Small Bang Theory
Thanks to Eve for sending this review.
Adore, Smashing Pumpkins follow up to the fiery Mellon Collie and the infinite Sadness replaces bellow with mellow. by David Browne
After a wildly ambitious double album, an arena tour millions of records sold-after everything that defines all encompassing rock and roll conquest-the Smashing Pumpkins reenter our lives not with a bang but with a whimper. "twilight fades through blistered avalon," serenades Billy Corgan, accompanied by fragile acoustic guitar picking, on To sheila the first track of Adore. It's hard to imagine a more muted introduction for the official follow up to 1995's sprawling Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Even when a distant beat and spectral banjo waft into the song, it feels like one of those pleasant morsels Corgan or bandmate James iha would have relegated to a Pumpkin b-side. the intimacy and restraint of To Sheila set the tone for the most low key album the pumpkins have ever made. Everything from the tempos to the rhythms to Corgans wail has been taken down a notch. Ballads and mid tempo songs prevail, many of them exceedingly delicate and pretty, nudged along by a ticktocking drum machines and fragile pianos. the album should carry a new advisory sticker: Warning Explicitly Lyrical. Even when the band pumps up the volume on the first single Ava Adore about a love that will tear you apart; the tightly coiled Daphne Descends; or Perfect whose skipping stone beat recalls 1979-the dramatic flourishes are played down, if no less effective. The careening rockers of Mellon Collie felt as if they could knock down buildings; the ones on Adore want to sneak in through the back door.
none of this means that Corgan or his fellow Pumpkins have mellowed. Corgan barely raises his voice to the angsty caterwaul that makes people either love him or hate him, but his voice and lyrics remain unsettled and unsettling. Pretty on the outside the album is a dark and obsessive beneath; lets cll it passive aggressive rock. Repeating the line "you were never meant to belong to me" in Crestfallen. Corgan comes off less like a love lorn man than a creepy stalker. other songs touch upon his feeling for his mother "once Upon a time) and a loved ones death in a car accident (the terrific gothic bolero Tear) All of them are saved from treacly sentimentality by the harsh, adenoidal sharpness of corgan's singing.
Adore is admirable in its consistency. it feels like one extended melancholy ballad, and some of it's songs- for Martha about the recent death of corgans mother and the surrealistic animal farm piano meditation Annie Dog are among his most pulchritudinous melodies. yet that very uniformity works aga inst the record. the unwavering nature of the arrangements leads to some tracks melting into or canceling out each other. Also by depriving themselves of their sonic wallop, the Pumpkins wind up sounding a little ordinary-just another rock band crafting soul purging, semi-unplugged ballads.
In one regard, that may be the point. Adore could be a reaction to the grandeur of Mellon collie and the Infinite Sadness. if the band continued on that track, after all, they could have wound up as their generations YES, meandering into the ether. But the hushed tone of Adore can also be interpreted as a response to the pitfalls of the rock fame the Pumpkins sought so eagerly. Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain were right: Celebrity and Success are a bitch, and all vedder has to do is scan the battlefield to have his deepest fears confirmed. the alt-rock world or what's left of it is littered with drug casualties (most prominently Scott Weiland and bands decimated by egos and excess. (Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots); Pearl jam themselves are on their fourth drummer. Once it became a financial boom Lollapalooza lost its edge and sense of purpose. even when musicians aimed for and achieved a knockout peak, they seemed shaken by it; after soundgarden made Superunknown for instance they coughed up one more record and then disbanded.
The Pumpkins have not been exempt from these travails: Yes they pulled off the double cd and quite magnificently but they succumbed to rock world traps both silly (iha's forgettable solo album) and tragic former drummer Jimmy chamberlin's drug addiction and the death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin. For all we know corgan hasn't been affected by this and is currently lounging around a mansion being fed grapes by groupies. But the scaled back anti-rock sentiment that permeates Adore reads like an act of self preservation. Its the sound of a band pausing, glancing around the landscape, and wondering where they should venture next: a holding action for a time when holding onto reality has never been so urgent. -B+
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