The story goes that 75% of the original Smashing Pumpkins lineup, plus Jeff Schroeder (D’arcy Wretsky, how have we forsaken thee), had a proposition for Rick Rubin, who was presumably barefoot and asleep on the studio’s couch at the time, by turns convulsing at nightmarish recollections of interactions with Kanye West and dreaming wistfully of the arrival of lunch via Deliveroo. They had a bunch of demos, and were looking to turn one of them into a fully fledged comeback song, worthy of the considerable hullabaloo surrounding this (second? third?) “reunion.” But in a move that’s strikingly, depressingly consistent with Billy Corgan’s approach to quality control over the past 20 years (Christ, has it really been that long since Adore?), they went ahead and recorded the lot of them. Which brings us, for our many sins, to Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol.1 LP: No Past, No Future, No Sun, or SAOSBV1LPNPNFNS, as it will henceforth not be referred to by anyone. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness doesn’t sound so unbearably pretentious now, does it?

Allow me to preface this review with the disclaimer/admission that, yes, my name is Andy Johnston, and I am a Pumpkins addict. The addiction took hold in my early teens and for those first few years, it was just beautiful. That opening four album run from Gish to Adore, and the accompanying b-sides collections, basically made all the awkwardness and pain of adolescence worth it. The relationship soured a little with Machina, was partially redeemed by Machina II, and has since travelled through the troughs and valleys called Zwan, TheFutureEmbrace, Zeitgeist, Teargarden by Fucking Kaleidyscope Volumes 1 & 2, Oceania, Monuments to an Elegy, and last year’s Ogilala. Now, I’m not saying there hasn’t been anything of value in those 18 years of output. Zeitgeist pretty much deserves its rotten reputation but still has some redeemable aspects. Oceania is a bit too brazenly transparent an attempt at replicating past glories, but still thrills in places. ‘Tiberius’ and ‘One and All’ off Monuments woke us all up for a second there, and Ogilala’s closing track, ‘Archer,’ demonstrated that Corgan’s muse hadn’t totally departed him.

Even so, we Pumpkins fans have suffered. And I haven’t even gotten into the InfoWars stuff, or the absolute shambles surrounding the non-involvement of D’arcy in this 30-year anniversary reunion. If I started on pure, life-giving heroin, this shit’s been cut together with so much crushed paracetamol and rat poison over the years that I’ve seriously considered jumping ship entirely, emotionally uncoupling myself from the notion of Pumpkins fandom altogether.

So is Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 the course correction that will make you and me believe again? In short, no. But did any of us honestly think it would be? The best we could hope for was: not a complete disaster. And this new iteration of the Pumpkins have just about cleared that low bar, like a mobility scooter mounting a dropped kerb.

It doesn't start well, though. The first five seconds of 'Knights of Malta’ are almost enough to make you turn off completely, as a distorted, watery Corgan wah-wah-wahs distractedly over Ogilala piano and a nerve-fraying string arrangement. As the track goes on you'll start to wonder if you're listening to a Smashing Pumpkins song at all. As Corgan sings about finding open roads, catching stars, making it happen, flying forever and riding rainbows, like a walking compendium of empowering rock star tropes, and his barely reanimated band plods along disinterestedly, tugged along occasionally by a tightening of the leash, you begin to fear the worst. And then the gospel backing singers turn up for work and you start second guessing yourself. Is this… ironic? Surely no one could throw this many tired clichés at one song and mean it? But then you remember, this is late-stage Billy Corgan, a man who traffics exclusively in oppressively earnest sincerity.

The main problem with Shiny is that half of its tracklisting is dedicated to mid-tempo rockers that are only fractionally better than 'Knights of Malta.’ 'Travels’ has a pleasing jangle to it and an interesting, stumbling rhythm, but Corgan's vocals during the verses ring hollow (“see noun, see noun, see noun...” ad nauseum), and the chorus refrain of “It's where I belong” is repeated so often that it becomes meaningless, the words evaporating into nothingness mere inches after passing his lips. Corgan and his Pumpkins do what they can with it fairly competently, but the song cries out for further development. In its current form, it's a sketch stretched out past the point of endurance.

'Alienation’ highlights all that is wrong with the choice of Rubin as producer. As with everything on Shiny, Corgan's vocals are mixed too high and left too clean. Butch Vig is the only producer who knew what to do with that voice: double-track it and bury it a little, smoothing off the unpalatable edges. Rubin records Shiny the same way he approached Ogilala. Compression is king. Sure, everything sounds crisp and clear, but it doesn't do the songs any favours. Not that any amount of shoegaze-y, gaussian blur would disguise the sheer awkwardness of Billy rhyming “alienation” with “penetration.”

When it comes down to it, the song just sounds cheap and cheesy (that ringing piano loop is the chief culprit). It's as if the song is being performed by flimsy cardboard cut-outs of The Smashing Pumpkins, operated by pulleys and levers, disguised by plumes of theatrical fog being hissed out by a dry ice machine. It is, at least, partially redeemed by its rollicking climax, which has the strange effect of highlighting how awful the rest of the song is even as you are enjoying that nostalgia-inducing rush of guitars.

Of the MOR cuts, 'With Sympathy’ hues closest to Pumpkins of old, featuring an endearing chorus melody and a genuinely wistful tone. Most importantly, the song doesn't outstay it's welcome, even if Corgan's lyrics again veer towards intolerably faux-poetic word salad: “Please, stay confused, Disunion has its use, Its sadness, dead goons, and pageants of harm.” But regardless of these tentative ticks in the pro column, it's hard to suppress the suspicion that these songs would have struggled to register as anything more than filler even on Judas O, the B-sides collection that came packaged with 2001’s Rotten Apples greatest hits compilation.

The last time Jimmy Chamberlin rejoined the band we got Zeitgeist, the 2007 “comeback” album that wound up being the most consistently hard-rocking release in the Pumpkins back catalogue. Sure, it was fairly soulless, sanitised radio-metal, but at least it had some energy. If nothing else, it served as a showreel for Chamberlin’s successful application to be forever enshrined in the rock’n’roll drummers hall of fame. On Shiny, you’ll barely realise that Chamberlin is even around until someone nudges him awake for ‘Solara,’ so anonymous are the majority of his contributions. ‘Solara’ won’t go down as a classic specimen of loud Pumpkins, but Chamberlin pulls out his full arsenal of impossibly nimble fills and even gets a marching band drum solo that effectively builds excitement for the song’s tumultuous denouement. ‘Marchin’ On’ is the other all-out rocker on Shiny but, unfortunately, it brings back unpleasant memories of the worst of Zeitgeist and the Machina era. Any song that starts with the line, “she kills the empty clock,” has to work extra hard to win back a listener’s good will. Where, back in ‘95 the band’s forceful sound could redeem a song that started with an opening gambit as objectively silly as “the world is a vampire;” in 2018, Corgan’s charmless, obnoxious vocals and knuckleheaded riffing on ‘Marchin’ On’ do their darndest, but to no avail.

How to satisfyingly cap off an album that isn’t really an album? It’s a question to which ‘Seek and You Shall Destroy’ is the Pumpkins’ ineffectual answer. “Seek and you shall destroy, you shall destroy me,” Corgan repeats, his voice straining as his pointlessly, partially reformed band fumble towards a sound that suits the notion of what “The Smashing Pumpkins” should even be in 2018. It’s tempting to think of this line as commentary on the listener’s search for meaning in Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1. With its promise of a second volume (a shaky promise for those who remember the plans for Teargarden by Kaleidyscope), it’s transparently obvious status as a mere collection of songs rather than any kind of unified statement, and Corgan’s intolerably florid and obtuse musings throughout, it is a project that does not bear close scrutiny. Look too closely and you will destroy what Corgan is trying to achieve here.

If I sound irretrievably cynical, know that it’s a defence mechanism. Against my better instinct, I have cause for some hope that Corgan and his unmerry band of cohorts can recapture a portion of the magic that helped define and provide solace in my youth. ‘Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)’ is the kind of disarmingly catchy and emotionally affecting song that Corgan used to write in his sleep. Its lineage can be traced backwards through career highlights like ‘Try, Try, Try,’ ‘Perfect’, and ‘1979.’ Yes, Chamberlin may as well be a drum machine on it, yes, Rubin’s hamfisted production dulls its impact somewhat, and, yes, Corgan po-facedly sings about snapping like a dragon, diving like a pelican and sulking like a sunken mine (your guess is as good as mine), but goddamn it if I’m not humming this tune to myself absentmindedly at all hours. It makes you wish that Corgan had stuck to his original idea of recording just the one song as a 30th anniversary tour tie-in. With some more time and care, ‘Silvery Sometimes’ could have been an unimpeachable addition to the Pumpkins canon. As it stands, it suffers the fate of being packaged in what will likely go down as one of the worst albums in the band’s discography.