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Smashing Pumpkins – Teargarden by Kaleidyscope: A Continuing Series

By ; December 8, 2009 at 9:13 PM 

Smashing Pumpkins - Teargarden by Kaleidyscope

A while back, Billy Corgan announced that the new Smashing Pumpkins album, his first as essentially a solo act following the departure of longtime drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, would be released track by track on the band’s official website. The album, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, would then be released in a series of EPs and finally in some kind of fancy deluxe package when the whole thing is done.

My opinion of Corgan is complicated. In his best moments, he is without question at or near the top of my shortlist of favorite rock musicians of the post-Cobain era. During their initial run, from 1991 to 2000, the Pumpkins brought a much-needed sense of ’70s classicism to an alternative-rock scene that was becoming increasingly obsessed with somebody’s idea of “authenticity” and the concept of selling out. When he feels like using it, Corgan’s talent as a songwriter is tremendous. He has made three albums, 1993’s Siamese Dream, 1995’s monster double-disc Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and 1998’s criminally underappreciated Adore (which I recently wrote about at length), that would get very serious consideration on any best-of-all-time list I might make in the future.

But at the same time, I’ve pretty much reached the end of my patience with him. The red flags first appeared in 2005 when he took out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune announcing an imminent Pumpkins reunion. The news came on the same day that his solo debut, TheFutureEmbrace was released, and at the time I couldn’t figure out whether he timed the announcement to draw attention to the album or as a distraction from it (take a wild guess how that worked out). Shortly thereafter, it would be revealed that only Chamberlain would be returning from the band’s classic lineup. Easy enough to forgive–the most well-known lineup was only intact on three of the band’s five original albums (two, if legends about the Siamese Dream sessions are to be believed)–but when he debuted the new version of the band in concert, it looked an awful lot like he went out of his way to replace James Iha with an Asian guitarist and replace D’Arcy Wretzky with a female bassist, and just hoped nobody would notice. The band’s “reunion” album, 2007’s Zeitgeist, wasn’t half bad, but Corgan’s bizarre promotional strategy of releasing several different versions of the album with different cover art and bonus tracks at the biggest national chain stores you can think of, completely alienated the struggling mom-and-pop retailers that were the first ones to sell the band’s music.

And those are just the relatively minor head-scratchers. Since then, Corgan has made headlines for berating fans at shows for not liking his new music as much as the classic Pumpkins material, dating Tila Tequila, testifying before Congress in favor of the Ticketmaster/LiveNation merger, carrying on by himself under the Pumpkins moniker after Chamberlain bailed, and offering a pricey subscription service for fans to watch him record an album that to my knowledge never actually got recorded. And that’s saying nothing of this.

I’m going to try something new here. Corgan released the first song from Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, “A Song for a Son,” today, and if he is to be believed, the rest of the songs will be out one at a time over the next several months. Given his recent track record, I’m not expecting all 44 songs to be good. In fact, I’d be shocked if half of them were worthwhile. Zeitgeist has about 6 or 7 songs I still enjoy, and I haven’t been impressed at all with any of Corgan’s other recent material, judging from live recordings I’ve listened to. But you know what? This guy wrote “Disarm,” “Zero,” and “Ava Adore.” If he can come up with 12 or 15 keepers over the course of this project (roughly an album’s worth), more power to him.

So over the next few months as Corgan rolls this thing out, I’m going to review each song as it’s released. I’m rooting for him (something I never thought I’d say again), but my expectations are firmly in check. On this page, you will find a link to each song review. After a few songs are out, I’ll give the album an overall grade, which I will adjust accordingly as each new song is released. Don’t look at this as a conventional review–think of it as more of a running diary of my first impressions of each song. When the album is out and I’ve had time to digest it all, I’ll write a more conventional review review of the entire body of work. Stay with me through this, it could be fun. And if it doesn’t work, at least I won’t have failed as badly as he has over the last five years.

Teargarden by Kaleidyscope:
1. A Song for a Son (December 8, 2009)
2. Widow Make My Mind (January 28, 2010)
3. A Stitch in Time (March 3, 2010)

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