Retrospective Sound: Zeitgeist by Smashing Pumpkins

In the first of a regular series of articles, I’m going to be revisiting my record collection and pulling out some albums I’ve not listened to in some time, starting with this much maligned release from 2007.


If anyone had asked me in the 90’s what my favourite band was I would not have hesitated with my reply; Smashing Pumpkins. Their double album masterpiece Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness absolutely entranced me and I took it upon myself to collect their back catalogue, including singles (the Pumpkins embraced the concept of the B-side as a way of releasing unused material from their albums meaning collectors absolutely had to get the singles to add those rarities to their playlist). After Mellon Collie, the band started to ebb slightly, with band members coming and going, seemingly at odds with frontman Billy Corgan’s desire to experiment more with their music (the follow up album Adore, a highly experimental electronica infused piece was met with fierce criticism on release but has become a strong favourite of mine over time) led ultimately to the band dissolving in 2000. It seemed definite, the members went their separate ways and formed other projects. The Smashing Pumpkins were gone but they’d left behind a hell of a legacy. So, colour me surprised when Corgan announced in 2005 that he was getting the band back together.

Well, the Smashing Pumpkins that materialised weren’t really the band as they had been. The recording group was made up of Corgan and former drummer Jimmy Chamberlin with guitarist James Iha and bassist D’Arcy Wretzky declining to return. The resulting album, Zeitgeist, released in 2007, clearly demonstrates this fractured band trying to reclaim its roots. It’s an album that generally feels unambitious and lacks both the confidence and the grandiose, sweeping sonic vistas of previous albums. The first half of the album, clearly influenced by early metal such as Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, full of crunching, chugging guitars, has a focus on pure guitar and drums with a constant driving rhythm that means many of the tracks tend to feel very similar until the album hist the slower, more thoughtful, Neverlost. It’s a jarring change to suddenly move to more varied material and makes the album feel more like an uneven collection of ideas rather than a succinct record. The albums low point has to be Bring The Light, a track that overstays its welcome after the fifth or sixth repetition of the line “Bring the Light”. God and Country feels surprisingly unpolished and uneven, another odd addition to the album. Pomp and Circumstances ensures the album fizzles out rather than ending on a high.

There are some strong points, though. Corgan’s vocals are poetic but often nonsensical, keeping with the Pumpkins tradition of mixing whimsy with hard rock. Where many bands will lean to “message” songs, it’s this lightness that keeps the listener going. Song wise, the heavy grooves of Doomsday Clock and 7 Shades of Black are both solid openers and lead single Tarantula is a foot stomping corker. Despite this, it’s easy to see why many fans felt let down by the record that they thought would subvert the stale sounds of the early 2000’s and show some 90’s creativity and variety.

Two years after the release of Zeitgeist, Chamberlin departed the band in what can only be seen as a positive move. Corgan continued performing as Smashing Pumpkins, spending the next few years rediscovering the groups sound. This resulted in the mammoth and unfinished Teargarden by Kaliedyscope experiment which saw a number of freely released tracks hit the internet, followed by the commercial and generally well received Oceania which saw Corgan minting a brand new studio band.

Zeitgeist, however, does remain a black mark and a good example of how to misfire when reforming a popular group.

The year wot was…

Time for a change up, folks. Seven months without an update is pretty poor going but, well, I’ve not really felt the urge to speak to be honest. I’ve had a funny old year – I’ve been hugely productive on a number of projects, both work and hobbies; I’ve posted about my films over at Short Cut Films and my music at Stage of History. But for some reason I’ve not felt enthused to come here and talk about video games, movies or web development. Moving house, getting my life in order – these things seem to have taken over a bit but, well… I’m back.

2014 is set to bring about some big changes for me both professionally and… not so professionally. First up – I’m starting a new job! After two years being self employed, something I’ve loved and enjoyed the hell out of, I’m taking up a two year, full time contract at the University of Lincoln as a Research Systems Developer. Basically it’s going to involve distributed databases, open data libraries – all sorts of fun stuff that I kind of dabbled in when I previously worked at the Uni as a CLOCK developer. That’s coming up in January so I should be talking about that soon.

Filmmaking! I had a brilliant year at Short Cut Films, stretching my legs as a producer and pulling together some nine short films which you can watch on the Short Cut Films website. I’m very proud of the films we’ve produced so far and there’s more to come this year, although we’re going to be changing things up a bit. More about that in the coming weeks as we prep our next one which is sure to be a doozy!

Musics! I’ve been playing around with a lot of things musical this year but I’ve only released a handful of tracks including an EP back in July and a new stand alone track in December. You can check those out on the Stage of History website. I’ve got a few new bits in the pipeline there but I’m adopting a “Talk about it when it’s ready” approach. There may be some different things coming up but I need to be sure I’m happy with them before I unleash them on the world!

So, please stick around – things should get a bit more interesting on here in the next few months as I start to talk about my time at Lincoln Uni, look at setting up a home studio for my music and film making excercises, as well as (hopefully) getting back to randomly rambling about nonsensical stuff that you all probably don’t care about!

How the Wii U could have revolutionised console gaming


nintendo-wii-u-blackNintendo haven’t had a good time with the launch of the Wii U. I want to wear my colours on my sleeve straight away here and say I own one, I love it and I think as a console it should be getting the recognition it deserves for trying to do something different with the way we approach playing videogames. The truth is, it’s not. A lot of that is down to the lack of third part support in a gaming environment that requires and thrives on it; it’s disappointing to see developers and publishers drop the machine like a hot potato, although it’s not entirely unprecedented when it comes to Nintendo machines. It’s also down to Nintendo’s perceived family friendly image, bright and colourful games that could in no way be entertaining for a teen audience – of course this couldn’t be far from the truth, but modern gaming craves the thrill of the kill, something that a Nintendo machine rarely delivers.

But, these aren’t new issues for Nintendo; they’ve soldiered on over the years, pulling through the murky launch of the original Wii to have it become the best selling console of the last generation, as well as doing the same for the 3DS. They’re survivors, they produce high quality hardware and software and get the recognition they deserve from the people who know they deserve it.

The Wii U is a very capable system, probably not technically in line with Microsoft and Sony’s imminent consoles, but Nintendo could have done something dramatic that would have given the system a chance to be a real contender going forward.

The hook for the Wii U is the screen in the controller; sometimes this is used to display certain game elements, allowing for greater interaction. Most games also allow you to play the game in its entirety on this smaller screen, freeing you from the TV. And this is where Nintendo should have elaborated. The controller screen works by streaming a video signal from the console, and does not do any computation of its own. But what if it did? What if Nintendo had created the worlds first handheld/TV console hybrid? Wii U is an expensive console for what it is, but if the cost hadn’t shifted and Nintendo had perhaps housed the guts of the TV box inside the tablet, giving it enough on board flash memory to store games and saves, we could potentially have the first high end machine that you can play on your TV AND take with you, rather than having two devices like Sony tried to do with PS3 and Vita cross play.

It’s an intriguing thought and one that bears consideration. The Wii U is not a terrible console. But in an age when console gaming is seemingly becoming irrelevant, the three main hardware manufacturers need to step up their game to genuinely change the way we play. So far, none of them look to have done that, but Nintendo certainly had a chance.

The Flicks has done moved…

Following the recent announcement that Posterous is due to close, I’ve moved my film review site, The Flicks, to a blog. Clicky looky!

I review the films…

Something I’ve been meaning to do for sometime, I’ve set up a Posterous to record my thoughts on films wot I have seen. You can find it here. My philosophy is to post a review for every film I watch going forward, whether it’s something I’ve seen before or something I’m watching for the first time.

Go read!