Is there something wrong with these songs? Maybe there’s something wrong with the audience!
— Against Me!
I saw the Pumpkins in August and got treated to much of the same: taking the stage an hour and twenty minutes late a la Axl Rose, two extended trippy jams (honestly, if you expect people to sit through twenty minutes straight of echo, delay, chirping birds and bubbling bongs, pass out some fucking LSD already), griping about middle-aged fans who are stuck in the past and only want to hear the old songs (from the guy who just covered a godawful Pink Floyd song), and only a couple songs from each of their earlier albums. Oh, but there was the, ah, unique encore: a cover of Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime”, complete with kazoo solo – seriously. Billy’s alternate lyrics: “In the summertime, when the weather is fine/ you can stretch right up/and shoot yourself in the head…you can tell everyone to fuck off.” The next day, I checked their website and saw that they were supposedly only doing a two-week warm-up tour, and had already announced that they were going to play the same setlist every night. Apparently it was such a success they decided to do it some more. (I remember rolling my eyes upon reading, several years ago, that Billy was taken with New Age pseudo-philosopher and fellow chrome-dome Ken Wilber – maybe some of that narcissism has rubbed off? Not that Corgan has ever been a shrinking violet…)
Of course, I’m all in favor of artists following their muse wherever it may take them, and Billy Corgan has already given me so many songs that I’ll be listening to all of my life, so even if he decides to make a whole record of kazoo covers, I don’t really have any right to complain about it. What does piss me off is the attitude that people who aren’t down with your current aesthetic sensibilities are somehow fake or fair-weather fans, as if we’re obligated to be equally enthused about subpar music.
I first became aware of them in late ’91 thanks to a tiny blurb in the back pages of a guitar magazine, listing this “folk-rock” band as someone to watch out for in the future. I bought Gish and loved it immediately – as most of my friends were asking me if I had heard this new band called Nirvana, I would say yeah, but I really like this band called the Smashing Pumpkins. “Smashing Pumpkins?! What next, Ravishing Rutabagas?! Haw haw!” Two years later, they were blasting “Cherub Rock” along with all the other Lollapaloozers.
I found something to like on all their records. Of course I loved the My Bloody Valentine-derived wall of sound of Siamese Dream, and the Flood-produced stripped down sound on Mellon Collie. Even on Adore, I felt “To Sheila” and “Pug” were as beautiful as anything Corgan had ever written. Machina didn’t really grab me, but there were still a few good songs, and the net-released follow-up, Machina part Deux, had another song, “In My Body”, that I rank with any of their more famous songs. And the Aeroplane Flies High box set of b-sides and other unreleased material was an incredible grab bag of diverse songs. Everything from full-on aggro-metal to soft acoustic ballads to techno-oriented songs to just plain unique things that I can’t compare to anything else; I’ve enjoyed all of it.
Zeitgeist, though, was just plain flat, uninspired and boring. Oh, the critics tried to warn me, but I figured, hey, it’s the Pumpkins; there’s got to be something on there I’ll like. Nope. Even after several listens, I can hardly remember any of the songs. It’s not that it’s radically different than their past efforts, it’s that it just sounds like leftovers that weren’t good enough to make any of the last few records. It’s insulting to be told that it’s somehow my fault for not being able to appreciate that, as if I’m one of those baby boomer-types, listening to a radio station that only stops playing the same classic rock bands from the 60s and 70s long enough to play a “new” band who blatantly mines that exact same territory. I listen to a pretty eclectic range of music, so it’s not that I’m threatened by change, Billy – it’s just that, to quote the cultural critic Butt-head, “I don’t like stuff that sucks.”