Monuments to an Aging Rock Star

As Billy Corgan wails “Lover what do you want me to do?” in the subdued bridge section of the seventh track from Smashing Pumpkin’s latest release, it almost sounds as if the once worshiped rock star is pleading to fans for musical direction and inspiration. With Monuments to an Elegy, the previously acidic Corgan has finally settled for easy-listening alternative rock, singing love songs over the top of pretty, yet discreet guitar lines.

In fact this record is one of the easiest I’ve ever listened to; its half-an-hour run time and Corgan’s mellow and meandering voice, meant that the album passed by in a flash. Monuments to an Elegy is very similar in style to its predecessor Oceania, except this time around Corgan has condensed his writing, cutting out extended musical sections to leave a very skeletal record, resembling something like a singer-songwriter’s debut.

The electronic elements that made an appearance on Oceania are once again present here. Being Beige opens with an electronic beat beneath light acoustic arpeggios, whilst Run2me kicks off with a pulsating keyboard riff and a pounding bass drum. In fact nearly every song on the record is laced with pop melodies, shown best with the dreamy and slightly repetitive Dorian and the hook-laden Drum + Fife, which is guaranteed to loop around in your head for a while.

Despite this, there are a few rock-orientated moments to be found. Both One and All and Anti-Hero remind of early Smashing Pumpkins (think a modern interpretation of Gish or Siamese Dream) with the first drowning beneath a wall of distortion and the second allowing the guitar to take centre stage. It’s a shame then that One and All doesn’t really go anywhere and Anti-Hero sounds like I’ve heard it all before. Meanwhile the intro of Anaise! provides a point of intrigue on the record, mixing synth phrases with a marching bassline, before the track evolves into something reminiscent of Adore-era Smashing Pumpkins. However, the most successful track on the album is opener Tiberius, whose great flow is combined with a few exquisite moments on both guitar and piano, to produce an alternative rock track worthy of the Smashing Pumpkins name.

Whilst the tracks presented here are most definitely well crafted and executed, the music featuring within belongs to a Corgan solo effort, or at least to his briefly existing side project Zwan. Smashing Pumpkins have always evolved and with every new album (yes even the ones after the original line-up disbanded) they have continued to push boundaries. However, with this iteration of the Corgan Machine, no new ground has been covered and ultimately it puts the once edgy band into a category labelled as distinctly middle of the road.

Overall: 5/10

Thank you for reading. Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and as always press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

– James

The Beginning of the End?

In a week where Rammstein’s frontman Till Lindemann announced his first solo project, and Emigrate’s second album Silent So Long (and consequently their debut too) has been heavily played on my stereo, it seemed only natural to write about what the future might hold for the unusually quiet German metal band.

Rammstein’s last studio album, Liebe Ist Für Alle Da, came out in October 2009 and since then they have spent most of their time touring their explicit, pyro-centric and almost carnival-like live show. The first new music to appear from any of the members since then was Emigrate’s second album Silent So Long, which was released just last month. Is this increase in activity from side projects just part of the natural album cycle that is becoming increasingly popular with larger bands, or something more potent; perhaps even the beginning of the end for Rammstein?

It would certainly be a shame if it was.

Rammstein grew from the height of industrial metal in the early nineties and have probably been the greatest success story from the scene (with the exception of Nine Inch Nails), outlasting many of their contemporaries and evolving just enough to maintain relevant, without sacrificing their unique brand (and it really is a brand) of metal. Their first, and only, significant slip came with 2005’s Rosenrot, which although was a solid album, failed to make the same impact as predecessors Reise, Reise and Mutter, perhaps stemming from it beginning life as a Reise, Reise Volume 2. This was subsequently corrected with the release of the monolithic Liebe Est Für Alle Da, which was their darkest and heaviest effort to date.

With the announcement that Till Lindemann has formed a self-titled side project with Swedish producer Peter Tagtgren (also of Hypocrisy and Pain) it now leaves the two most prominent members of the band busy with other projects for the near-future. It therefore seems unlikely that the band will get back together this year, pushing the earliest possible release date for a new album back to mid-late 2016s, maybe even 2017.

However with the release of a best-of collection in 2011, entitled Made in Germany 1995-2011, and a sister collection for their music videos, combined with this increased side project activity, is it likely the band will reunite at all? In an interview with Metal Hammer (see below) guitarist, and Emigrate frontman, Richard Kruspe stated that the band meet up once a year to discuss their future and when they meet again in 2015 they will decide whether to regroup or to continue doing their separate pursuits. It seems there is still desire to do something within the band, but like many of the bigger bands these days, the repeated album cycle does not seen to excite the members anymore.

http://metalhammer.teamrock.com/videos/2014-09-11/richard-kruspe-on-the-future-of-rammstein

There are reports suggesting that one of the reasons Metallica are not rushing to complete a new record is because of the unprofitable nature of the album creation process, which makes their continual touring a logical business decision. Maybe Rammstein have reached the same stage of their career; when they too can rely on their back catalogue and infamous live show to avoid entering the studio as regularly as smaller bands must.

Whatever Rammstein end up doing, 2015 looks to be a crucial year in their history, not only because it marks their twentieth birthday.

There will be no RockAtlantic next week – it will return on Monday 26th January!

Thank you for reading. Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and as always press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

– James

RockAtlantic’s 2015 Preview

Music is as much about looking to the future and finding new talent, as it is about remembering the past and the classic albums it gave us. So with my last two posts featuring my top ten albums of the calendar year just gone, this first blog of 2015 will, rather symmetrically, look towards the year ahead of us and what music we can expect it to produce.

I begin with the optimistic, near hopeful, predictions for 2015. These generally happen to be the same as 2014 and 2013 and 2012 and so on, but with every year we wait, surely its more likely that the procrastinating bands will produce. I’m talking, of course, about the likes of Tool, Metallica and System of a Down. I’ve never been a huge fan of System, except for the odd few songs like Aerials and B.Y.O.B, so I can’t say I’m personally excited for it, but I am still curious if a) they will release a new album and b) what direction they take now that 2005 (the release year of their last album, Hypnotize) was ten years ago!

However, I am excited about the prospect of Metallica and Tool. Surprisingly, Tool look like the more realistic option out of the two, with various sources suggesting that the music to their fifth studio album is more-or-less complete and that they are just waiting for vocalist Maynard James Keenan to write the lyrics. However, that could all be a complete lie; I think most Tool fans won’t get excited until they can physically feel the new album’s cellophane wrapping peeling away from the case and even then there will still be some trepidation as the case swings open. Metallica, however, don’t seem to have much progress, despite numerous articles claiming that they have filled enough sheds with new material to open a garden centre. They once again seem to be set for another summer of touring, leaving the earliest studio date as winter 2015, so here’s hoping for 2016…

But what about albums that are confirmed?

Well let’s start with rock. Smashing Pumpkins are set to release Day for Night sometime this year, which is the companion disc to 2014’s streamlined pop-rock album Monuments to an Elegy. Billy Corgan has admitted that if these two albums fail to make an impact he will most likely retire the Pumpkins brand and after a very quiet first release, things aren’t looking positive for the once world-beating frontman. Muse also have a point to prove, as their last release, The 2nd Law, was an unfocussed, confused record that felt like the band were being stretched across too many ideas. Their upcoming 2015 album needs to redefine what the band stand for, or they risk being sucked into the popular rock blackhole, whose most recent victim was Foo Fighters.

Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated rock record of 2015 is the as-yet-untitled Faith No More effort, with two traditionally left-field tracks already released and an April due date tentatively announced. There is also great anticipation for a new Red Hot Chili Peppers album, who last month entered the studio promising a greater input from ‘new’ guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. We can also expect (some with more certainty than others) new material from a lot of rock and metal’s old guard, such as Def Leppard, UFO, Scorpions, Fleetwood Mac, David Gilmour, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Motorhead.

The world of prog looks set for a great 2015 too. The modern day Goliath of progressive music, Steven Wilson, is all set to release Hand. Cannot. Erase in February, which once again features the exquisite talents of Marco Minnemann, Adam Holzman, Nick Beggs, Theo Travis and Guthrie Govan, as well as the new addition of vocalist Ninet Tayeb, whose inclusion allows for Wilson’s new concept to take shape. On top of this, progressive metallers Periphery will release their double album Juggernaut this month and Between the Buried and Me have just announced their follow up to 2012’s The Parallax II due later in the year.

There are also several big names in metal expected to make a reappearance this year. Lamb of God’s last album was released in January 2012, which although seems like not long ago, Randy Blythe’s imprisonment and legal proceedings, make their expected 2015 album feel more like a comeback from a decade-long hiatus. However, a band that is actually returning from a hiatus is Atreyu, who will be eager to carry on from 2009’s brilliant genre-hoping Congregation of the Damned. However, the metalcore scene has changed a lot since their departure, so should we be expecting a musical shift akin to 2007’s Lead Sails Paper Anchor? The list of metal bands expected to release this year is endless, but other noteworthy releases include a new Deftones album, the return of Marilyn Manson, a recently completed Tremonti record and an influx of thrash from Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Kreator, D.R.I. and Testament.

2015 is looking to be a great year indeed for music.

Thank you for reading. Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and as always press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

– James