What’s interesting about undergoing a premature album review as it pertains to the creative output of alternative rock legends Smashing Pumpkins is that one year one could be serviced with a complete album spanning eight cuts and clocking in at just over half an hour of runtime, whereas another (zany) year one could be serviced with just as many preview teasers for its follow up—which combined clock in at just over half an hour of runtime—and not even reach half of the pre-announced tracklist length for said very album. Just to make head and tails here, in 2018 Billy Corgan and co. unveiled their tenth official studio album Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun., comprising eight songs and recorded alongside producer royalty Rick Rubin at his swanky Shangri La studio in Malibu, California. Fast forward to two years and a global pandemic later and we find the American alt rockers announcing their follow-up LP CYR in form of a gnarly and improbable 20-track double album, slated for release on 27th November by Washington D.C. and Los Angeles-based indie imprint Sumerian Records.
Intended both in music and spirit to act as a successor to their previous aforementioned project, serving as the second instalment for the group’s ongoing Shiny and Oh So Bright series, CYR began to be teased during this past summer through a raft of mysterious SP countdown timers across the Interweb, which eventually led to the unboxing of synth-pop Ava Adore-ing lead single/title track “Cyr” (“Tangents vex the whorl / The void arrives then leaves / Returning, returning a kiss / For lovers built the dream“) as well as its attached garage/indie B-side “The Colour of Love“—the latter incidentally doubling as the grand record opener. Predictably, both numbers came with luscious accompanying music videos, which quickly grew to reveal a larger five-part cyber-psych animated series outing dubbed In Ashes, written and created by Billy Corgan himself and set to coincide with the ambitious album roll out. Speaking of which, at the time of writing this amounts to eight individual singles parsed out across four separate release slots, giving lucky and thirsty fans more than the average conventional taster amount ahead of the CYR’s complete unveiling. This brings us full circle to the notion of the present ‘perhaps-not-so-much’ premature evaluation of the full piece de resistance dropping at the end of the month.
Subsequently to the initial solid and convincing two-track combo unleashed at the end of August, SP saw fit to start dropping another double single at the end of September, this time in the guise of the sticky, kooky, and eccentric art-pop of “Confessions of a Dopamine Addict” on its A-side (“I’m down for bewitching trains / And cursed tower / The masts blackened / As windswept / Horizons ever sour / If it takes more to find you / Than setting out a fading sun“), as well as the nocturnal indie-synth sensibilities of the soft and tender “Wrath” on its back. Not content with the existing load, just a few weeks later throughout the month of October the Grammy Awards-winning goths chose to issue an additional two double-single bundles within the span of a couple weeks. Leading the streak was the raspy and gritty guitar-lead of “Anno Satana“—sporting arguably the most gratifying songwriting amongst the ongoing promotional eight-pack—counter-mirroring the more subdued and dejected yet adorable B-side “Birch Grove“. Lastly, and fittingly just in time for Halloween, the angelic and compositionally gelid flairs of alt-ballad “Ramona” graced the world’s airwaves with necessary respite vis-a-vis flip-side “Wyttch“‘s gruesome, abrasive, and bewildering spookiness (with a frightful official music video out on Friday 13th, no less)—marking the last and easily heaviest cut unveiled by the quartet in anticipation to CYR.
Any partial artistic inference made to the full LP on account of not even half of its total track count can’t forego the crucial monition of how—unlike for Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. where Mr Rubin was given creative control of the production steering wheel—this record sees Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman Billy Corgan looking after any and all production duties. Nonetheless, and rightfully so considering the ongoing gelling conceptual album series, tracks such as the aforementioned “The Colour of Love”, “Anno Satana”, and “Wyttch” immediately seal a robust sonic continuum with its 2018 predecessor, both in terms of thematic focus and sound delivery. Whether completely intentional or not, one can only assume that at least a portion of that analogue, guitar-led, and driving percussive predicament entrenched in said cuts goes to distill some degree of the band’s true current musical ethos—not a bad thing in and of itself for it’s sounding rad. However, the crispier, cleaner, and glossier new wave synth processing found in flagship singles here, such as the title track, “Wrath”, and “Birch Grove”, hint at a possible return to more lavish late 90s aesthetics, albeit sans the compositional depth seen on Machina/The Machines of God.
While on the subject of studio arrangements and recorded instrumentation inklings, it’s probably worth reiterating that in 2020, aside from the aforementioned singer-honcho Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins is Jimmy Chamberlin on drums, James Iha on lead guitar, and Jeff Schroeder on rhythm guitar—the former two doubling as reverting staples from the legendary original line-up that thrusted the group into international stardom and critical acclaim, back then completed by controversial absentee bassist D’arcy Wretzky. As expected, taping sessions for CYR saw existing members record stems on their respective instruments, whilst aside from synthesizers, additional guitars, vocals, and production duties, Mr Corgan also lied bass guitars to wax for the occasion (additional background vocals, significantly presents on a chunk of the eight promotional singles described above, come courtesy of Sierra Swan and existing Australian touring member Katie Cole). Judging by the hors d’oeuvre SP has served us hitherto, the suite of styles and sounds one is to expect from the full length appears fairly versatile on the ear, ranging from the foreboding distortion of “Wyttch” through to “Birch Grove”‘s culling and sparse caresses, emanating tenderness and endearment from its every musical pore.
With a whole other album’s worth of twelve records off CYR still to be released, and more than half of the projected 72 minutes of runtime left to nothing more than the listeners’ imagination, any definitive appraisal of this album at this point would be reductive at best. Add Mr Corgan’s inherent unpredictability and—for a sincere lack of a better term—creative weirdness on top of the equation, and one soon realises that any judgement bestowed one week away from the album’s street date is as reliable as the next person’s. Truly and honestly though, based off this sample of tracks, CYR does not seem to sport the same oomph, pizazz, compression, and dare I say it even catchiness found throughout Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be stood corrected here once all twenty songs hit the digital streaming shelves and each and every one of these promotional cuts can be savoured within the context of the full conceptual journey, but for as slept-on and underrated the inaugural instalment of the Shiny and Oh So Bright trilogy still is, it’s also proven to have aged robustly well despite—or perhaps precisely because of—being devoid of much promotional bells and whistles fanfare.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
2020, Sumerian Records