Music Features

Smashing Pumpkins' ATUM, Reviewed

Here in No Ripcord HQ, it's not easy being a fan of the Smashing Pumpkins. Seeing as the staff are savvy, knowledgeable writers with great taste in music and very much in tune with what's current, there's not a lot of space to cover music that's considered "uncool." And while most would immediately jump on defending cooler alt-rock mainstays like Pavement, I do like to dabble from time to time with the less-popular alt-rock dinosaurs of yore. "Dabble" is a gross understatement, actually. Ask me about the Pumpkins, and I can easily give you an oral history of any of their albums post 2007's heavy, return-to-basics comeback Zeitgeist, which many consider the beginning of the end for the group. Some might think they stopped being a good band after 1993's Siamese Dream, so that's an even more generous assessment. And while you'll find some Pumpkins/Billy Corgan reviews on the site, Zeitgeist was the last of their albums reviewed by anyone but myself. God knows I've tried.

So, where does my mind go the moment Billy Corgan and cohorts announce a 33-track 3-act opera entitled ATUM that acts as a sequel to their magnum opus' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Machina: the Machines of God? I double down, of course. After taking a break from reviewing 2020's goth-y Cyr or their Rick-Rubin produced second comeback EP with guitarist James Iha, Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1, follow me on a magnificently pointless journey as I review each of the album's 33 tracks in the lead up to its full release. Corgan is unveiling each track every Monday via his new podcast, Thirty-Three with William Patrick Corgan, so I'll update this very same page with a short review of my first impressions every week between Monday-Wednesday.

And without further a do...

Track 1: ATUM (Released September 19, 2022)

This instrumental sounds different, though it's not unexpected. Seeing as Corgan is an unabashed fan of prog bands like Rush and Yes, it's not out-of-character to hear the title track use blaring synths comparable to Tangerine Dream's 1978 LP Cyclone. This also troubles me too, as Corgan doesn't have the most solid track record using synths; look into 2012's Oceania as an example of him using them right, while Cyr was a hit-and-miss affair. Corgan mentions Bowie's Berlin period during the podcast as an inspiration, which I can hear, especially Bowie's "Art Decade" off of Low. For those who are worried they're not rocking out anymore, well, let me tell you: this one RAWKS, but more in the space rock vein. We're entering the Dark Side of the Moon, my friends. Though the guitar solo sounds a little obnoxious— think Jeff Beck trying to soundtrack an eighties cop show—it makes sense considering it's the grand opening statement. Jimmy's back in full force behind the kit too, though the production makes him sound a little robotic? Corgan makes references to space, aliens, and all that otherwordly good stuff while describing the track, but I'm mostly sticking to the music and leaving it open to interpretation. Grade: 8/10

Track 2: Butterfly Suite (Released September 19, 2022)

Ok, let me get this out of the way immediately. Upon reading the title, you might think: is there a connection to their hit track Bullet With Butterfly Wings? And yes, there probably is, but I could really care less about the lore behind these albums. Frankly, I don't think Corgan cares much either. The vocal begins with a very theatrical bent, which makes me think Corgan has been watching his Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. A few piano plinks give it something of a bittersweet mood, but Corgan shifts gears immediately with an uptempo groove. I'm a sucker for the Pumpkins' more midtempo tracks (think of Here's to the Atom Bomb or Adore (this one's a 9) single Perfect), and this track follows a similar template as its backbone. That's good. It also throws too much into the wall hoping it'll stick, from fluttering synths to cheesy guitar riffs. That's less good, but like any musical, the excess is warranted. It's a 6, though I'm raising it to a 7 because I like Corgan's vocals—and it reminds me of a lost track off his underrated solo LP TheFutureEmbrace. (7/10)

Track 3: The Good in Goodbye (Released September 26, 2022)

Let me preface my thoughts by emphasizing how much I love Chamberlin's drum work on this. It's nimble and a little showy, but it never loses the plot; essentially, everything you'd want from a world-class drummer who chooses to serve the song rather than impress. Leaving that aside, I'm starting to worry about the direction this album is heading towards. When Corgan explained using a sound effect from Sputnik-1 at the beginning of the track, the first artificial satellite launched by the Soviet Union, I was expecting a graceful transition into a more contemplative, barren place. Maybe the mood starts low, building gradually until it bursts wide open. Are we getting an epic masterpiece like Porcelina of the Vast Oceans again? Instead, we another tasteless, repetitive chugging riff (if you're keeping score, the band's official single Beguiled and Empires, which they've only played live, both utilize this motif to better effect) that transitions into proggy metalcore akin to Coheed and Cambria. And believe me, there sure are many of those if you quickly glance at the mainstream rock charts—a category the Pumpkins have never particularly performed well in terms of radio airplay. Maybe Corgan wants to compete with the likes of Ghost and Between the Buried and Me, but this late in their career, they should only compete with themselves. (5/10)

Track 4: Embracer (Released October 3, 2022)

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the first thing that came to mind when I heard the celestial synth that opens the track. I'm talking, of course, about Pinwheels, an often-overlooked track in 2012's Oceania that served as the album's core heart. With a shimmering repeated motif built around an acoustic strum, the track settled you in a tranquil course before transitioning into some of my favorite harder-rocking songs in Corgan's post-2000s output. Embracer is vastly different, but similar in spirit. Corgan's faith-driven message softly sets the scene to hint at the broader picture of where this story is headed. In this particular case, it's the yearning for connection and how outside forces can potentially align us with one another. I'm not completely sold on this one yet, but I can see this one growing on me with time. I also really appreciate Corgan's more vulnerable poetic musings rather than his recent detours into occultism, one of his more marked lyrical sensibilities as of late. Pumpkins touring keyboardist/backup singer (and singer-songwriter in her own right) Katie Cole's vocals on this one are very lovely, really pushed upfront as we've never heard since she took part in the band's studio recordings. Now, excuse me while I give Glissandra a listen. (7/10)

Track 5: With Ado I Do (Released October 10, 2022)

From what I've heard so far, I'm sensing that ATUM will maintain a sharp musical contrast with each of its three parts. Most of the heavier tracks they've previewed on tour come much later in the album, which hasn't really been an obvious indicator with the first half of part one. With Ado I Do leans more heavily into synth-pop compared to the previous tracks, but it also adds in some modern drum machine patterns akin to CYR. That said, most of CYR's tracklist sounds like rough sketches compared to this cut. Corgan may have saved the best tracks from those sessions for ATUM. And frankly, it's my favorite so far. It's straightforward, but it also has punch, melding some of his past '80s goth-pop influences; think the Cure's crunching guitars, Visage's widescreen synths, or Lords of New Church's hook-driven swagger. It's not as perfect as the latter's Dance With Me, but could anything be? (8/10)

Track 6: Hooligan (Released October 17, 2022)

It took me a while to figure out how I felt about Hooligan. On the one hand, the more I hear each track, the more I'm convinced the first third of the album will definitely follow a similar sonic course. On the other, Corgan knows how to write a really good chorus: I especially like how the synths descend ever so slightly to Corgan's harmonizing. As for the rest, I can't say I'm fully on board. Maybe the repeated chugging guitars are grating me a bit knowing that Corgan can write a mean guitar riff, and even more so knowing he has two talented guitarists supporting him. But alas, I'll be back next week with an equally optimistic open mind. A little more cautious than before, but I'm still here. (6/10) 

Update: It's growing on me, so I'm leaning toward giving it a 7/10 now!

Track 7: Steps in Time (Released October 24, 2022)

I've wanted Corgan to prove me wrong with the direction ATUM is taking. Thankfully, Steps in Time offers another pivot that distinguishes itself from the previous three tracks, taking more of an indie rock direction with its driving rhythm and effortless, hook-driven shifts. It features a prominent synth, too, but the band doesn't use it as a crutch to build the song. Given my comment from last week about Corgan under-utilizing his guitar prowess, the track—its name borrowed from a Fred Astaire-titled autobiography—delivers in spades with a robust rhythm guitar and a terrific ascending guitar solo in the bridge. Somehow it reminded me a little of Zeitgeist's Come On (Let's Go), a charging rocker track that took some time for me to acclimate to when that album initially came out. Maybe even a slightly more metallic version of his side-project Zwan?

One special note: I haven't commented about the guests Corgan has brought on his podcast, ranging from legendary producer Butch Vig to, well, not-so-legendary iconoclast YUNGBLUD. We can further discuss the true intent behind him inviting younger guest musicians he says he respects, which is usually code for “do well in the charts and built their fanbase with the help of major labels,” if we're being cynical. Still, I commend Corgan for bringing in Tegan and Sera as this week's guest for two reasons: his own track has a punchiness similar to the slick, midtempo indie pop the Canadian twins write, and two, he's rebuilding some indie cred after burning that bridge and then some. Leaving aside his brilliant marketing move, Corgan shows a genuine interest in having these candid conversations. He's always been something of a notorious music industry detractor, one he co-exists with for better or worse, but you can tell he's taking some big, unexpected swings in terms of his decision-making on this podcast. (8/10)

Track 8: Where Rain Must Fall (Released October 31, 2022)

During his Thirty-Three podcast, Corgan described Where Rain Must Fall as a "very romantic song" that calls back musicals of the 1930s. Though I made a similar connection on a previous track, the album's first ballad continues with a spacey motif while following the more understated new wave of Eurythmics. I wish I'd felt more of an emotional connection after listening to it, but something fell a little flat for me. The song's extended final chorus is quite impactful, and it'll most likely provoke a more potent response from me once I listen to the LP in sequence. But after listening to the podcasts' numerous ads trying to get me to buy shit, which can go on and on for minutes, I didn't really care about Shiny and June's love story as much as I should. I've always been a defender of Corgan's more tender power ballads, but the constant bright, sanitized synths are beginning to wear me down. (6/10)

Track 9: Beyond the Vale (Released November 7, 2022)

I never completely agreed with the idea that a heavier-sounding Pumpkins automatically implies a better version of the band. Maybe it's the more palatable choice for the casual fans, but those keenly aware of Corgan's more sensitive side tend to prefer something in the middle. This comes from someone who loves the ferocity of Tales of a Scorched Earth but tends to skip X.Y.U. despite being aware of its doom-laden power. Beyond the Vale is billed as having “commercial value,” but it doesn't have the same hooky potential you hear on tracks like Beguiled and Empires (we'll get to both of these tracks later). Now, I understand there's a New Wave of British heavy metal sound to it, a genre I don't regularly listen to. Still, its chugging guitars are set against a click track-like metronomic rhythm that doesn't allow it to cohere in a meaningful way. Out of all the tracks, this sounds the more disconnected to me, as if Corgan had 12 hours of studio time to nail it in one day before moving on to the next track. I hate to sound this harsh because Corgan's vocals sound rather good. And yes, it's not as good as anything on Zeitgeist. Despite its “commerciality,” I hope they don't make this one an official single and let the fans decide its fate, Mayonaise style. (4/10)

Track 10: Hooray! (Released November 14, 2022)

We've reached the part of ATUM that screams “concept” the loudest, and it's already attracted a fair share of discontent. Hooray! has quickly become the target of scrutiny due to its light-heartedness, with some claiming it as the “worst” Pumpkins song to date. I'm here to say it's not even close. Corgan doesn't usually get his due for his sneaky sense of humor, and his carnivalesque detour into AI-controlled nihilism takes a turn into the fantastical. As the album progresses, it becomes clearer how he's essentially fictionizing his fears about government overreach and personal freedoms. Though a little ludicrous for my taste, you can't deny he knows how to hide his intentions well. Musically, if you can even call it that, a goofy, tinny electro beat gives way to a showbiz-like 80s jingle that weirdly channels Arthur Russell covering Styx. I'm probably giving it too much credit, but I appreciate the gonzo, “middle-aged rockstar plays a Casio keyboard” energy Corgan is going for here. “Let's giddyup and off, we want to stray,” he says before it veers into a trippy daydream, and I couldn't be more delighted to saddle up for this very bumpy ride. (7/10)

Track 11: The Gold Mask (Released November 15, 2022 via streaming and featured November 21 on his Thirty-Three podcast)

And here we are again, hearing yet another mid-tempo synth-pop track that channels the unabashed cheesiness of Kilroy Was Here. The Gold Mask doesn't capture the same novelty feel as Hooray!, opting for a more sober lament about a doomed romance, though it does circle back to the textural motifs established at the beginning of ATUM. I just wish Corgan would've ended Act 1 with a grander spectacle; instead, it falls into the predictable synth flourishes he's been fiddling with since the Teargarden-era sessions. At least Jimmy gets to play some nice fills on this one. And as for Corgan, he does lend a greater emotional resonance that justifies his explanation of the album's concept via his podcast. I just don't see myself hitting the replay button on this one. Hopefully, Corgan is holding a few surprises for us in Act 2. (5/10) 


If you've stuck around for this long, I appreciate you joining me into the intergalactic journey that is ATUM. How are you liking the album so far? Did it live up to your expectations? Do you like Beyond the Vale more than I do? I personally haven't heard Act 2, but there's potential for this one being my favorite of the bunch. I really, really like Empires, a track they've already announced will be the next single and it currently being made into a music video. If you're reading this, and it appears many of you are, I'd love to read your thoughts. Feel free to send over your requests, questions, or questions via my personal twitter (@juanerodriguez) or e-mail: [email protected]. I'm planning on recording a special podcast about the album via our podcast Qurantine the Past sometime early next year, and I'd love to read some of your comments on the show. And with that, on with the show!

Track 12: Avalanche (Released November 28, 2022)

Okay, so this one came out of nowhere. I'm, well, stunned. Avalanche is easily my favorite track off the album so far, a shining example of why their sound is so timeless while tailoring themselves for a new audience. Let's begin with that guitar lead. I have to admit, it initially reminded me of Joy Division/New Order's Ceremony, specifically the latter version, with Corgan harnessing the power of repetition in a style he hasn't really explored in a good while. He even acknowledged admitted how he mulled over the track quite a bit and it shows; he's always at his best when he belabors his approach, let's be honest. And is that an EBow, I hear? James Iha fans should feel over the moon now that he's bringing the technique back into a recorded song—presumably, he's playing the part—which gradually develops into a glistening accompaniment that ends with a drop-dead gorgeous guitar solo. Corgan's lyrics are some of his most potent and direct so far, and it makes me wish he'd explore this more sensitive version of himself more often. This bodes quite well for what's to come, and next week we finally get a recorded version of Empires, so you know it's going to be a good one. Act 2 is off to a fantastic start! (9/10)

Track 13: Empires (Released December 5, 2022)

Out of the two new tracks the band played during their Spirits on Fire tour in Los Angeles, California, Empires has slightly won me over their current single, Beguiled. The proto-heavy metal track, which opened the show, just kicks ass, and you can tell how Corgan wanted to emulate bands he grew up listening like Scorpions and Black Sabbath. I was a little worried about hearing the studio version, given the heavy emphasis on synths throughout the project so far, but luckily, the band does clever studio trickery to give the track something of a shapeshifting mysticism. So yes, this is, in essence, a rock song without synths. The chord changes also take non-linear dynamic shifts, from the subtly psychedelic breakdown bridge to the Arabesque tonality heard on albums like Gish. It's less metallic and less psychedelic, so don't expect Gish version 2.0. The band strips out the sludgier-sounding elements and abrasive distortion of past metal-inspired tracks like An Ode to No One and Heavy Metal Machine, following fairly traditional instrumentation as Jimmy Chamberlin stays in the pocket throughout. It's kind of a departure for the band, but it feels true to this phase in their career. That's a resounding 2 for 2 in Act 2 so far; well, 3 of you count Beguiled, but we'll get around to that one soon enough. (9/10)

Track 14: Neophyte (Released December 12, 2022)

Corgan brought in Katie Cole in his latest podcast with good reason: she's an integral part of the concept album's latest track, Neophyte. Also previewed during the Spirits & Fire tour, the solemn ballad has one of the more memorable choruses thus far, on which a confident Corgan vocally struts throughout the verses over Cole's sultry backup vocals. There's a haunting quality to the track that recalls the gray-hued tonality of Peter Gabriel's early '80s solo work, particularly when he was at his most romantically gloomy. It's also the track that best exemplifies how the glistening synths unravel the grandiosity of his concept and certainly has grower potential—one that hasn't totally hit forme yet, but I wholeheartedly appreciate it. Not since Eye has Corgan sounded so self-assured about a track's longevity, and I sense he's not wrong. (7/10)

Track 15: Moss (Released December 19, 2022)

Within the album's context, I can understand how Moss is a full-on propagandistic chant with cheeky intentions. As I previously mentioned, I've been trying to avoid Corgan's political views on free speech, which some of it I can agree with but not entirely. With every odd episode or so I listen to, I'm always on the verge of cringing before he walks it back with knowing self-awareness. Because let's be honest, the parallels here are impossible to ignore. But something about the track works, from the stomping percussion and crunching guitar leads to the muted bridge that leads into a full-on assault. And if Corgan hadn't even mentioned it, I wouldn't have noticed that the chorus goes “meow.” This is how a militaristic chant should sound! But as a standalone track, I'm a little less impressed. I can't see myself hitting repeat on this one unless I'm listening to Act 2 from beginning to end, which is the point, of course. (7/10)

Track 16: Night Waves (Released December 26, 2022)

I can expect a lot of you to appreciate Night Waves, but to be honest, I think this is the first misstep in Act 2, and it's not even close. Something about the track's carnival-like drum pattern immediately reminded me of Cyr's Dulcet in E, but compared to that track having an actual melody, nothing about this fine mess has anything resembling one. It starts promising enough with more of those spacey synths we've come to expect throughout the rock opera, but boy does it veer off the rails once the chorus kicks in. I'm not sure why Corgan added a dizzying synth motif that doesn't add absolutely anything to the track; the synth programming tinkering sounds amateurish at best. Contrary to the self-aware silliness of Hooray!, nothing about Night Waves suggests a similar kind of treatment, one that otherwise has a celebratory tone. Chamberlin plays the drums on the track's final chorus, which feels like adding insult to injury. The lack of consistency here baffles me, which validates my suspicion of how Corgan attempted to write over what is essentially a rough draft of Dulcet in E. (2/10)

Track 17: Space Age (Released January 3, 2023)

What a wild ride this has been! We immediately transition from my lowest-rated track to the highest, the starry-eyed ballad Space Age. The steady, dreamy melody Corgan carries has a similar DNA to TheFutureEmbrace's Pretty, Pretty Star, inarguably one of the loveliest tracks on that album. But it's so much more than that! Of course, there's an intimacy here that follows Corgan's solo pursuits, but its fullness confirms how it bears the Pumpkins' name instead. Similar to that track, Corgan sings a higher register to match its cooing lullaby, which progressively builds into a gorgeous midtempo heartbreaker with a chorus fake-out smoothly transitioning into a stitched-together second section featuring Cole's vocals. It's quietly inspired, confirming how some of the Pumpkins' best songs always give us a little something special to accompany a strong lead. Examples I can think of are how the heaviness of Everlasting Gaze mingles with a hint of shoegaze during the chorus, or the hypnotic, modulated bridge of The End is the Beginning is the End. Here, it's the little hint of a disquieting drone accompanying an otherwise glistening vocal performance. There are so many layers within Space Age, a track I instantly love and hope to discover even more as my appreciation for it deepens with time. (10/10)

Track 18: Every Morning (Released January 10, 2023)

Another stunner! I sincerely believe that Every Morning, like last week's track, could compete with some of the finest works in their vast catalog, which isn't too surprising if you consider the band's long history of writing knockout album-oriented songs. I'm also delighted to admit that there isn't an obvious touchstone in terms of what it reminds me of. Sure, you could say there's some of that anthemic synth-pop sheen reminiscent of Orchestral Manoeuvers of the Dark, or a less organic-sounding Dire Straits (the guitars kind of sneak up on you!). But really, this sounds like an ATUM song through and through. I appreciate Corgan's simple yet effective lyrics. “In requiem, we try,” he muses with an open heart, a sentiment that feels so star-crossed yet so alive. Even clocking in at over six minutes, I feel like the track could've gone longer and I wouldn't have minded. It may end slightly abruptly, but the band allows the needed space not to rush halfway into the track where it's most poignant. Corgan was right about how strongly he feels about Act 2; it really is shaping up to be the emotional core of ATUM. (9/10)

Track 19: To The Grays (Released January 17, 2023)

After praising Every Morning last week, any impression I'd have for this week's track would never reach the same heights. Admittedly, I was afraid of the album suffering another colossal downfall, but To The Grays follows with simple, lighthearted guitar-pop with synth flourishes reminiscent of '90s-era New Order. What the track lacks in percussive swing, it more than makes up in its embellished guitar work, smartly interspersing a dual guitar interplay over Corgan's hooky vocal chorus. It's more on the midtempo side, but it suits Act 2's more sanguine sequencing, opting for an upbeat pace instead of going off on any strange tangents. (8/10)

Track 20: Beguiled (Released September 20, 2023)

I've often wondered why the Pumpkins haven't had much success trying to break through the alternative charts like other juggernauts from their generation in the last decade. Something changed starting in 2012: not the right timing, budget, or proper connections to reach as many radio stations as possible. Even after announcing the “James is back in the band” Shiny & Oh So Bright Tour, the singles from the accompanying mini-LP, Solara and Silvery Sometimes, failed to make an impact despite enjoying a monetarily fruitful and critically-acclaimed tour. Oceania, which debuted at number 4 on the Billboard 200 Charts, struggled to produce a hit single, even if they tried with the twinkling, underappreciated power ballad The Celestials.

This leads me to Beguiled, the band's biggest hit since Zeitgeist's Tarantula in 2007. Maybe there's a newfound appreciation for the band, or younger listeners are gravitating to their sound, but the first single off ATUM is unquestionably the strangest in their long career. It's not necessarily the strangest in a musical sense, but more so in how it's resonated with so many people when it lacks any of the signature quirks they've implemented to even their most straightforward tracks. And Beguiled certainly is effective in its simplicity, whether it's the palm-muted riffs perfect for a wrestler's entrance, the British New Wave of Heavy Metal homage, or the right-wing friendly “return the faith” chorus. Maybe it's not intentional, but it sure can be left to open interpretation. Though one of the less remarkable singles in their career, Corgan played his cards right in choosing it as a single. It's now competing with the likes of Ghost and Nickelback in the active rock charts. And while they still don't have quite the popularity of Weezer and Paramore's latest offerings in the alternative charts, they've been flirting with a top ten placement for over a month now. Though their recent uptick seems fleeting, it's nice to learn they can still try to punch above their weight against today's pop heavyweights to reclaim past success. (7/10)

Track 21: The Culling (Released January 31, 2023)

Released in conjunction with the album rollout of Act 2, The Culling is a contemplative ballad with a gothic tinge that initially feels like one of the more minor statements during this second act. There's a strong feeling of things winding down both musically and conceptually, and it repeats some of the synth motifs heard on the title track. But Corgan carries on not with a whimper but a subtle bang, whether it's a histrionic guitar solo squeezed in halfway into the track or a choir of Pink Floyd-ian proportions. Maybe it's due to its fairly dry recording, but something about the production doesn't really let it soar as it should. It's not a bad track, by any means, but it demonstrates wasted potential. (6/10)

Track 22: Springtimes (Released January 31, 2023)

A commonality many of the tracks in ATUM share, and that's including the good tracks, is how they're mostly linear. Once they begin, you pretty much know what to expect before they conclude. This is not the case with Springtimes, the tender conclusion to Act 2. Sure enough, the track begins with another synth motif that, curiously, emulates classic British folk music. That is, until it actually becomes British folk, as Corgan plays pastoral fingerpicking in a way I can't recall him doing so nakedly outside of his solo output. “But wait/these fates knock darkly,” Corgan sings over the spellbinding acoustic guitar progression, ending Act 2 with an uncertain closure. There's also quite the dramatic guitar solo before the track winds down, which adds an unnecessary flourish, but it doesn't work to its detriment, either. All in all, it's the perfect way to close what I believe is the strongest of the two acts we've heard so far. (8/10) 

Track 23: Sojourner (Released February 13, 2023)

It pains me to feel underwhelmed about Sojourner since Corgan feels so happy about what he accomplished with the track. Mind you, there are many things I enjoy about this MIDI-sounding excursion: the steady, Pink Floyd-ian drum work, the lush and opulent strings, and the faint use of psychedelic motifs. Even counting those positives, truthfully, I found myself a little bored. In the podcast, Corgan mentioned going the cheaper route by not bringing in more tactile instrumentation. But if you're aiming high with a limited set of tools, maybe it's worth reconsidering bringing in actual strings and a full chorus. He's always excelled at this kind of bloat, but when left to his own devices, I wonder if Sojourner would've benefited from a producer telling him to go the distance. And frankly, I don't think Howard Willing has the courage to tell him “no” more than he should. (5/10)

Track 24: That Which Animates the Spirit (Released February 20, 2023)

Sigh. Act 3 is not looking so good, folks. Proggy heavy metal is back with a comeback in a big, big way in this track, and I can't find myself to care. That Which Animates the Spirit (cool title, I guess?) is marginally worse than Good in Goodbye, with chugging, theatrical guitars throughout that grate rather than glide. Another facile comparison to Goodbye: it lacks that track's kickass drum solo. You could blame the use of repetition found in most rock operas to justify its lack of bite, but for such an involved track, every element sounds so flat and lifeless. Again, I feel compelled to blame the production's overall lack of dynamics—and not Katie Cole's spirited backing vocals can save it. Which also leads me to wonder: would it have been too much of an effort to buy Iha and Jeff Schroader a plane ticket to Nashville to play guitar alongside Corgan and Chamberlin? Something about the track feels strangely disconnected to me, and it's making me wish they would get this Roadrunner Records-sounding phase out of their system so they can move on to better things. The fatigue is starting to build up. (4/10)

Track 25: The Canary Trainer (Released February 27,2023)

I can breathe a sigh of relief. The Canary Trainer takes a surprising turn I didn't expect after being underwhelmed over the first two tracks of Act 3. I'd dare to say it's one of my favorites in the entire project overall. Though comparisons to TheFutureEmbrace will inevitably get thrown around, I don't see it. If anything, it reframes the rhythmic groove of the track Cyr but with less bounce. Here, Corgan taps into full-on '80s synth soul, the kind you'd hear coming from session aces like Mr. Mister and Mke + the Mechanics—who became stars with their fleeting yet indelible hits. There's also a bit of Peter Gabriel, whom I've referenced in this feature before, especially in how Corgan captures an ethereal mood to complement its lushly arranged strings. He's already proven to write solo records that span different genres—whether it's goth, country, or '70s singer-songwriter—and a part of me wishes he could write an album filled with synth-pop ballads. As a quick aside, I also think Corgan shows great restraint while exerting his vocal range. More of this, please! Overall, I love this track wholeheartedly. He can really take you places when he aligns his pop smarts with musical sophistication. (9/10)

Track 26: Pacer (Released March 6, 2023)

There's nothing too showy about Pacer, but as the track that follows the Canary Trainer, the transition couldn't be any more apt. Considering the use of synths has been mostly linear throughout, it's a surprise to hear Corgan pushing himself to create a rhythmic, danceable pulse that leans closer to the music of Greenwich, NYC duo Phantogram, a band he's previously mentioned really admiring. Digging a little deeper, I also hear a vague resemblance to artists who got their start in the mid-aughts like Vitalic and Goldfrapp. Corgan still filters the music through an '80s synth-pop backdrop and Katie Cole's ethereal vocals, playing with an urgency that sounds fitting for a sweaty workout. And that ending, what can I say! It's lovely how the synths recede into a celestial haze before easing into meditative contemplation. It'd be a missed opportunity if a producer doesn't come up with an extended mix. (8/10)

Track 27: In Lieu of Failure (Released March 13, 2023)

I don't know about all of you, but aren't you all tired of Corgan complaining episode after episode about their 90s-exclusive fans? I mean, I get it. It's completely understandable for him to bring it up in a show or two, or a casual mention here and there, but it does confirm how no amount of success can change one's self-image. I bring this up because Corgan indirectly mirrors his insecurities on In Lieu of Failure, which he believes approximates the band's 90s output. I think it's more representative of some of the late 90s post-grunge groups that followed the Pumpkins, but not them! The righteous guitar work wouldn't sound out of place somewhere between Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, plus his vocals sound a little more feral than usual, but producers Flood or Butch Vig wouldn't apply its glossier sheen. I should reiterate: I'm not necessarily against different kinds of production. I just don't see how it bears a resemblance to past efforts. That said, the track is fine, I guess? It's effective, but it lacks the kind of tuneful hook Corgan usually adds to the band's heavier moments. (6/10)

Update: this one's also growing on me, so I'm giving this one a 7/10 now!

Track 28: Cenotaph (Released March 20, 2023)

I can imagine anyone having a soft spot for Billy Corgan's solo efforts, especially the underrated Cotillions, or even acoustic songs in Adore enjoying Cenotaph as I did. Similar to Springtimes from Act II, the track builds from a minimal foundation to capture a more intimate and unplugged feel. Even so, I like how the chunky synths mingle with Corgan's unfussy acoustic strumming, reminding me of Pink Floyd's The Great Gig in the Sky in the best possible way. Cenotaph is far less dramatic—with no high vocal soulful registers here, and all the better for it—but Corgan delivers one of his best performances on the album. He said he recorded the track feeling a sense of desperation and finality, and I can see the duality of both sentiments coming together at once. (8/10)

Track 29: Harmageddon (Released March 27, 2023)

Hoping for the Pumpkins to play Harmageddon during their recent stop at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, I was left disappointed. Not only because they played a slightly shorter set than in other cities but because I had anticipated seeing what is one of the band's purest hard rock tracks in over fifteen years. One could argue that it relies on its chugging too much or that it's a pale imitation of 80s thrash. I, for one, don't care. Does it sound a little like Ministry? Absolutely, and I am here for it. The repetition here is intoxicating, commandeered by Corgan's metallic riff before transitioning into a somewhat softer chorus. The band even throws a short yet effective guitar solo at the end similar to the psych motif found in Empires, which should make fans of Gish very happy. The other obvious reference found here is any alt-metal track on Mellon Collie, take your pick, but Tales of a Scorched Earth shares the closest resemblance, albeit in a slower tempo. While it sounds familiar, the band proves once again that they go straight into uncharted territory and come back unscathed. (9/10)

Track 30: Fireflies (Released April 3, 2023)

Out of every song on ATUM, aside from With Ado I Do, Fireflies more strongly recalls the unabashed drama of 80s new wave. It has a very simple song structure, but perhaps that's its strong suit. The haunting use of synths in the verses transitioning into an Ebow-accentuated chorus immediately reeled me in, with a stomping, anthemic chorus that funnily made me think of how Imagine Dragons should write a song instead of falling into a tasteless chant. Maybe that band should learn a thing or two from him, or maybe not, seeing as doing precisely that has given them incredible success. Seriously, Act 3 is quickly becoming my favorite of the three acts. (8/10)

Track 31: Intergalactic (Released April 10, 2023)

If there's one thing Corgan can't resist with most Pumpkins albums, it's writing that one momentous epic. Clocking at almost 9 minutes, Intergalactic is atypically unembellished by name alone. No elaborate titles that allude to vast oceans or ghost children here. We know we're on an intergalactic conceptual journey, and he lays out how the story's denouement is about to unfold. The track takes a more contemplative tone amid pulsing synths, but the tension increases as Corgan's voice fades into the distance. Once it reaches its John Carpenter-like soundscape, the band stops everything before launching into its busier second part. And yes, my friends, Jimmy Chamberlin lets it all out—hitting every tom drum with gusto like he hasn't done since Zeitgeist's United States over a repeated Arabesque motif. Even if his drum solo is technically impressive, I don't find it particularly inspiring. Just like most Pumpkins cuts that are longer in length, Intergalactic does take enough dynamic shifts to keep you interested throughout. And though it requires a good amount of investment in following the album's concept, Corgan leaves enough space to appreciate its surprisingly lean arrangement. This one will most likely grow on me, so I'm scoring it more conservatively for now—even if I can see myself rating it higher in the near future. (7/10)

Track 32: Spellbinding (Released April 17, 2023)

Spellbinding is one of the most unusual singles in the band's history. That's not to say that it's completely out of character for them by any stretch of the imagination, but it's gutsy of them to embrace more of a power pop direction. I wouldn't call it a surefire hit, and maybe Corgan is overestimating it somewhat, but it does have a hook-driven chorus that could easily appeal to rock radio. So let's give credit where it's due, especially in how those guitars kick in when its catchy chorus hits. I wish Corgan would've simplified the verses because it all feels a little disjointed; it could've been a better match for a more rock-driven project, not a rock opera. Maybe he intended for the track to appeal emotionally and intellectually, but there's just too much going on here, whether it's the tacked-on synths, the elaborate lyrical approach, or the slightly unsyncopated rhythm. The latter of those approaches initially throws you off, but good for Chamberlin to change gears instead of coasting with a more basic backbeat. Overall, a little more focus and keener production sense would've elevated this track from good to great. (7/10)

Track 33: ATUM (Released April 24, 2023)

I'd expected ATUM to conclude in a more understated style, though Corgan wouldn't seize the opportunity to finish the album with a grand finale. Of Wings offers the kind of quirky, prog tone it deserves, as Corgan repeats "Opus Dei"—which translates to "Work of God" in Latin—before transitioning into a calm pairing of ambient synths and Chamberlin's low-key drum work. There's nothing particularly showy about how it ends, which relieves me. Still, I'm struggling to entirely connect with this conclusion, which I'm well aware has a spiritual quality that is beyond my comprehension. Having heard his entire discography, I think that ATUM comes closer to letting us in into Corgan as an individual—who's become more humbled and patient as an artist despite struggling with deeply-rooted insecurities. And this track does feel like the ending of a period of deep introspection and experimentation for him, though I'm not entirely sure where it will lead. (6/10)

And this concludes my thirty-three-week-long journey into this behenoth of an album. I'll most likely take a week or two to fully absorb it once it's officially on streaming platforms, on which I'll gather my thoughts before potentially giving my final thoughts accompanied by an official score.

Update: final thoughts and final review can be read here! I hope you've all enjoyed reading this feature.

Smashing Pumpkins on No Ripcord; further reading:

Smashing Pumpkins, Zeitgeist review
Smashing Pumpkins, Oceania review
William Patrick Corgan, Ogilala review
William Patrick Corgan, Cotillions quick take
Zwan, Mary Star of the Sea review