Smashing Pumpkins has always been a band that bucks trends, incorporating psychedelia and metal at a time when it was anything but cool in the alternative world, using densely layered sounds when the rock landscape was all about raw simplicity, and otherwise defying expectations. Starting with 1998’s Adore, the band defied its biggest trend, working softer, electronica-influenced elements into the band’s guitar-heavy sound. Over the years, the Pumpkins have swung between heavier guitar-based fare and softer, pop-tinged music. The band’s eleventh album, Cyr, is its most pop album yet, an intentional effort by Billy Corgan and company to create a more contemporary-sounding record rather than living in the band’s past.
The result is a mixed bag. It’s impossible to listen to Cyr and not long for the overdubbed guitars, heavy riffs, and aggressive sound. Corgan’s best sound is his snarl, and that is virtually nonexistent here. A few of the tracks fall short, sounding overly sentimental and sappy. For the most part, though, this contemporary version of Smashing Pumpkins works.
Founding members James Iha (guitar) and Jimmy Chamberlin (drums) rejoin Corgan but refuse to give in to the nostalgia of the band’s old sound. The new, contemporary Smashing Pumpkins is a pop-rock band, with songs built around synthesizers and programmed beats rather than heavy riffing.
The title track is infectious dancefloor material with a bouncing bassline, bright synths, and an overall aura of happiness. There’s even a sing-along chorus with soulful backing vocals. “Stare down your masters with the promise of one and what you are,” Corgan sings, sounding optimistic.
“Tyger, Tyger” has the danceable beat and pop hooks for mainstream club play. “Hum that lonely view; dead desires, this,” Corgan sings over minimalist treble-rich synths. “The thrall stays in your kiss.”
Chamberlin’s rhythms and Corgan’s ethereal keyboards anchor the pop songs, with guitar strings few and far between, resulting in music that is happier and more fun than anything Smashing Pumpkins have done before. Cyr’s best moments, though, come when a bit of that early darkness and anger seeps through the pop sheen.
Fuzzed guitar harmonizes with the keyboards in the rock-tinged “Anno Satana.” The supernatural subject matter of “Wyttch” is reflected in its edgier music. The song is a cybermetal throwback, featuring the album’s nastiest guitar riffs and Corgan’s vocals coming the closest to a snarl. “Black turns forever turns to sleep; black turns confessor turns to reap,” Corgan sings over a groaning guitar riff that gives way to a head-banging palm-muted lick.
“Telegenix” is another standout track, its swagger-filled groove contrasting ominous swirling synths and a rumbling rhythm. It is also the album’s most dynamic song, shifting between sparse instrumentation and thick soundscapes. “She takes the sweet outside to part our grand demise,” Corgan sings, eerie, tremulous snyths punctuating the morose subject matter. “If they say it’s not suicide, then I will bet on your life.”
Some fans will despise Cyr, in part because it’s the farthest sound possible from Smashing Pumpkins’ great early work in Gish and Siamese Dream. Angry music with menacing guitar riffs are in short supply on this album that is mostly pop, dominated by keyboards and beats. Corgan’s attempt at making a contemporary album was mostly successful, though, with the band delivering hook-laden music that is full of great pop moments with enough experimentalism and gritty moments to keep it interesting.