A lot has changed in the music industry in the last 20 years. We've seen a lot of death: major record labels, hair metal, nu-metal, grunge, guitar solos, electronica, compact discs, ubiquitous platinum selling artists, touring, general artist promotion, high-end recording studios, and radio. We've also seen some exciting changes: digital singles, portable digital players, independent record labels and artists, satellite radio, social networking, home studios that rival established commercial studios, streaming online shows,and ubiquitous sources of music such as YouTube, TV, movies, and video games. So with such changes in the environment artists live in, it's interesting to see how some artists who lived in the "old" system are adapting to the new one. Artists such as NIN, Carly Simon, and Wheatus seem to be able to cross-over quite well. Billy Corgan's Smashing Pumpkins are striving to bridge the gap as well.
A 44-song, multi-year collection of songs entitled Teargarden by Kaleidyscope(TGBKS) is the current release from the Pumpkins. As each single is being release roughly every 6 weeks from each other, fans have to wait patiently for the next chapter in the Pumpkins' musical journey - both artistically and just as importantly financially.
Each song is being released in a high-quality, non-DRM mp3 for free from their website http://www.smashingpumpkins.com. At some point, fans will have the opportunity to buy a box set of all of the songs with artwork, lyrics, and a bunch of other unspecified goodies for a given price. The questions I have for this endeavor are:
Song For A Son
This is the first song released from TGBKS. It's also the first song featuring drummer Mike Byrne who's replaced (my personal favorite drummer) Jimmy Chamberlin after an amicable split with Corgan post touring for Zeitgeist. It also features production and engineering from long-time Pumpkin cohort Kerry Brown. This somber song ties in a lot of "non-traditional" Pumpkins instrumentation such as organ, piano, and synthesizers. These additional sounds give a "nu-psychedelia" vibe harking back to bands such as The Beatles, The Yardbirds, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and The Doors. Byrne's drums are recorded in such a fashion that they give a "vintage" sound to the recording. The guitar solos are absolutely Pumpkins with screaming bends and harmonized progresions. Corgan's voice is as whiny as ever but still listenable to my ears. Lyrically, the song deals with the trials and tribulations of a being someone's son; particularly, how sons relate to their fathers (Corgan has well-documented father issues many of which he's worked out and continues to work on).
In a traditional sense, this wouldn't be my first pick as the first song to release to introduce this new record. I actually do like the song but it's by no means a "single". Granted, Corgan claims to not be interested in releasing a traditional record with traditional promotion; hence, that should bear no relevance as to how the song should be perceived. Yet, I think it's an inescapable reality that non-musically related idiosyncrasies influence the reception of the artistry. With the line-up changes, the controversial stage banter and attitude taken by Corgan while on tour, and the Ghost of Pumpkins Past beckoning the group to play "the hits" only, the new music has a lot to compete with if the goal is to gain popularity and acceptance. This song could've been released third or fourth in the series after releasing songs that would establish a bridge between fan expectation and their current musical direction.
Widow Wake My Mind
"Oh. Oh oh. Oh. Oh oh."
This song is much more in the traditional Pumpkins vein with a hint of nu-psychedelia. I love the interplay between 6/4 and 4/4 time signatures. Lyrically I don't really get the song so it may require more spins for me to come up with a meaning for it. Mike Byrne is much busier on this song with flurries of drum rolls between verses and choruses; yet, he hasn't given me the indication that he's "the future" of the group as Billy has been quoted. I am sure he can play his arse off but he's got mighty big shoes to fill. Hopefully future songs will feature more interplay between the guitars and the drums like most Pumpkins songs. Again, I like the song. This one would be more appropriate to release as the first song for the public.
A Stitch In Time
Now, this song seems to be the most "Pumpkin"-esque song yet. I feel the 1960's coming through the speakers in this one. The acoustic guitars set the tempo and beat and the leads are played by an organ with sitars playing counter-melodies. The mix is also much better balanced between the instrumentation and Billy's voice. It reminds me of something I would hear off of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (MCIS). So far, I like this song the best.
It looks like Billy's put his mind to something huge. I hope he actually sees it through. It would be a triumph artistically and socially in that nobody's ever done it before. I look forward to more tracks and more Pumpkins!