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REVIEW: Smashing Pumpkins – ‘CYR’ (Sumerian / Martha’s Music)


In a sentence:

Smashing Pumpkins’ ambition exceeds their grasp on ‘CYR’, but at least it’s admirably and respectably different for them.

Whenever I think of why I love Smashing Pumpkins, I go back to their concert video from the Metro in Chicago, recorded around the release of Siamese Dream in 1993. In it, Billy, D’arcy, James, and Jimmy rip through some of the best songs of their career energetically and effortlessly. It’s the reason why I was so infatuated with the group for about six months in the eighth grade. But it’s been a struggle to have any other Pumpkins material allure me in the way the Siamese Dream era has. Their other Nineties records are worthy exceptions, but a majority of their work in the 21st century has failed to reach the quality of their golden age. Sure, this isn’t a new opinion, but there have been eye-rolling failures to move the project forward artistically for a very long time now.

READ MORE: Smashing Pumpkins // ‘Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness’ at 25 years old

On CYR, Smashing Pumpkins’ second album after the official return of James Iha (and the controversial shunning of D’arcy Wretsky), the group delivers 72 minutes of synthpop and new wave infused tracks. It’s a fresh departure from their previous effort, Shiny And Oh So Bright Vol.1, which tried but failed to revive their classic sound. But although this electronic direction is refreshing and provides for some enjoyable instrumental moments, the record still suffers from a lack of sharp songwriting.

Although electronic instrumentation inspired by the likes of New Order and Cocteau Twins have graced their music before, this is the most they’ve featured it on an entire record since 1997’s Adore. But CYR presents the most sonically contemporary Pumpkins record yet. At some points, it does provide the group with a more interesting instrumental palette, but at other points it feels a bit overblown and overproduced. Take ‘Purple Blood’ for example. The drums feel empty and cold, with Corgan’s signature whiny rasp gracing over it, here being processed in a nearly headache inducing way.

But the points where the synthetic hits the mark can be rewarding. On the title track, we get an almost ‘Material Girl’-esque groove with some airy ambient keyboards and backing vocals behind it. It creates a tension that’s actually pretty captivating. ‘Cyr’ also includes one of the more memorable choruses of the record, showing that Corgan can still sometimes carry melodicism.

But other than ‘Cyr’, only a few other tracks have a memorable listen. ‘Ramona’ is another, with a repetitive chorus and acoustic guitar nicely contrasting the electronic rhythm. And on ‘Tyger, Tyger’ we get this record’s best balance of immediate writing and interesting instrumentals. But otherwise, most songs on CYR fail to hit the mark. Especially in the second half of this dense 20-track album, some tracks end up being weak and forgettable. It’s exciting that Corgan and Co. were willing to bring some new flavours to this release, but it’s hard to appreciate it when the songwriting doesn’t match that ambition.

Smashing Pumpkins are as ambitious as ever and jump right into the sound they’re trying to achieve. CYR isn’t lazy, but it could have benefitted with more effort concentrated into the music itself. It’s a respectable effort nonetheless in places, and certainly a noteworthy left turn for the group. (4/10) (Andy Ciardella)

Listen to CYR by Smashing Pumpkins here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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