Smashing Pumpkins: Still Relevant, Or Just Rotten Apples?

As the 90s king of teen angst Billy Corgan prepares for a tour almost 23 years after the Smashing Pumpkins were formed, has his music become irrelevant, or is it just as powerful as ever?
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As the 90s king of teen angst Billy Corgan prepares for a tour almost 23 years after the Smashing Pumpkins were formed, has his music become irrelevant, or is it just as powerful as ever?

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With new UK tour dates announced, 90s giants the Smashing Pumpkins are experiencing something of a mini revival. Egomaniac front man Billy Corgan and his band will play seven shows in the UK between the 11th and 19th November this year. The shows are expected to sell out, which raises the question in my mind of whether the Pumpkins can still be relevant after all this time?

Formed in 1988, the band originally consisted of Corgan, guitarist James Iha and a drum machine. Corgan then met D’arcy Wretzky when the two had a disagreement about a band they were both watching and he recruited her on bass, because who wants to be in a band with people they like? Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin completed the line up and the band went on to massive success with albums including Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

The tour on which the will embark in early October comes more or less 23 years after they were formed. Of the original band members, only Corgan remains to play what he refers to as, “My music. Yes, MY music.”

Songs like Cherub Rock, Zero, 1979 and Bullet with Butterfly Wings all remain brilliant songs. The Pumpkins had a sound like no other and their songs are still instantly recognisable thanks to Corgan’s grating, unique vocal, Chamberlin’s driving drums and some incredible guitar riffs.

The real question is, how seriously can you take a 44 year old bald man singing songs that he wrote in his early 20s, songs about teen angst, alienation, and feeling separate, isolated from the rest of the world? Take the song Today, for example. Corgan captured perfectly the emotions of feeling like there is no point, the moment of realisation when it finally dawns that nothing really matters. The problem is, if that day ever came for Billy Corgan, and I imagine it did, it came at least 25 years ago.

Does this make the song itself any less relevant to people who might be experiencing similar feelings now? No. What it does mean is that Billy Corgan is no longer relevant. Since reforming in 2005, the Pumpkins have had almost universally bad reviews for the new music they have produced. He is no longer the dark, misunderstood twentysomething he was when most of the band’s best work was written and released. The music speaks for itself, but it no longer tells the story of what life is like for Billy Corgan. Rather it describes what used to be.

The real question is, how seriously can you take a 44 year old bald man singing songs that he wrote in his early 20s, songs about teen angst, alienation, and feeling separate, isolated from the rest of the world?

Along with the tour, it was announced that the entire back catalogue of the band would be remastered and rereleased over the next three years. While this could easily be seen as simply a money-spinning exercise designed to get fans going out and buying Pumpkins records again, I would like to think it’s something more than that.

In contrast to the tour, which I think is a misguided act to which Corgan has been driven by his ego and his inability to let his music speak for itself, the reissuing of the band’s back catalogue is something I completely understand. Forgetting the tour for just a minute, it can be seen as Corgan not wanting his work to pass a new generation of teens by unnoticed.

I wasn’t there when the Smashing Pumpkins were first successful, but I was close enough that I heard about the band from friends. There is currently a generation of teenagers being fooled into believing that the likes of Jared Leto and his band 30 Seconds to Mars, and My Chemical Romance are the closest music will get to understand them. I would like to think that Corgan has noticed this too and that, rather than just hoping to earn some extra cash of nostalgic ex-teens and their memories, he wants to offer his music to the teens of today to claim as their soundtrack, just like those before them did.

But that’s just my opinion.

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