Smashing Pumpkins Shiny and Oh So Bright. Vol. 1 Album Review

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This is the bands 10th studio album and the first to feature Jimmy Chamberlain since 2007 “Zeitgeist” and the first to feature James Iha since 2000 “Machina/The Machines of Gods”. Jeff Schroeder joins them on guitar.

Original bassist, D’arcy Wretzky, is not on the album and will not be a part of the upcoming tour. Both sides seem to have a different story on how this decision came about, so I won’t comment on that any further, but it would have been cool to have seen the original lineup together again.

Produced by - Rick Rubin (first time with them since “Adore” in 1998)

Recorded/Mixed by - Dana Nielsen

Originally this should have been 2, 4 track EPs but they took the decision to make it an LP and the first in the “Shiny and oh so bright” series of albums 

Knights of Malta

We get off to a fantastic start and the songs starts out with the chorus. A very Beatles thing to do.

"Woah-woah-woah-woah-woah, woah, We're gonna make this happen, Woah-woah-woah-woah-woah, woah, I'm gonna fly forever, Woah-woah-woah-woah-woah, woah, We're gonna ride that rainbow, Woah-woah-woah-woah-woah, woah"

Hints of early  Oasis in terms of the drum fills, string section and backward guitar that appears throughout (on second thoughts that could be the Beatles I’m thinking of) and “Gimme Shelter" era Stones, with the female backing vocals.

There is a real feel of optimism and hope in this song

"A serpent for your fist, And a scarab for your mouth, The symptoms say persist, So resist, But a cure is not in doubt"

Really enjoyed the bass and I loved that chorus

By far the stand out track on the album for me. Glorious start.


Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)

This one goes back into much more traditional Pumpkins territory and kind of has a similar vibe to "1979"

Apparently, “Silvery Sometimes/Ghosts” is named in tribute to Billy’s good friend Robert Smith from The cure. Quite why though I have no idea.

I’m not going to pretend I truly understood the lyrics in the one but they are filled with tragic irony and juxtaposition. 

"Rule like a tyrant, Make like a valentine, Tear like a siren, Sulk like a sunken mine"

There is also a line that goes “Dive like a Pelican” which is a nod to "The Marked", the first real band Billy was in.

There is also a passage I liked that had a tragic image but ends with a positive outlook.

"Stumbling before you speak, Stunning and stunning with cannons to lead, And tigers tight, You scan the fields, someone dies tonight, It’s tragic, but at least it’s not you"

An enjoyable enough song but I felt a bit let down after such a fantastic start to the album

Travels

This was another more old school sounding Pumpkins tune

I have always been quite hit and miss with Billy’s vocals. They seem to fit the song perfectly or I find them quite grating. 

“It’s where I belong, it's where I belong, it's where I belong, it's where I belong”

Another one that was a decent enough tune but didn’t really grab me either. Not much else to say on this one


Solara

This one I loved the first time I heard it. Starts out with a slow and heavy down picked riff and has a similar vibe to “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”

Apparently this one was originally written back in 2014 and Billy said;

"Jeff [Schroeder] and I were the only people in the band at that time and we just couldn’t find the magic. We always thought the song was strong [...] so when we came in, in this situation, the minute we put it in Jimmy Chamberlin's hands, it’s like, 'Oh, there’s the magic.' It got a lot easier after that."

That makes a lot of sense as Jimmy Chamberlain steals the show on this track. He sounds awesome and adds so much energy to the song.

Again I am not going to pretend I understand the lyrics but I get a feeling of transcendence (possibly)

"High and dry, I'm ash made time, With sun, too bright, I am nothing but a body in my mind"

Trippy video for this one as well


Alienation

Starts out with a swelling synth before piano joins in and goes into something that has a hint of “Tonight, Tonight”

I think this one is about alienation

“Alienation, Alienation, Free the morning, Free revelation, Alienation, Alienation, Mourn the movement, fear penetration, Alienation, of thee I sing"

I’ve read a few reviews that are quite scathing of this song but I actually liked this one a lot


Marchin’ On

Much heavier this song. Has that old school Pumpkins heaviness and I really enjoyed the bridge section that has one of the heaviest riffs on the album.

Another one with lyrics that I am not even going to begin to try and decipher

"She stabs the empty clock, She haunts them where they're not, She screams the ailing arcs, the spirals follow sharp, She stabs there where they're not, 'Cause body slays soul”

Really cool tune, but the mix sounded a little muddy at points and was a little too short coming in at less than 3 minutes.


With Sympathy

Really beautiful, ringing, clean and bright acoustic guitars. Had a touch of Pixies to the sound I thought. Enjoyable enough ballad type song and I really enjoyed the bass (which I think Billy plays on this album) and I loved the chorus.

“Its with sympathy, that I gift you to me”

Short and sweet


Seek and You Shall Destroy

Another heavier riff on this for the final song on the album. 

“Seek and you shall destroy me, to faces form a victors sonnet, to faces our night comes to an early close, in miniature of stark and sweet repose”

Not much to say about this one really. Another shoer song that gets straight to the point and is over in less than 3 minutes.

7/10

I felt instinctively that I should give this.a lower score but there aren’t any bad songs on the album if I am honest.I think what gets me about this album is that despite only 8 songs and only just over 30 minutes of music it feels like there is a lot of filler. No bad songs, just not great. The 2 E.P.s would have made sense as I think there are strong leading songs but the others are kind of filler.

Muse Simulation Theory (Review)

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This is the bands 8th studio album and their first since 2015 Drones 

That album painted a bleak and dark picture of a dystopian future and the lengthy tour that followed the album weighed heavy on the band. Having to perform songs with such a harsh outlook and heavy theme as Drones began to drain them mentally and physically.

As is often the case with bands. Writing a new album is often a reaction to what has preceded it. 
So with Simulation Theory, they went for a more fun and brighter concept. The idea that we are all living in an artificial reality.
The repetitive nature of performing in arenas, night after night, and everything looking the same after a while, no doubt aided this thought process.
Let's be honest, who hasn't thought that this is a simulation?

Apparently  Matt was playing a lot of VR games and also started reflecting on the past, like playing games on a ZX Spectrum (I had one of those). We start getting the concept of what is to come in the future, mixed with that of the past.
He also came to the conclusion that AI and the advancement of this technology would one day render humans obsolete. It is the next stage in evolution and fearing it is pointless.

Resistance is futile!

Another thing that plays a huge part in the 80s vibe on this album is the band reflecting on their friendship. They grew up together and gravitated towards  each other because of common interests and much of that appears on the album.

There is a definite 80s vibe to the album and that is also reflected in the artwork by Kyle Lambert, who also did the artwork for "Stranger Things" 

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Algorithm
Straight out of the gate we get that classic 80s drum sound that gives a feeling of machinery working, followed shortly by that classic 80s horror/Sci fi style synth sound that seems to reflect the machine calculating.
Soundtracks to the movies they grew up with played a huge part in this album also. Halloween, the Thing and Nightmare on Elm Street in particular.
There is some great use of strings and classical piano to add the human touch.
In this song, our protagonist realises they are in a simulation and wants out.


"Burn like a slave, Churn like a cog, We are caged in simulations, Algorithms evolve, Push us aside and render us obsolete"


Wonderful start, loving the story and as a child of the 80s I am totally on board with the sound.
There is also a video for all the songs annd are highly worth checking out. They all have tonnes of 80s references to movies and TV shows and Terry Crews is in many of them and does a great job.

The Dark Side
Another massive 80s sounding song that Has elements of "Fade to Grey" by visage and there is a guitar/keyboard section that reminds me of the keyboard section in "I Want to Break Free" by Queen.

The director of the video, Lance Drake, said;
"The Dark Side is about fear, paranoia, mental illness, and depression. Sometimes the dream is a nightmare and grand visions are in fact crumbling illusions. Don’t get caught up in the upside down, keep driving!"
In the context of the story it could also be our protagonist trying to escape the simulation and realising there are even more simulations beyond.


"I have lived in darkness, For all my life, I've been pursued, You'd be afraid if you could feel my pain, And if you could see the things I am able to see
[Chorus]
Break me out, break me out, Let me flee
Break me out, break me out, Set me free"

I absolutely loved this song

Pressure
The first real guitar driven piece and utilises the same Digitech Whammy pedal that Jack White uses for "Blue Orchid" and we get a brass section joining in as well. The drums and bass have a more organic sound on this one. 


Some great riffs and more 80s synth on the chorus. Awesome.
Lyrically this is about the pressure the band feel from fans but in the context of the story I guess it could be our protagonist being wise to the simulation


"I'm trapped and my back's up against the wall, I see no solution or exit out, I'm grinding it out, no one can see, The pressure's growing exponentially, im trying to keep up to speed with you, your lane changing is oscillating me, I'm hitting the ground and I'm sprinting, I'm falling behind now I'm tuning out"


Definetley check out the "Back to the Future" inspired that has a tonne of 80s references.

Propaganda
This one had a very Prince "Kiss" vibe to it but also has a very dark synth incorporated that makes it a little more sinister. There is also a nice use of slide guitar on the solo.


I think that lyrically he is using a metaphor that the Simulation is not to dissimilar to the Propaganda we are fed through news outlets, politicians and social media


"Floozy, You got me trapped in your dark fantasy world, Don't you know you make me woozy?, You have me wrapped around your little finger"
Not bad but my least favourite thus far.

Break It To Me
A nice riff in this one that has a string Tom Morello influence. Heavy with a hint of funk.
I guess that lyrically this is our protagonist just wanting to know the truth


"Don't dress it up but don't beat around the bush, And don't cover it up but don't push it underground, And don't keep it inside and don't edit and redact, And no dumbing it down, And don’t fake it, just, 
(Break it to me), (Break it to me), (Break it to me)"


Some great drum and bass from Chris and Dom gives this one a nice groove. 

Something Human
This was the first song that Matt played to his bandmates and they loved it immediately. This would set the tone for the album and everyone was on board.


In a recent interview with Kerrang, Matt said, 
"That song came out of feeling the burn on tour, when you start to contemplate the nature of reality that we live in, and the possibility that it might be a simulation, you start to feel trapped. You get like, I want to know what's on the other side, I want to know what this is"


Dom added;
"Matt showed us that song and it was very much a reaction to wanting to get off that tour and go home. To get back down to reality and feel something real. And that kind of started the ball rolling with wanting to do something a bit lighter in tone"


I felt this one had a strong Erasure "Respect" and U2 "Where the Streets Have No Name" influence.


"Ten thousand miles left on the road
Five-hundred hours 'til I am home
I need something human, human
Human, human"

Fantastic video as well

Thought Contagion
This one had a bit more of an old school Muse sound and I really enjoyed this one. Great riff, drum sound great, bass has that classic heavy muse tone, nice keyboards and a huge anthemic chorus.


Matt said in an interview with Rolling Stone magaizine;
"The key line in the song is: 
“You’ve been bitten by a true believer/ You’re been bitten by someone who is hungrier than you/ You’ve been bitten by someone’s false beliefs.” 


That summarizes what I’m trying to get at here, which is sometimes in life you will come across situations where someone who is a bit ideological or believes things that are not true in any way will sometimes have more power than you, over you or get more airtime. I think that’s really what the song is about. It’s about how other people’s false belief systems can infect your own and sometimes even affect your feelings."
Another great video.

Get Up and Fight
This one has a much more pop oriented sound but gets a little heavier on the choruses


"Get up and fight, get up and fight, I can't do this thing without you, I'm lost in this without you"


A song of strength and fighting back against oppressors. Could be meant literraly or against the simulation in the story. I have also heard that this may be about Matt’s Grandfather who was struggling with cancer.
An ok song but nothing outstanding.

Blockades
Back to a much more 80s sound again with very electronic sounding drums and synth parts that bring us back into the simulation.
Some nice heavy guitars and stacked vocals on the choruses.
A lot of cool lead guitar in it as well


This one sees our protagonist trying to break down the walls of the simulation 


"The truth is that when I am killing in order to survive, I have never felt so alive, I am always seeking to live and die on the edge,  Life is a broken simulation, I'm unable to feel, I'm searching for something that's real, I am always seeking to see what's behind the veil
Trapped in a maze of unseen walls
These blockades must fall"

Really enjoyed this one

Dig Down
More swelling synth and machine like drumming but with a hint of George Michael "Freedom" and "Faith"and is essentially a song of hope in the face of adversity.


"Dig down, Dig down and find faith, When you're close to the edge, With a gun to your head, You must find a way"
Cool tune

The Void
The keyboard makes you feel you are in the simulation, which I guess is a metaphor for the thought policing that we are accustomed to.
Ultimately, We hold the key to change. 
Ourselves 


"They'll say the sun is dying, And the fragile can't be saved, And the cold, it will devour us, And we won't rise up and slay giants,
They're Wrong"


There are some really heavy synth parts, an almost Bond theme approach in parts and overall the song has a very similar vibe to U2's "Love is Blindness"
Really enjoyed this track and nice close to the album.

9/10
I was not expecting to enjoy this album as much as I did buy the story, the videos and that 80s theme really drew me in and I loved it. 
Great music and thought provoking lyrics.