Rock

A Crash Course on The Smashing Pumpkins' 'Comeback' Albums

Smashing Pumpkins
GDP Photos/ MediaPunch/IP

Smashing Pumpkins perform at The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas on July 10, 2015. 

Billy Corgan just teased his long-running rock band The Smashing Pumpkins’ latest comeback single, “Solara.” It's set to be on some sort of new release from the alternative rock band, which could be a new album or set of EPs. But no matter which form their new music takes, it will join a handful of albums intended to be the band's “comeback” in one way or another.

Ever since 2005, when Corgan put a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune saying he “wanted my band back, and my songs, and my dreams,” this titanic '90s rock act has lurched back into activity in different forms with a variety of band members, surprises and detours, all of which hoped to bring back the commercial goodwill of their often-amazing run between 1988 and 2000.

The results have been a decidedly mixed bag, with moves that have alternately divided fans and charted a path into the future for one of rock's most ambitious and emotionally resonant bands. As we await new Pumpkins material, here’s a look at The Smashing Pumpkins’ latter-day discography from 2007 to the present day.

2007: A Divided Pumpkins Return With the Mantra “Don’t Get Too Artsy”

The Smashing Pumpkins’ first record in seven years only featured Corgan and the group’s brilliant, jazzbo drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, but the results divided some fans. A band that once showcased an appealing brew of masculinity and femininity -- feather-light songs, borderline-metal guitars -- seemed to lean on the aggressive end of their sound exclusively. Corgan later backtracked about Zeitgeist: “I think [fans] wanted this massive, grandiose work, but you don't just roll out of bed after seven years without a functioning band and go back to doing that.” Zeitgeist is only massive and grandiose, but to some fans, it missed a sense of sweetness.

2009-2011: Adrift, Corgan Hangs With His '60s Heroes

Jimmy Chamberlin left the reconfigured version of The Smashing Pumpkins in 2009, after a rather polarizing 20th anniversary tour. When asked why, Chamberlin simply said, “I can’t just ‘cash the check’, so to speak.” For the first time in the band’s existence, Corgan was the lone Pumpkin -- but he continued to release strange, ambitious music under the banner. Enter Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, a laughably ambitious collection of 44 songs that their writer was to release one at a time, online, in a set of 11 EPs. Corgan only got to the middle of Volume 3 before canning the project, but a few songs -- “Spangled,” “Tom Tom,” -- were full of harpsichords, far-out lyrics and other 1960s signifiers that looked good on him. In an moment of method acting, Corgan even recruited Mark Tulin, the old bassist for the psychedelic band The Electric Prunes, as an interim Pumpkin. This odd couple went on to salute The Seeds’ late singer Sky Saxon in a one-off band, Spirits in the Sky, before Tulin’s unexpected passing in 2011. There was even a moment in which Corgan claimed he was starting a new label and he’d signed, of all people, 1967 psych-pop hitmakers Strawberry Alarm Clock. Corgan still claims that Teargarden by Kaleidyscope is an ongoing concern, but for all intents and purposes, this incense-and-peppermints phase was an interesting flash in the pan.

2012: Corgan Holds Open Auditions, Somewhat Recaptures the Fire

There was a brief moment in which even you could have been a Pumpkin. With no other original Pumpkins left, Corgan held open auditions in Los Angeles that resulted in a new 19-year-old drummer, Mike Byrne, who signed on from his previous gig as a McDonald’s employee. The resulting album, Oceania, felt refreshed, with Corgan seemingly remembering a few of his old tricks -- harmonically complicated guitars, heart-on-sleeve ballads, goth-rock keyboards. Oceania still didn’t quite live up to past peaks -- Corgan’s writing and performance had grown a little wooden with age -- but it’s got the Pumpkins' warmest production and engineering on record, and it’s aged well.

2014: Corgan Aims for User-Friendliness, Which Means Tommy Lee

The Oceania band seemed like a promising new chapter for The Smashing Pumpkins, but it wasn’t to be -- Byrne and bassist Nicole Fiorentino were out in short order. When prompted by Joe Bosso at Music Radar as to why Byrne, in particular, was out, his cagey response was, “Mike, like Elvis, has left the building.” Borne of a mysterious alliance with Tommy Lee, who plays drums on the album's entirety, Monuments to an Elegy is accessible and commercial. And if you’re really on a mission here and haven’t changed the dial to Siamese Dream for a fix, Monuments has its share of pleasures, like the bubbly closing track “Anti-Hero.”

2017: Corgan Clears His Head on the Road, Writes a Bunch of Acoustic Songs About It

After undergoing his "Thirty Days" cross-country travel project and scrapping the planned Monuments follow-up, Day for Night, Corgan began to claim that his growing tabloid presence was all a ruse, an act. “I would say 80 percent of the things that I get held up and mocked for, I’m doing intentionally,” he told The New York Times. "I've been wrong about every album I made since Mellon Collie," he proclaimed to SPIN. But more importantly than any of that, Corgan recorded some music that opened a new chapter for him. Ogilala, a handful of unfussy solo acoustic songs written with Rick Rubin at the helm, showed that Corgan’s tender side is still intact. It’s not a Pumpkins project per se, but it’s relevant here because its inclusion of James Iha and Rick Rubin carry over into the 2018 version of the band. A few of the tunes reflect regions of North America Corgan drew inspiration from via "Thirty Days," and they're alternately Shakespearean (“Is love a fool / A brackish goad?”) and open-hearted (“Take me as I am!”). It still didn't do much to convert lapsed Pumpkins fans, but Corgan had earned every right to be a developing artist, whether the muse led him or off the trail of public approval.