Smashing Pumpkins Are Just Billy Corgan’s Backing Band, In Bigger Than The Sound

Inexplicable clip for 'Tarantula' has people talking about the new Pumpkins, but is this another Corgan solo project?

On The Record: Billy Corgan, With Lasers

Monday morning, while I was either bemoaning the wretched state of my fantasy baseball team (Bobby Abreu, why hast thou forsaken me?!?!) or mainlining tallboys of Steven Seagal’s Lightning Bolt Energy Drink (which, for reasons not apparent to me, has recently been discontinued — sounds like the American public couldn’t handle “100 percent pure Steven Seagal Juice”), the Smashing Pumpkins made their triumphant return to the world of music-video entertainment with a rather inexplicable clip for “Tarantula,” the first single from next week’s Zeitgeist album.

And while the relative worth of any music video may be up for debate these days, “Tarantula” can be viewed as a success, mainly because it served as a way to make lots of people — or at least lots of people here at 1515 Broadway — talk about the Smashing Pumpkins, Version 3.0. Which may or may not be a good thing:

NotJames’IM (9:17:37 AM): So have you seen the new Pumpkins video?
NotMyManagingEditor’sIM (9:18:14 AM): Wow. There’s evidently 17 people in the band now.
NotJames’IM (9:18:22 AM): Yep.
NotMyManagingEditor’sIM (9:19:36 AM): This video’s kind of great, though.
NotMyManagingEditor’sIM (9:19:44 AM): Billy just shot lasers out of his eyes.
NotJames’IM (9:19:49 AM): There is a dude who looks like Chino Moreno in there too. And the guy wearing the awesome Dracula cape is the new guitarist.
NotJames’IM (9:19:55 AM): You know how I love Dracula capes.
NotMyManagingEditor’sIM (9:20:04 AM): Billy’s outfit belies his otherwise deplorable lack of a sense of humor.
NotJames’IM (9:20:20 AM): “Hi, I’m wearing a kimono!”
NotJames’IM (9:22:28 AM): Anyway, I was watching this, and just thinking:
NotJames’IM (9:22:42 AM): How is this different than the Billy Corgan solo record?
NotJames’IM (9:23:31 AM): ’cause it’s not
NotMyManagingEditor’sIM (9:23:59 AM): very true
NotJames’IM (9:24:17 AM): It’s just Billy, Jimmy and two random-ass people who are now Smashing Pumpkins
NotJames’IM (9:24:21 AM): Who you KNOW didn’t play a note of stuff on the record.
NotMyManagingEditor’sIM (9:25:07 AM): But having the name “Billy Corgan” on a record won’t sell as much as having the name “Smashing Pumpkins” on a record …
NotMyManagingEditor’sIM (9:25:45 AM): Besides, that guy wearing the Dracula cape is the sh–.
NotJames’IM (9:26:16 AM): v.v. true.

Look, I’ve already backed myself into a corner by writing that the songs I heard from Zeitgeist were “totally awesome,” and it’s difficult to find fault in anything that features dudes wearing kimonos and Dracula capes. But … I don’t know. I’m finding it hard to get excited for something that’s not much more than the second (or third, if you count Zwan) Billy Corgan solo record. In fact, so far no one has been able to adequately explain why these Smashing Pumpkins are really the Smashing Pumpkins at all. To me, they seem like little more than Corgan’s backing band.

(Is the Smashing Pumpkins’ “reunion” really a reunion? Watch here.)

Is Jimmy Chamberlin the difference maker? Probably not, since he played drums on Corgan’s TheFutureEmbrace record. Perhaps it’s Ginger Reyes and Jeff Schroeder, the two newly hired guns? Again, no (though it’s nice to see Billy still maintains rather exacting standards when it comes to hiring bassists). Is it the fact that now they’re wearing color-coordinated, vaguely cultish outfits? Sh– no. If anything, that makes Chamberlin, Reyes and Schroeder look like more of a backing band (and sort of like the Miracles too).

So how’s the stuff Corgan is doing on Zeitgeist any different than what he did two years ago on Embrace? Well, it’s louder (and there are fewer Bee Gees covers involved) but that’s about it. He wrote everything on the album, played everything except drums — by all reports, Reyes and Schroeder weren’t even in the room during recording — so by definition Zeitgeist is really just the next release in the Corgan canon. He’s just chosen to wrap this one up in the Smashing Pumpkins’ old clothes.

And, yeah, I know that Corgan has a certain, uh, reputation for doing things his way (it’s long been reported that he played nearly all the guitar and bass on Siamese Dream), so none of this is really new. Perhaps the Smashing Pumpkins have always been Corgan’s solo project — if that’s the case, it’s way better than James Iha’s solo project. And maybe because of that, none of this really matters.

Because what’s in a name, really? Do long-starving Pumpkins fans care that when the band rolls into their town this summer, they’re only seeing half of the original act? Not at all — they just wanna hear Billy tear through stuff from Dream or Mellon Collie with reckless abandon. They just wanna party like it’s 1994.

If anything, the bar for rock-star reunions has been set so low (Strays, anyone?) that most are happy that Zeitgeist doesn’t completely suck. But imagine if Corgan had dropped this same effort back in 1999, between Adore and the first Machina album … fans would be all over him for mailing it in, for taking control of the band they loved. Then again, that’s all complete speculation, because if anything, the reunited Pumpkins are proving that absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder.

And while I was joking when I brought up Jane’s Addiction’s God-awful Strays a second ago, perhaps the comparison is apt. After all, neither the Pumpkins nor Jane’s really needed to get back together. And, to be honest, it remains a mystery why either of them did. Jane’s flamed out epically, and the Pumpkins seem to be one step ahead of the game: They’ve already become Billy Corgan’s Satellite Party, and no one really seems to have noticed.

1515′s Take: What Some Of Our Greatest Minds Are Saying About “Tarantula” And The New Smashing Pumpkins

“It’s hard to watch the video without being crushed by how bad the song is. Once you get past that, you’re confronted with: every plug-in you can find in post-production being run simultaneously (film effect!); about five other video concepts being ripped off at the same time; and Billy cracking one of those ‘blooper reel’ smiles. Doesn’t that break some sort of fourth-wall rule they teach you at Music Video University? Oh right, and lasers!” — Joseph Patel, producer, MTV News

“This video is a mess. It looks like Corgan hired a bunch of über-fans to play backup for him. And unfortunately, three mediocre ladies will never amount to a D’Arcy. Or even an Auf der Maur. It was unoriginal and hurt my eyes.” — Nicole Killian, senior designer, Nickelodeon Creative Resources

“Wow, evidently the Smashing Pumpkins have morphed into the Avengers — complete with hooded capes, superpowers and just as many members! This reminds me of those ol’ Alice Cooper ‘Beat Club’ clips. Only not as rockin’.” — Alex Smith, managing editor, MTV News

“It’s as if Billy Corgan adopted the Polyphonic Spree, Mia Farrow-style, raided a Hot Topic store and then filmed a music video at their local public-access TV studio. In other words, it RULES. Anyone else think Billy’s ‘let’s throw a party and jam’ concept is blatantly mocking Perry Ferrell’s disastrous Satellite Party? It’s good to have the Pumpkins back. Let’s just hope the record ain’t Machina III.” — Jim Cantiello, segment producer, MTV News

“Eh, this is all I could squeeze out, this band and reunion is so … pointless and unremarkable: Uncle Fester returns in crispy white inverted vampire garb and the messianic complex intact. OK, there are 3-D effects without the 3-D glasses and participation from people that looked like they walked off the street from Hot Topic, but the bigger question is if the Smashing Pumpkins (Billy and Jimmy) ‘reunited’ to make alterna-metal that sounds exactly like they did seven years ago, why did they bother breaking up in the first place?” — Rodrigo Perez (token aging indie guy), producer, MTV.com

“The video terrifically masks and covers the lack of original Pumpkins members actually in this incarnation — with quick cuts, crazy effects and a parade of generic people — Billy’s successfully pulled the wool over the public’s eyes. Is this new album and incarnation of the band a metaphor for our government or what?” — Christopher “CJ” Smith (token young indie guy), segment producer, MTV News

B-Sides: Other Stories I’m Following This Week

The next time I totally screw up in front of millions of people and become a YouTube laughingstock as a result, I’m blaming it on an errant aerialist too. (See “50 Cent Explains BET Awards Mishap: ‘I Just Wasn’t Concentrating.’ “ )

If a band writes a protest song in the woods and no one’s around, does it make a sound? (See “Rock’s Voices Of Protest Finally Wake Up — And It’s About Time, By John Norris.” )

Will Harry die? Is Snape friend or foe? How many participants in the “Harry Potter” roundtable were dropped off by their mom beforehand? (See ” ‘Harry Potter’ Roundtable: Experts Battle Over Theories On How Series Will End.” )

Questions? Concerns? Iha? Drop me a line at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.