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The Battalion

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The Battalion

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Criticism: ‘ATUM’ Act I

Art+Critic+Emma+Ehle+says+Act+I+of+The+Smashing+Pumpkins+new+Rock+Opera+illustrates+an+interesting+attempt+at+avante-garde+rock.%26%23160%3B
Via Facebook/The Smashing Pumpkins

Art Critic Emma Ehle says Act I of The Smashing Pumpkins new Rock Opera illustrates an interesting attempt at avante-garde rock.

 

Rating: 3.5/10

On Tuesday, Nov. 15, The Smashing Pumpkins released Act I of their 33-track rock opera, “ATUM ” (2023). The album, which was cited by the band as a sequel to “Mellon Collie and Infinite Sadness” (1995) and “Machina/TheMachines of God” (2000), appeared to have some fans hoping for a record resembling the Pumpkins older work; a hope that was quickly extinguished by practically every track of “ATUM” Act I.

The act as a whole can best be described as a contemporary synth-pop explosion blended with minute hints of the classic Pumpkins sound. It not only resembles very little of the hard rock grit that original Pumpkins fans seem to love, but also doesn’t really seem to resemble a rock opera at all. In what appears to be an attempt at something experimental, nuanced and avant-garde, Billy Corgan not only fell short, but sought out depth in an album that is, so far, illustrating very little.
While the majority of Act I’s tracks feel like a poorly executed attempt at electronica experimentation, there are three songs with redeeming qualities that reflect the band’s known talent: “The Good in Goodbye,” “Beyond the Vale” and “Beguiled.”
“The Good in Goodbye” and “Beyond the Vale,” which both demonstrate strong guitar and relatively catchy hooks, still utilize some avant-garde synth elements while not letting them completely overpower the music, an issue that occurs with many of the other tracks. They are also memorable rather than messy, standing out against other songs on the album that sound like a sloppy attempt at genre bending.

“Beguiled,” despite technically being a part of ATUM Act II, was released by the band as a single back in September. While the track is clearly the strongest piece of music on “ATUM” thus far, making it clear why “Beguiled” was chosen as the album’s single, it feels a bit like a false delivery for what the rest of “ATUM” offers. “Beguiled” has edge, a captivating guitar riff, and overall strong rock elements — components that the rest of the album desperately lacks.

Stepping away from the album’s stronger moments, tracks like “Hooray!” and “Hooligan” showcase poor songwriting, overpowering synth and childish production. These tracks, along with others like “Butterfly Suite” and “Embracer” not only feel generally messy and forgettable, but also lack strong hooks and melodies that have been so prevalent in their other works. 

Generally, the largest issue with “ATUM” Act I is not that it is experimental, but rather it feels like it is trying too hard. If the synth and overall avant garde elements felt more like a flowing melody and less like a slap in the face, it would be much easier to enjoy the bizarreness of the act as a whole. Furthermore, based both on the content of the album thus far as well as fan reaction, “ATUM” should not have been labeled as a sequel of “Mellon Collie and Infinite Sadness” and “Machina/TheMachines of God.” This decision seems to have been a poor one on the part of the Pumpkins, as it raised fan expectations for an album then immediately brought it back down.

While the beginning of this album is not incredibly promising, it will be interesting to see if the band continues in the same direction with Acts II and III. 

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