The Smashing Pumpkins is a band that needs no introduction. The Chicago-based group has been releasing music for more than three decades, weathering through multiple musical eras and going through a few iterations of their own. In 2018, we saw the majority of the ‘original’ lineup rejoin Billy Corgan – who remained a constant member through all these years – for more studio releases. This brought us Shiny And Oh So Bright in that year followed by the latest 2020 release Cyr.
Cyr is a departure from the grungy guitar-driven sound that Corgan has been known for, instead this is an album that centers around the synth. In Cyr the band dive into a more contemporary sound as they explore dream pop and synthpop with some leanings on goth and darkwave. This can come across as jarring from longtime fans of the group, but those willing to approach things with an open mind will find plenty of things to enjoy.
There’s a string of anxiety in this record that’s marred by the turn of the 21st century. Corgan approaches this with esoteric lyrics that suggests an inescapable longing while the music balances on dystopian moods and gloomy synth textures. In “Confessions Of A Dopamine Addict” this is characterized by brooding synths and melodies. It follows a narrator as they try to find love in a place where it’s becoming increasingly scarce : “Love is easy / Whichever way you start / Taking a diamond / Slice it through your heart”.
The same theme persists on the title track “Cyr”, where Corgan describes it as a song about: “One soul against the world”. The song has a strong danceable rhythm, with a lot of inspiration from EDM and electronica, yet there’s a feeling of unease in its highly industrial soundscape that suggests a losing battle for our hero.
The centerpiece “Wyttch” provides a strong moment of respite as the guitars take the center stage. Blaring distorted riffs provide the foundation while the synths are relegated to an orchestral backing role, making for an epic symphonic rock track.
Other highlights include “Purple Blood”, with its multi-layered use of synth pads, guitars and vocals. These elements undergo several changes in the track, which is already a fun journey on its own, but as they weave into one another the result is nothing short of bliss. You can really see the amount of work Corgan has put into these arrangements. Another one is “Tyger, Tyger”, which gives off a strong noir vibe with its stripped down synth and percussion beats while Sierra Swan & Katie Cole give off soft vocal support to Corgan’s sharp delivery.
Cyr is a bold and ambitious step for a band with decades of influence and history. The Smashing Pumpkins are here to stay and this just proves that they still have more ground left to explore.