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Cyr review: The Smashing Pumpkins are edgeless on their synth-pop experiment

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During the ‘90s, The Smashing Pumpkins were the best alternative rock outfit America offered. Their mix of progressive rock, grunge, shoegaze, neo-psychedelia and heavy metal made their albums full of variety, intensity, and vitality. Cyr is The Pumpkins’ eleventh studio album, the second on their comeback trail (since most of the original line-up is back together) following their 2018 effort Shiny and Oh So Bright. On this project, frontman Billy Corgan saw fit to channel the band’s Adore synth-pop sound and having listened to this double album twice, unfortunately, it’s clear I’ve listened to this twice too many times. 

The Pumpkins are no strangers to varying their sound. Their stunning hard rock sophomore album Siamese Dream sounds nothing like their psychedelic debut in Gish, nor does their sprawling, diverse epic in Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness sound like Siamese Dream. Not to mention Adore sounds as if the previous Pumpkins albums hadn’t existed for the most part. However, this LP is edgeless, lacking in quality musical ideas, and lethargic in delivery. 

For instance, the instrumentals are mostly devoid of the band’s character. Many times I’ve questioned if the likes of guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain are even present among the generic-sounding synth leads, and stiff, robotic drum beats that fill the soundscapes. Only on a few tracks, like the urgent ‘Anno Satana’ and the histrionic ‘Wyttch’, can I tell Iha and Chamberlain are actually contributing to the instrumentals, with their neat guitar licks and kinetic drum work respectively. This makes me question why Corgan felt it would be beneficial to rework a sound that was created when Chamberlain was not in the band, given that Corgan himself has stated how crucial he is to the Pumpkins sound.  

How they feel this material warrants a double album is borderline criminal

Though the most egregious aspect of this whole project has to be the uninspired songwriting. As aforementioned, Cyr is as edgeless and timid as The Smashing Pumpkins could ever hope to be. Corgan incorporates too many instrumental breaks curtailing any real momentum to these songs, which I feel tracks like the opener ‘The Colour of Love’ particularly suffers from. The overuse of Katie Cole and Sierra Swan on backing vocals is not great either, at times their trailing vocals on the hooks and choruses especially can be unpleasant in its corniness. It’s very apparent on the title track, which is genuinely a contender for worst song. The forgettable instrumental, cliched song structure, and a cringeworthy bridge is all introduced in an unforgivably clunky delivery. The choruses and hooks are hit or miss, with songs such as ‘Ramona’ being a particularly annoying example. 

Corgan’s lyrics on this album are pretty verbose too. In the track ‘Dulcet in E’ he refers to “necromancer[s]” and in ‘Wrath’ he mentions how he has “no more strength than Ulysses.” It’s left unanswered, wondering who’s this LP for? Corgan has expressed how he wishes to still make music for contemporary audiences, and that is evident with the myriad of pop-friendly beats on this project. However, it’s difficult to see why any fan of contemporary music would go to The Smashing Pumpkins for their synth-pop fix, and one familiar with the their previous work will feel this LP leaves much to be desired. If there was a Venn diagram that represented established Smashing Pumpkins fans, lovers of contemporary synth-pop, and those who are well-versed in the Classics, the intersection of all three categories would be hopelessly small. 

Of course, there are some decent moments to be found in this work. The production is generally tasteful, especially whenever a crisp acoustic guitar is being played. As aforementioned, tracks like ‘Anno Satana’ and ‘Wyttch’ are definitely standouts. The former grooves hard, and the latter is more than tolerable despite the instrumental and the chorus coming off as garish and slightly clunky. ‘Haunted’ perhaps contains the best hook on the whole LP, and ‘Hidden Sun’ is a neat little number. The closer, ‘Minerva’, is probably the album’s best, as it possesses the most sensible musical ideas out of all the tracks on this record. 

Cyr is another misfire from The Pumpkins. How they feel this material warrants a double album is borderline criminal, given that it comes twenty-five years after their exceptional double album Mellon Collie. This is yet another reminder that Corgan and co. are not the supreme songwriters they used to be.    

Recommended listening: ‘Minerva’

 

 

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