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Smashing Pumpkins - CYR (Album Review)

Monday, 30 November 2020 Written by Laura Johnson

Photo: Jonathan Wein

With each new Smashing Pumpkins release comes guarded excitement from long time admirers. Will they feebly rehash past triumphs and desecrate the legacy they’re loved for, or depart from it completely and risk the same outcome? Never ones to opt for the obvious route, with ‘CYR’ the band have delivered a third option. Here they head into unfamiliar territory while offering up subtle stylistic nods to their formative years.

Cementing the line up that reunited for 2018’s ‘Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.’—founding members Billy Corgan, James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin with longtime guitarist Jeff Schroeder—this 20 track double album was recorded in their hometown of Chicago with Corgan also donning his producer hat this time around.

Unlike its Rick Rubin-assisted predecessor, ‘CYR’ was the product of much rumination, as is the Smashing Pumpkins way. And it shows in compositions that are wholly considered, multi-tangential and expertly executed, as though ‘80s dark wave, goth and electro were their regular wheelhouse.

With a few exceptions, the distorted guitars that were previously the axis on which they revolved have been shelved. 

Opener The Colour of Love sets the synth-soaked tone for the record, which will leave those looking for Jellybelly-esque madness wanting. But this is very much a Smashing Pumpkins album in its all-consuming nature and Corgan’s concept-heavy narratives, which keep the listener at arm’s length despite the music’s efforts to remain accessible.

Tracks such as the stirring Dulcet in E touch on the grandiosity of 1995’s ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ while Wyttch, with its sinister synths, fuzz-fuelled guitars, rumbling bass and bone-shaking drums, beautifully melds new and old while indulging Corgan’s love of heavy metal with its chugging chords.  

The song delves into the Gaelic festival of Samhain, which celebrates the end of harvest season and ushers in winter. As Corgan rarely operates without intention, it’s likely this is him signalling a shift in tone, as the deviation from the dark electro-pop seen on rousing cuts such as Ramona in the album’s first half is in short supply as time wears on.

The Pumpkins are not the band they once were. Like sharks they keep moving, ensuring that they’re in competition only with their own back catalogue. On the midpoint track Starrcraft Corgan declares: “I’ll rock your mind.” He keeps that promise on ‘CYR’. Smashing Pumpkins continue to be square pegs that people try to fit in round holes.

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