Yesterday, Radiohead finally released the old-fashioned shiny-disc version of its seventh album “In Rainbows,” initially issued as a pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth download last October. Not to be outdone, the Smashing Pumpkins have given us their own download-only EP, “American Gothic,” available only through iTunes.
The Smashing Pumpkins, “American Gothic” EP (iTunes.com) [2.5 STARS]
Second only to the fact that local fans are still waiting for the most successful Chicago band of the alternative era to finally play a hometown reunion gig is the fact that Smashing Pumpkins enthusiasts have been hanging on for that long-promised acoustic album ever since Billy Corgan’s live local recording sessions for “The Chicago Songs” back in 2004. Well, that material remains unreleased, but the Great Pumpkin does give us a taste of his folkie side on this new four-song EP, available only as a download from iTunes.
“We have always regretted not recording more in between tours, because albums have never caught the full story of the group,” Corgan said in a press release trumpeting the disc, adding that “it’s sort of ‘Zeitgeist’-plus.” Indeed, the lyrics continue to mine the primary theme of the band’s 2007 reunion album, which Corgan has characterized as a sad comment about the state of our nation. “We’re giving back the dream/We’re giving back the dream/Another dumb kid is shattered,” he sings in “Pox,” which joins the opener “Sunkissed” as the most successful of the new tracks.
Musically, the EP is best when it’s simplest, with Corgan honing to the gentle acoustic mode of his band’s old cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” Elsewhere, Jimmy Chamberlain’s bombast overpowers the gentle melodies, and much of “The Rose March” sinks under countless layers of Corgan’s overdubbed backing vocals, which fans have come to call “the million Billy choir.” But this is no surprise, since Corgan has never been shy about indulging in wretched excess, and here he was spurred on by veteran producer Roy Thomas Baker, who pretty much invented the electronic choir with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
You'll note that while the Pumpkins are embracing the new Web distribution methods, unlike Radiohead, they still want to get paid for their recordings, as well as for anything else they can sell. Just look at the piles of fab gear for sale via their "Webstore."
Meanwhile, if you STILL haven't gotten enough of "In Rainbows" -- or listened as yet for free -- Radiohead filmed itself playing every song on the new album for a special New Year's Eve webcast that you can watch here, for free. Thanks, Mr. Yorke. And Mssr. Corgan and Chamberlain, I think I'll hold out for a while before I spend $90 on a hoodie or $249 on some framed, autographed drumsticks.