The Smashing Pumpkins' "Shiny and Oh So Bright" Buffet
By now, if you are a fan of the band, chances are you've probably read at least a few reviews of The Smashing Pumpkins current work, Shiny and Oh So Bright, vol. 1/LP - No Past. No Future. No Sun. You've probably read good reviews and you've probably read bad reviews (a number of which, I should add, are expected, unsurprising and come from the usual suspects). Something I've noticed in pretty much every review of this compilation is that there is a tendency to contrast and compare the first volume of Shiny and Oh So Bright to every other Smashing Pumpkins album. This is a natural thing for any listener to do. However, I feel that in this case, it is also misplaced and puts higher expectation and demands on this work than are justified. This is because I see Shiny and Oh So Bright, vol. 1/LP - No Past. No Future. No Sun. as less of an album and more of, as is said in the title, a volume.
Of course, this is all semantics. Volume, LP, album, compilation....all are a collection of songs. What is the magic number that suddenly makes a collection of songs an "album?" After all, Monuments to an Elegy is only nine songs, but is considered an album, albeit part of a larger album (or should I say, opus?) Teargarden By Kaleidyscope. There really is no magic number, and the words ultimately aren't that important. Yet I still feel that "volume 1" deserves a special place set aside from the Pumpkins' other works, simply because of its brevity and the stand alone nature of its songs. As acknowledged by the band, this work has no grand narrative and is more just a collection of assorted songs, best compared to the style of Pisces Iscariot, which was a collection of b-sides left over from Siamese Dream.
How can anyone fairly compare this volume's eight (8) stand alone songs with Siamese Dream (13)? Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (28)? Adore (17)? Machina (15) and Machina II (25)? Zeitgeist (12-15, depending on your version)? Even Oceania (13)? The track listing on these albums run from 13 to 28. Brevity alone places it more in the company of American Gothic (4), Songs for a Sailor (5)/The Solstice Bare (5) and Monuments to an Elegy (9). Maybe even Gish (10), if you reach.
The nature of how this volume came about is also different. The band didn't sit down to record an album, or even a volume. They sat down to choose one song, and ended up recording all eight upon the encouragement of their illustrious producer, Rick Rubin.
Brevity, stand alone songs, and intent mark this compilation as different from the rest, and as such, I believe No Past. No Future. No Sun. deserves to be placed in a category all its own.
This is a work that I feel is best seen as individual pieces, like a box of chocolates. Each song is one of those chocolates and has to be appreciated and savored on its own. They may be indicative of the musical trajectory the band may be pursuing, true. But (again with the food metaphors) if each album were a four course meal, planned and put together to compliment each course, it seems this is more of a buffet. And you can't appreciate a good buffet properly if you're trying to assess it like a four course meal. That shouldn't even be the expectation.
Certainly the songs, the feel, and the artistic direction can be compared. That is fair game. And everyone will have their preferences and opinions. But as always, the Smashing Pumpkins again are carving new territory. If anything can be expected, it is that their sound changes with each offering, always on the edge of something new. This is what I truly love about The Smashing Pumpkins - they challenge me as a listener. Their music has an infectious quality to it. I may not "get" something on my first listen. Maybe it's because of how they defy expectations, yet it's my human nature to expect, to anticipate a certain kind of sound. But something always calls me back to listen again, and again and again. And each time, I fall a little more in love.
No Past. No Future. No Sun. is kind of like that. "Knights of Malta" is refreshing and magical. "Alienation" draws me in like an addiction. This LP ranges from the heart-felt to the heart-pounding. And if you keep it spinning, these songs can grow on you. As ever.