Everyone has a band that first "changed their lives," so to speak. Mine was the Smashing Pumpkins. My first guitar is covered in SP stickers; I'm donning an SP tee (and a flannel!) in my senior class photo; I even went so far as to create an original, SP-inspired work of art and mail it to the band (after getting it printed on a different T-shirt). The Smashing Pumpkins were my first musical obsession, and, during the mid-'90s, they were a worthy one.
So you can imagine how heartbreaking it was for me to actually feel ashamed when purchasing Zeitgeist, the band's first release in seven years, at Music Millennium's soon-to-be-closed Northwest location (original post here, WW News story here). The feeling wasn't based on any too-cool, SP purist notions (the album features only two original members: frontman Billy Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin); it was based on the decision—by either the band or Reprise Records (it's yet unclear)—to fuck over indie record stores and fans alike with a ridiculous sales strategy.
Zeitgeist is available in four (count 'em, four!) versions: Three include unique exclusive tracks, and the fourth is just a plain ol' record with no bonuses. Basically, you have to buy three versions (costing upward of $40) to hear all the tracks. The kicker? The three-exclusive-track-havin' versions are being sold separately—and exclusively—at Target, Best Buy and iTunes, leaving all other retailers with the standard version. Being confronted with the return of a beloved band whose death I had already mourned was hard enough, but a big-box-store-loving resurrection I did not expect (this type of marketing is not unheard of, though—musicians like Ne-Yo and Kelly Clarkson have released exclusive tracks in a similar manner, as have other Reprise artists). And I thought the most embarrassing thing about this whole SP revival was gonna be the tribute album featuring mostly cheesedick bands (+44, Panic! At the Disco, The Academy Is...) available in this month's Spin! (Thank god Ben Kweller's the one to cover "Today.")
The whole thing smacks of a desperate, last-ditch money-making effort, and it breaks my heart. It's not that the Pumpkins were ever fiercely independent, but this takes careerism to a new level. Super-ironically, the album's title (which means "sign of the times") and content seem to be some sort of attempt at social commentary (the CD booklet includes images of Paris Hilton, TVs and politicians accompanied by the Grim Reaper). The fact that Zeitgeist isn't all that great, then, is more of a relief than a disappointment. A collection of heavy-ish, fairly standard alt rock (with a few high points—"That's the Way (My Love Is)" has a certain Adore-ish charm), Zeitgeist doesn't prolong the magic for me. But it does make me feel a little better about wishing Corgan would shove Zeitgeist's exclusive tracks right up his money-grubbing ass. ?
Zeitgeist came out Tuesday, July 10. The tribute album is available in the July issue of Spin magazine.