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The Smashing Pumpkins' "Cyr": A Prelude to "Atum"

The Smashing Pumpkins' new album, Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts has just recently been released, and along with it have come a of the critical reviews.

While it might be timely to give my own review of Atum right now, I'd actually rather talk about the band's previous album from the late 2020 pandemic era, Cyr.

You see, the Smashing Pumpkins and song-writer Billy Corgan (that's William Patrick Corgan to you) have been so prolific in recent years that quite frankly, it's hard to keep up and digest it all. Atum, itself, is a 33-song epic (with an additional 10-song album called Zodion At Crystal Hall available in the vinyl box-set) and for me, Smashing Pumpkins albums can really take awhile to sink in. That's because there's just so much there to ponder. And Pumpkins albums are never really what you expect them to be, either. the band is always moving in some new direction, which is actually what I love about them. But as a result, it really takes me some time to wrap my head around just what it is they are doing now.

Sometimes, I don't totally get it at first, because I've been exposed to something so different and new. But over time, it all starts to make more sense and eventually, I always fall in love. I'm always along for the ride.

Speaking of prolific content, Cyr itself is a sprawling 20 songs, which is basically unheard of in the music world today. And epic in its own right.

But the reason I want to talk about Cyr is because, it seems to me, that it sets up the world of Atum. Maybe I'm totally off and this is just my own interpretation, but all of the suggestions seem to be there. Here me out.

For those who don't know, Atum is billed as the third part of a conceptual trilogy in the story of a musical hero/prophet/Christ-figure introduced to us in Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness as "Zero." In Machina/the machines of God, he undergoes a spiritual transformation and his name changes (like Jacob or Abram in the bible) to "Glass," and by the time we reach Atum, he has undergone another type of transformation and goes by the nickname "Shiny." These albums represent the core of the story.

But the thematic material of Cyr seems to have a lot to do with the ideas talked about in Atum, and so in a sense, almost feels like a kind of introduction to where Atum is going to take us. You might even call it a kind of sub-prequel within the larger saga.

Atum is set in a futuristic, "post-truth" world dominated by an all-powerful, all-seeing central government that basically curates every facet of life. Our hero, Shiny (again, formerly known as Glass/Zero) has been deemed by the thought-police to be a danger to humanity. In the guise of mercy, instead of just exterminating people like Shiny who are dangerous to the system, they instead exile them into space where they live separate and alone on individual, mini-spacecrafts, orbiting the earth like satellites. At any time the occupants of these floating prison cells can press a button that will send the pod on a suicide mission straight into the heart of the sun. This is considered a grace from the shadowy powers that be.

Likewise, Cyr also seems to give allusions to shadowy, "secret society" kinds of power pulling the strings behind a curtain. Song titles like "Anno Satana," "Wyttch, the vampiric "Purple Blood," and"Birch Grove" seem to reference occult Bohemian Grove themes, which are even more strongly enforced with the complimentary, five-part animated series In Ashes which was released in tandem with the album. The series takes place in a dystopian future and follows a dangerous misadventure of three youths as they stumble upon what is basically a science-fiction version of the Bohemian Grove. Together, they end up seeing way too much and discover a massive conspiracy.

The title track, "Cyr," also has cryptic suggestions of exile, tyranny, and perhaps even science "on the verge" of entering the realm of the forbidden and passing the point of no return. The song perhaps even gives an oblique reference to Glass as it says:

" 'Midst the chaff, as meek
those weak as sand
turning glass upside down
for the hours should they pass."

Since the name "Cyr" may allude to the cyr heel, it may even suggest the idea of a kind of chaotic scenario in which one may be out of control, or can only gain control through great skill, as the cyr wheel spins and turns all around with a person inside. This serves as an excellent possible metaphor for the plight of the individual in a despotic state who is controlled by outside forces.

Lastly, let's not forget the similarities on the lyrical and musical level, as Cyr follows the same kind of stream of consciousness style as Atum, and also bears much resemblance with the heavy emphasis on electronic and synth sounds. The connection does not seem coincidental.

While Atum tells the story proper, it is Cyr that seems to immediately setup the idea of a futuristic society run by a secret elite. This theme is then explored in depth in its follow up rock opera. As relevant as ever, these themes echo many of the issues plaguing our world today, as surely we are no stranger to stories of the Bohemian Grove, Skull and Bones, the Bilderbergers, Illuminati, or perhaps most recently, the exploits of Jeffrey Epstein (who didn't kill himself). As society tries to navigate the matters of new technology, media, consolidated power and the issues of our rights to speech and expression, the Smashing Pumpkins are not only addressing the issues of the current moment, but painting a picture of what tomorrow may look like as well.


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