Zero: That is the exact number of doubts singer-guitarist-songwriter Billy Corgan has about this controversial resurrection of his old band. “I never felt so right and good. . . . You’ll never need another sound,” he crows in that bleating voice against the titanic fuzz of “Bring the Light.” It is classic Corgan bravado, but the cumulative effect of his distortion-orchestra guitar and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin’s pinpoint thunder is impressive and convincing, a return to the big pop-wise din of 1993’s Siamese Dream. Original members James Iha and D’Arcy Wretzky are not part of this reunion, but they were hardly on Siamese Dream — Corgan played their guitar and bass parts.
By that standard, Zeitgeist, performed entirely by Corgan and Chamberlin, is a Pumpkins record — and a good one. Lyrically, Zeitgeist is the least self-absorbed record Corgan has ever written, although not quite the electric newspaper some song titles suggest. There is more fear of frying than actual fight and social remedy in “Doomsday Clock” and “For God and Country,” the latter sounding more like Corgan’s pledge of allegiance to the Cure. The closest thing to victory over Dick Cheney is the promise in “Starz” — “We cannot die. . . . We are stars/We are” — which rocks better than it reads, with Robert Fripp-like snakes of guitar and a closing frenzy of staccato power chords and Chamberlin pummeling his cymbals into splinters.
The best thing about Zeitgeist is that Corgan is back to what he does best: hard-rock architecture. His wall-of-guitars overdubs are exhilarating in their details: the harmonized squeals in “7 Shades of Black”; the creeping buzz of “Tarantula”; the long, howling solo, sinking in echo, in “United States.” The Pumpkins were never more exciting in the Nineties than when Corgan unleashed his inner Tony Iommi all over his inner Robert Smith. That is what happens on Zeitgeist, which makes it a strong new start for Corgan and Chamberlin, no matter what they call themselves.