Credit: Sven Mandel, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The downfall of the smashing pumpkins

By Maddie Phillips

ATUM – A Rock-Opera In Three Acts is a resounding disappointment and a damning indictment of the band’s decline.

A wave of excitement came over me when I heard the Pumpkins were putting out a sequel to their epic album Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. Along with Siamese Dream, their dazzling 1995 release won my heart; it blends the distorted crunch of grungy guitar with whimsical, twee tunes like Lily (My One And Only)– a personal favourite – all whilst bursting with psychedelic, dream-popy flavours. It’s a really great album, oozing with creative zeal and expressiveness which I am still enchanted by. Imagine the grimace that my once-grinning face gradually morphed into when I sat down to listen to the first two parts of singer/songwriter/dictator Billy Corgan’s latest venture, ATUM – A Rock-Opera In Three Acts (pronounced ‘autumn’), which I can only describe as an ear-splitting disappointment. 

Stretching so far away from that 90s sound that I think most SP fans desperately yearn for, this hokey, operatic endeavour left a bad taste: it’s clinical, bland and feels very fragmented. Sonic quality aside, I could discern minimal narrative continuity from the rich Mellon Collie storyline, which points to one of this album’s fundamental flaws: while their early releases showcase the original outfit’s distinctive, vivid imagination, ATUM’s crass melodies and flat, sterile sound, along with its confused storyline reveal a blatant lack thereof. Do not be fooled by the impressive gong which signals Act I’s commencement, for what follows is Corgan’s autotuned, shrieking voice wailing in cursive over samey synths which amount to nothing much at all. As he says himself in the bass-heavy, terrible track, Neophyte: ‘It ain’t right’…  

There are likeable elements to certain tracks – Katie Cole and Melissa Auf der Maur’s backing vocals on Butterfly Suite and Where Rain Must Fall were catchy and sweet, and Empires has a killer Stockholm Syndrome-style riff. I can appreciate the heavy guitar sound on Beguiled, but as with the tracks already mentioned, its passable elements are crushed – be it by a soporific melody, below-par synth work, or Corgan’s ‘sock-in-mouth’ vocals. Such is the case with most, if not all, of the numbers on the album; every time a song begins to sound remotely not like something I’d scrape off the bottom of my shoe, a giant turd in the form of Billy Corgan’s decaying musical tastes presents itself – and there’s no getting around it. I couldn’t help picturing the ripple of quiet sighs in the studio when his highness decreed the umpteenth, momentum-killing acapella vocal break. These irritating pauses leave songs like Hooligan and Space Age feeling fragmented and often cause tension with no release; I just want to tell Billy to let the instruments breathe! 

I’m not entirely sure what possessed him to start writing toddler music (see Hooray! or Night Waves – both of which remind me of hearing my little sister play My Singing Monsters) – I can only put them down as pure filler tracks with some really awful, processed-sounding drums. What a shame it is to see the masterful Jimmy Chamberlin’s talents go to waste on this album, only to be replaced with the drum machine they swore to ditch for good when D’Arcy Wretzky joined the band in 1988. I think this marks one of my greatest regrets about ATUM – Act I & II – what it lacks is that ‘band’ feel that had all the Pumps singing on Mellon Collie’s Farewell and Goodnight. This just feels like a Corgan solo record, with none of the edge he brought to the table in the good old days… 

Rating: 2/10


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