Corgan claimed the shoegaze-y electronica of his first (and, thus far, only) solo outing TheFutureEmbrace was intended to stand independent of his past with the Smashing Pumpkins. If that was really his intention, he wound up short-circuiting it with his full-page ads in The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times the day of its release, June 21, 2005. The ads were ostensibly about his new album and his roots in Chicago, but Corgan totally buried the lede : there, in a few lines towards the end of the letter, he announced he was suddenly getting the Smashing Pumpkins back together. Of course, there were the mixed reactions when only Jimmy Chamberlin came back to the fold, some claiming it wasn’t fully the Smashing Pumpkins without Wretzky or Iha. Others pointed out that Corgan had always been the architect of the Smashing Pumpkins anyway, Chamberlin his primary musical and personal foil, and that it was this duo that had been largely responsible for Siamese Dream — so, give the reunion a shot.
Well, it turns out the triumphant return was… less than spectacular. Released in 2007, Zeitgeist was the first Smashing Pumpkins album in seven years, and reeked of a mislead and somewhat callous attempt to recapture the band’s heaviest elements. The most memorable distinction of Zeitgeist — even though it doesn’t quite describe all the music therein — was that it’s the most metallic of any Pumpkins record. Where before Corgan’s metal interests had been shot through with glam or prog or shoegaze, here the rock songs seemed intent on attaining the most snarling, thrashing stance, but really just sound brittle, as uninterested as they are uninteresting. Dully aggro riffs lurch all over this thing, sounding more like a bunch of post-grunge castoffs than the urgent and emotive guitar parts Corgan had written for the Smashing Pumpkins in the past. The nadir is the interminable, tuneless “United States,” plopped right in the middle of things, a yawning black hole at the heart of the record that suggests Zeitgeist might be even more cynical than it is disengaged.
It wasn’t all terrible. “Bleeding the Orchid” fell in line with this heavier half, but has a melody I don’t mind remembering. Even though he’d gone at least the better part of a decade without writing this kind of material, though, the rest of the rock songs sound pretty uninspired, and the more intriguing moments on Zeitgeist are those that depart from it entirely, such as the vibe-lead “Neverlost” or the New Wave melody that opens “For God And Country.” Floaty closer “Pomp and Circumstance” is only OK, but it still seems a bright clearing in the clouds compared to the ponderous slog of much of Zeitgeist. Now that we know of the better things that would come after it, it could be easy to write off Zeitgeist as a bland misfire, maybe a bit of throat-clearing as Corgan got back into Pumpkins mode. However, with his occasional belligerence towards fans who rejected this material in favor of early classics and his continuing annoyance at being expected to play his older, most beloved material live, Corgan’s petulance worsens the sting of how disappointing a return Zeitgeist was, making it easily the most severe musical blemish on the Smashing Pumpkins’ history.