2020; Sumerian), but it is known that synths were favoured over guitars in its production. It is also clear that with the guitarist, and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin playing with producer and band leader Billy Corgan again, Smashing Pumpkins are making great music once more.
It has been 25 years since the release of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and it has taken the same amount of time for the Pumpkins’ to release another double album. In fact Corgan has clearly hit a creative goldmine as, influenced by Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy, and Joy Division, he is also involved in an animated series entitled “In Ashes” (produced by Portland animation studio Deep Sky); a 44-song concept album called Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, based on tarot cards; and a 33-track sequel to Mellon Collie and 2000’s Machina/The Machines Of God, due in 2021.
Drummer Chamberlin notes that he and Corgan began planning Cyr (named after the early Christian child-martyr St. Cyricus) in early 2019, with Corgan sending him around 35 potential demos: "Once we got a beat on what the record was gonna be, we had this pile of songs and they either translated to that architecture or they didn’t, and that’s kind of [how we got to] the 20 that we ended up with," he says.
Perhaps it is the catchy guitar riff, but on a record packed with great singles, for me the grunge-influenced track Wyttch is by far the album’s standout song. Wyttch was the fourth single release (paired with Ramona) on 30 October 2020, and its dark electro-rock atmosphere melds perfectly with the occult-influenced lyrics: “Black turns forever, turns to sleep, Black turns confessor, turns to reap”; or, if you prefer it darker: “Samhain, Samhain, Through this harvest tread nigh, All Hallow’s Eve.”
Electro-rock also hits hard on the album’s opening track, and the first single, The Colour Of Love. This catchy drum and synth-driven number contains more heavy lyrics - “And the colour of your love is grey… A vast amount of time slipped away…” – but these are counterpoised by the heavenly backing vocals of Katie Cole (Gloria Gaynor, Kris Kristofferson) and Sierra Swan (The Black Eyed Peas, Ringo Starr).
More disco-pop accompanies the next two tracks, Confessions of a Dopamine Addict and Cyr, which were also pre-released, and Dulcet in E, which refreshingly begins with piano. While the latter has an upbeat rhythm, however, the lyrics remain decidedly obscure: “No flower outlives its raindrop. No tower outlives its hilltop. I’m necromancer and your balm.” Three great tracks follow, the acoustic guitar-driven Ramona; the devilish Anno Satana (which means, oh dear… the year of Satan); and the wonderfully threatening and ominous Purple Blood. Electric guitars return on Save Your Tears; although synths continue to play a major role.
Sadly bassist D’Arcy Wretzky continues to be estranged from the band, but Corgan has nonetheless rediscovered a large part of Smashing Pumpkins’ special chemistry with the return of Iha and Chamberlin. As a result Cyr contains some great melodies and hooks, and does nothing but whet the appetite for what is to come.