After the Smashing Pumpkins broke up at the end of 2001, leader Billy Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin joined up with three other musicians to form Zwan, which lasted all of one album.
Now the Pumpkins have reunited, and it’s Corgan, Chamberlin and three other musicians, none of whom is original Pumpkins James Iha or D’arcy Wretzky.
Is that technically a reunion?
Is that technically Smashing Pumpkins?
I’d say no to the reunion part, but the Pumpkins part is trickier because it gets into the knotty question of what actually defines a band.
Upon her group’s 2005 induction into the Rock `n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Chrissie Hynde said the Pretenders basically had been “a tribute band” because original guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon died after the recording of “Pretenders II.”
Yet the Pretenders’ subsequent album in 1984, “Learning To Crawl,” recorded with original drummer Martin Chambers and two new recruits, included “Back on the Chain Gang” (recorded with a different guitarist-bassist duo), “Middle of the Road” and “My City Was Gone.” Would anyone claim those songs aren’t essential to the Pretenders’ legacy?
Flip-side argument: Squeeze recently reunited for a tour, with singer-songwriter-guitarists Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford being joined by the bassist from the band’s classic early-‘80s lineup, John Bentley, plus the keyboardist and drummer from Tilbrook’s recent touring band. Meanwhile, original Squeeze keyboardist Jools Holland and drummer Gilson Lavis are touring with Holland’s Rhythm & Blues Orchestra.
Difford and Tilbrook wrote and sang the bulk of Squeeze’s songs, yet their reunion rings hollow to me. Squeeze didn’t feel like a band anymore when I saw them in the late `90s with Difford and Tilbrook as the only remaining full-timers, and the current lineup doesn’t seem to change anything.
XTC still hit some new peaks after losing drummer Terry Chambers, though it took a few albums of adjusting. But R.E.M. hasn’t felt like R.E.M. since drummer Bill Berry left in 1997. (One key difference: Berry was a songwriting contributor.)
To me Pink Floyd became bogus once songwriter/bassist/singer Roger Waters was gone, even though Floyd survived the departure of its original dominant visionary, Syd Barrett. Wilco has maintained its artistic vitality and popularity despite an ever-changing lineup around leader/founder Jeff Tweedy.
Fleetwood Mac had a revolving door of personnel, yet the relatively late addition of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks created the sound that ultimately defined the band—so much so that when that pair was gone again, hardly anyone accepted a new album, “Time,” recorded with replacement members Billy Burnette, Dave Mason and Bekka Bramlett and released in 1994.
Genesis survived the departure of key singer/songwriter Peter Gabriel and guitarist Steve Hackett, though not in everyone’s eyes. KISS got its mojo back (with fans at least) when the original quartet reunited and donned face paint again.
Was Van Halen still Van Halen with Sammy Hagar instead of David Lee Roth?
Was it still Van Halen with Gary Cherone on lead vocals?
Would it still be Van Halen with Eddie Van Halen’s teenage son Wolfgang on bass instead of original member Michael Anthony, as was planned before the band’s latest implosion?
You can easily argue that Corgan is the Pumpkins. He’s the singer/songwriter/lead guitarist/multi-instrumentalist said to have recorded most of the non-drumming parts on the breakthrough album “Siamese Dream.”
Meanwhile, Chamberlin, with his powerhouse attack, is the most distinct other Pumpkin, and even he missed an album earlier on.
Still, is the difference between the Pumpkins and Zwan merely one of attitude, vibe and back catalog?
At this point any answer would be theoretical.
If the upcoming album “Zeitgeist” sounds like classic Pumpkins, then it will be credited with extending the legacy. If it’s not up to par, then it won’t—and it’ll further bolster my theory of the Curse of the Reunited Band. (Which goes like this: Any well-established band that reunites after a long hiatus never reaches the recording standard of its classic period.)
Then again, if the Pumpkins aren’t technically a reunited band, maybe the curse doesn’t apply.