Smashing Pumpkins - Adore
THERE ARE CERTAIN STYLES OF music that are, beyond argument, just plain stupid. The man-machine music of the '80s for one. All those sensitive souls pretending to be robots as a symbol of just how alienated they felt from the harsh inhumanity of modern life. Gits every last Numanoid one of them.
Goth is another. Wearing widow's weeds and acting all consumptive in a charade of living death to show that, far from being scared, you are that much spookier than cruel reality. Dungeons & Dragons, sir, fops, knaves and fools.
So what the hell does that make Billy Corgan? I mean, he's only gone and grafted Wayne Hussey to Midge Ure and, as a consequence, 'Adore' is like that monkey with five asses the weird genetics guy bred in South Park - damned impressive but absolutely pointless.
Then again, Corgan's always been a weird breed himself. He came up through grunge but was always held in deep suspicion by the movement's true sufferers because they thought he was a fake. Billy, on the other hand, always acted mighty pissed-off that they didn't accept him, got into a serious strop over all the criticism, and is conspicuously more comfortable hanging out with pantomime geeks like Marilyn Manson, who doubtless consider him some kind of genius than he ever was sparring ideologies with Kurt Cobain.
See, far from believing that one must suffer for one's art, Billy has always assumed the exact opposite. Make the audience pay. His last tour here with the Pumpkins was one long, boring, deliberate sulk and 'Adore' is the strongest manifestation yet that Billy's understanding of popular music is that, far from being art, it is commerce, product to be manipulated among the Pavlovian masses. And in this respect, 'Adore' is indeed the work of a genius. Its precedents lie in that most reviled genre, the overblown AOR ballad that ruled the American airwaves in the late '70s and made millionaires of men with perms. The models for The Smashing Pumpkins have always been REO Speedwagon, Boston and Journey rather than The Germs; great craftsmen who can take the true art of their day and inflate its every emotion into a safe and pompous pastiche which, at its very best, can occasionally aspire to kitsch classicism. Think 'More Than A Feeling' by Boston. Think 'Since You've Been Gone' by Rainbow. Think Smashing Pumpkins. Think KROQ.
With 'Adore' Billy Corgan has taken all the edge and angst that grunge managed to elbow onto the radio and polished it up for the stadiums using all the signifiers that currently spell out 'modern' to Americans. His is a nation, remember, that considers Trent Reznor a great innovator and so it is that the album is underpinned by a heartless electronica. Much of it sounds like the feeble rhythmic muscle of Depeche Mode crossed with Robert Smith's pop sensibility. Then The Mission's lyrics have been grafted on top. Hence we get heavy laments for lost love written to daguerreotypical girls called Sheila and Daphne. Hence we get lines like, "Twilight fades through blistered Avalon". Hence we get three songs in a row with Cocteau Twins titles ('Tear', 'Crestfallen', 'Appels And Oranjes'), songs that ask, "Who am I?" and "What if the sun refused to shine?/What if the clouds refused to rain?" with such a straight face you want to sit Billy down and play him the Super Furries' 'Smokin'' just to see if he gets the joke.
The Smashing Pumpkins don't really question anything. They just take and add and build. All the thought goes into the structure, the content is just habit and what will currently sell. So much effort goes into sounding profound that there's no intelligence or energy left to tell or ask anything. Just like Radiohead really. Just like Massive Attack. How very, very modern.
'Adore' is a terrific piece of artifice, beautifully constructed on classical pillars with just enough wires poking through to render the illusion that it is somehow real. It is delivered before us with that trademark whining snarl - like a baby with the teeth of a wolf - and, miraculously, since it is monstrously overlong at 16 tracks weighing in at 69 minutes and 24 seconds, never cracks a smile. Truly, 'Adore' is like E never happened.
Still, the more records there are like this and 'OK Computer' and 'Mezzanine', the more brutal and bloody the backlash is bound to be. Bring it on.