OK! The moment you probably haven’t all been waiting for….The epic, to the death smackdown between Billy Corgan and James Iha! It’s well known that they hate each other’s guts and have talked much smack about each other. Who do you believe? Neither, or both…who cares anyway? As they have both released new albums, their music shall do the talking!
Just to reassure you that this is a level playing field, the new ‘Pumpkins album features Corgan as the only original member, so it’s really a solo album. So, who is the most smashing of pumpkins in 2012? Read on to find out! Jimmy’s album was released earlier than Bill’s so he gets to throw the first punch!
JAMES IHA- LOOK TO THE SKY
This is the second solo album from James, the first being 1998’s Let It Come Down, so it’s been a while between solo drinks for our James.
Listening to this album, it’s difficult to believe that James was a guitarist for the Smashing Pumpkins, let alone A Perfect Circle. It’s all very benign and inoffensive. It won’t appeal to fans of hard rock, that’s for sure. The songs are floaty and dreamy with barely a fuzzed out guitar to be heard. That’s certainly no reason to dismiss the album though….so what does it have then? The word that sums this album up is “pleasant”. It sort of combines the meekest moments of the smashing pumpkins with some liberal doses of REM, and resembles upbeat shoe gaze pop that’s arrived two decades too late. There’s nothing awful about it, it’s just rather drab. It’s an album to put on while you do the housework. It’s neither inspirational nor terrible.
There are elements of upbeat synth-pop, particularly on the track “Waves”, but the album doesn’t deviate much from the completely docile alt-pop that was scattered about the airwaves twenty years ago. Strummed guitars, ethereal strings and basic rhythms contribute what little drive there is to the album. It’s all very nice, sure, but there’s no attitude, no rock’n’roll energy, no catchiness and no exceptional song writing. You keep on waiting for some kind of hook or chorus to involve you in the music, but none are forthcoming. Despite featuring guest artists like Tom Verlaine of Television and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it’s all very flat and uninspiring.
Like most albums though, there are some redeeming features. “4th Of July” features a nice alt-country feel with some well executed acoustic and lap steel guitar melodies. The one track that really stands out on this disc is “Appetite”. It’s much darker than the rest of the album and features some disquieting echo effects over James’ voice along with a relentless, almost industrial rhythm. It also possesses the best instrumental performance on the album by far, being the slightly demented but brilliant piano parts supplied by Mike Garson. This track is an anomaly on the album, it’s a mentally ill, honky-tonk, blues, industrial mish-mash that works very well. In fact it works better than any other track on this irritatingly plain release.
It’s good as background music and none of the tracks are egregious in any way, but it’s totally unchallenging and simpering. Recommended if you like the softer side of ’90s alternative music, but take that recommendation with a grain of salt.
James, you’d better hope Billy’s having an off day or you’re going down!
THE SMASHING PUMPKINS- OCEANIA
From the crashing Led Zeppelin inspired chords of the opening track “Quasar”, it’s clear that this is going to be a very different beast to Look To The Sky. It’s a great opening track and makes an immediate impression with its soaring guitar work and driving shuffle rhythms.
Oceania is the 8th studio album from the ‘Pumpkins (albeit, basically a Corgan solo album) and the first since 2008’s Teargarden By Kaliedyscope. From the outset it’s clear that Billy’s pretty much on song here. The album has an epic quality to it, with pounding drums and Corgan’s excellent guitar work propelling it along with a thoroughly enjoyable energy. It’s not terribly different from the works the band produced in their heyday, it combines heavy, rocking numbers with acoustic sing-a-long ballads. This is an album that INVOLVES the listener. There are peaks and troughs in the dynamics, there are crescendos, there are catchy choruses and there’s ROCK! James, you’re in trouble mate!
The production is excellent, the presence of ground-shaking bottom end contributes no end to the overall larger than life feel of the album. There are also influences from the glory days of prog rock. Liberal doses of analogue synths and strings keep it from being just a simple rock record, particularly on the track “Violet Rays”. It’s a busy album, no doubt. It’s multi-layered and complex in production, but it never seems cluttered or confusing.
Billy’s guitar work has never been better. (His vocals seem untainted by father time as well). He mixes crunching Jimi Page-esque riffs with plenty of tasteful solos and quieter acoustic guitar musings.
The record does drop off in quality in the second half though. Some of the later tracks seem rather samey in their lack of intensity and could easily be interchanged with each other (or even included on James’ album!). The album is a little disappointing in this regard. There are some fantastic tracks, no question. “Quasar”, “Panopticon” and “The Chimera” are enormous crunching songs that are among the best works Billy has ever produced. “My Love Is Winter” is sprawling prog-rock with a hook that will be stuck in your head for Aeons! “One Diamond, One Heart” and “Pinwheels” are excellent examples of electro-pop colliding head on with acoustic folk and certainly give the album an interesting mix of dynamics and styles. That being said, most of the other tracks sail dangerously close to filler territory. This disc would have made one KILLER ep that’s for sure, with a whittling down of weaker material. But, as I’ve lamented many times, few bands bother with that format these days.
Despite the weaker moments, this is a pretty good album, it’s easily the best ‘Pumpkins album since the mid ’90s and fans of the band in their heyday should receive it with open arms and ears, as should any fan of quality rock/pop music.
Does there really need to be one? It should be clear who wins this bout! Big mouth Billy may be a bit of a turd, but he’s one talented turd! His album has everything that James’ has (in small doses) but possesses much that James’ doesn’t. Rock, inertia, hooks and dynamics.
Whether or not James is “a piece of shit” and “the worst human being I’ve ever met” as Billy has stated is not for me to say. But I can say this. James’ album is lacklustre and for the most part, quite flat and boring.
Billy, while Oceania isn’t fantastic, you have punched ten shades of shit out of your opponent and smashed him like the pumpkin he is! James, you lose by quite a margin and methinks you need to ice your bruises, get into the musical gymnasium and train like a mofo for your next effort, otherwise it’s relative obscurity and copious helpings of sour grapes for you.