Smashing Pumpkins frontman and band leader Billy Corgan has described his latest opus 'Atum' as "going in a million different directions". When the infamously self-indulgent Corgan is labelling one of his projects in this way, you know the release is going to feature plenty of ups and downs.
The divisive creative force behind the Smashing Pumpkins answers to no one and loves operatic excess, and that approach is woven into the fabric of the band. You either go along with his distinct vision or jump straight off the ride.
On the surface, 'Atum' looks like classic Smashing Pumpkins. It's enormous (three discs released as parts one to three over the past six months) and follows the usual half autobiographical, half fantastical nonsense narrative that its creator loves writing.
It's been billed as the third part in a loose, unintentional trilogy following 1995's 'Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness' and 2000's 'Machina/The Machines of God'. It is bigger than both, and not half as good as either.
The album suffers from some unique variations on the expected bloat. At least 50%, possibly more, of these 33 tracks are synth-based or wholly electronic. Most are not great. Hooray! is pure cheese, Every Morning is extremely undercooked, while Where Rain Must Fall sounds like a quickly-sketched demo.
This highlights the other major issue with 'Atum': its production. Smashing Pumpkins' legendary records often materialised through lavish production choices, rich with gorgeous strings and immersive guitar effects. Here, both the instruments and mix are the inverse, thin and dry. The drums are especially papery, hampering heavier cuts such as The Good In Everything.
On Smashing Pumpkins' best albums, particularly the underrated 'Machina/The Machines Of God', the band was able to plumb rich depths of feeling. Here, the weak mix and retro synths fail to land any emotional blows, adding up to a subpar collection from a band that can do so much better.