The Smashing Pumpkins, who celebrate their 30th anniversary this year, are starting to seem like an aging movie franchise, with years of abortive rebirths and non-canonical releases rapidly beginning to overshadow their peak output from the 1990s. It’s fitting, then, that their 10th album—and first with more than two members from the band’s original lineup since 2000’s Machina/The Machines of God—harkens back to classic Smashing Pumpkins in much the same way as, well, an actual aging movie franchise.
Like this year’s Halloween reboot, Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1/LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. simply pretends that the last few decades never happened, picking up as if it’s 1996 and the band is recording their follow-up to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Even the presence of producer Rick Rubin feels like it belongs to an alternate history, since Rubin had been Virgin’s original choice to helm 1998’s Adore.
Shiny and Oh So Bright’s sweeping opening track, “Knights of Malta,” bears the hallmarks of vintage Pumpkins: Bill Corgan’s melodic whine, Jimmy Chamberlin’s formidable drumming, and the intricate layers of guitar courtesy of Corgan, original guitarist James Iha, and Iha’s one-time replacement Jeff Schroeder. Everything about the song feels grand and triumphal—right down to the lyrics, in which Corgan sings, “I’m gonna fly forever/We’re gonna ride the rainbow,” as if he’s approaching the gates of rock ‘n’ roll Valhalla. The next track, “Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts),” feels even more familiar, with a strummed eighth-note guitar riff that seems to intentionally evoke the band’s hit “1979.”
The combination of Corgan’s nostalgic songcraft and Rubin’s tasteful production admirably replicates the sound of the Pumpkins at their zenith; it’s in everything from the swathes of shoegaze guitars on “Travels” to the pompous, string-laden glam-rock of “Alienation.” The bigger, more anthemic tracks work better than the hard rockers: “Solara” in particular is an underwhelming lead single, reaching for the adolescent rage of Mellon Collie’s “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” but inevitably falling short. “Marchin’ On” fares better, with a Mellotron line that lends a Led Zeppelin-esque grandiosity to the chorus and a coda that features the album’s most earthshaking riff.
As revived as the classic Pumpkins sound is on Shiny and Oh So Bright, though, the album can’t quite shake the sense of superfluity endemic to reunion projects: There isn’t anything here that the band hasn’t already done before—and better. Even harder to shake is the interpersonal drama surrounding the album’s creation. No matter how badly Corgan wants us to, it feels dishonest to celebrate the ostensible return of the original Pumpkins when bassist D’Arcy Wretzky is conspicuous absent from this project.
The album’s Vol. 1 designation and Corgan’s promise of almost 20 other tracks recorded during the same sessions suggest that we haven’t seen the end of this latest Pumpkins reunion. But there’s also an inescapable undertone of artistic defeat in seeing the band retreat so thoroughly into the warm embrace of ’90s nostalgia. A decade ago, Corgan’s arrogance kept him from turning the Smashing Pumpkins into a tribute to their former selves—to admittedly mixed results—but now that he’s finally giving the people what they want, one wonders if he has anything left to offer.