With Billy Corgan having overseen numerous works of myth-laden grunge rock and spent much of the past decade releasing chunks and snippets of an unfinished 44-song concept album called Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, based on tarot, it’s not surprising that his quasi-reunion of the original Smashing Pumpkins line-up is turning out to be anything but straightforward.
For a start, while guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin are back on board, bassist D’arcy Wretzky has claimed she was excluded from sessions, in interviews detailing the unbearable stresses of being in the band in the 90s.
And the traditional comeback nostalgia tour – the Pumpkins’ will be themed around their Melon Collie And The Infinite Sadness commercial peak – will have to wait until the release of a 33-track concept album sequel to Melon Collie and 2000’s Machina/The Machines Of God, due in 2021.
In the meantime, the band consolidated their reconnection with the brisk grunge-pop throwback album Shiny And Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 in 2018, and continue that multi-part project with Cyr, their eleventh album, which, rather than rope back more old fans with dewy-eyed reconstructions of Disarm or Tonight, Tonight, invents what we’ll call ‘mythnopop’. Bear with us.
While Iha’s guitars remain satisfyingly gnarled for most of the 20 tracks on Cyr, Corgan’s runic lyricism (Minerva is named after the Roman goddess of war, Ramona and Wyttch come packed with hexes and spell-craft) largely comes attached to upbeat, enigmatic synth-pop. It’s kind of Arcadian electro, if you will.
Whether emulating the noir-tronica of Depeche Mode on Purple Blood and Telegenix, or coming on like an EDM Jean Michel Jarre on the title track, it’s a concoction that shouldn’t work but does.
The mystical imagery of phoenixes, devils and ancient kings trace a through line to the Pumpkins’ roots in the sweeping and epic, while the album’s electro-pop clarity highlights Corgan’s sharpest collection of melodies in some years.
There are moments of harder hitting electro-rock, such as Wyttch and The Colour Of Love, and even some industrial grinding on Anno Satana (which translates as – gulp – ‘year of Satan’), but the more modernist stretches suggest that the old-look Smashing Pumpkins are determined not to be hog-tied to their past; the gorgeous Save Your Tears isn’t a million psychedelic kaftans away from Tame Impala.