Published in three installments Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts is the twelfth studio album Smashing Pumpkins the official successor of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness as well as Machina/The Machines of God.
Subjectively speaking, a few months apart admittedly allowed a kind of benevolent peace to be made with the first part of Atum’s complete works: despite Billy Corgan’s reputation-damaging production, some passages got stuck in a surprisingly unnegative way, because there was potential behind the polarizing aesthetics yes fundamentally good material with lots of catchy ideas hidden – there could if (explained in podcasts with wrestling employees and astrologers in the narrative context, but just not justified by anything) Hooray! another tasteless loop around the nonetheless sometimes shameful first part of the whole package.
Even with at most mild interest as a tailwind can Act II in this respect, together with relativized expectations and demands that have been corrected to the basement, experience an easier birth in many respects than its predecessor (third).
In this respect alone, the middle part of the entire work manages to convince without a moment of shock, especially since it doesn’t have to endure an explicit total failure or a finale that collapses in terms of quality like its predecessor. However, also because the level of songwriting in direct comparison turned out to be a bit higher overall, a few (due to the latently soulless staging remaining an alibi action) (sledgehammer) rockisms the more pop catchyness of Act I and the feeling that there is a band (vaguely simulating democratic approaches) behind everything can at least be guessed at.
So what’s up Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts (Act II) – who, by the way, still fails to tell his diffuse space story in a comprehensible way along cryptic lyrics without podcast crutches away from the rough musical and textual level – to be heard in all his ambivalence?
Well, first of all, a damn bumpy transition: do you consume the whole thing Atum in one piece, takes over Avalanche von The Gold Mask, the snappy percussion joke closer of the first part, annoyingly breaking the flow by first having to wake up from the silence again: a prime example of all the potential for optimization that was left unattended in the sequencing and the seams. If you climb straight in Act II on the other hand, all you have to do is get through the dulling intro redundancy typical of the album in order to arrive at a rumbling standard whose synths are actually staged in a more atmospheric way, while the guitar is allowed to howl more atmospherically and the arrangements of the theoretical background singers Katie Cole and Sierra Swan succeeded in coming to the fore.
In the penetrating catchy tune Empires a psychedelic riff meanders as a supporting element (even if even such “heaviness” cannot force an emotional catharsis), which in its banal simplicity is also far less annoying than Corgan’s eternal squeaking loop of the title – a fate that also the pleasantly babbling synthpop from Neophyte shares, who at some point gets stuck in his melancholy and vomits his “It ain‘t right‘ passage repeated. A large part of the songwriting now consists of a tiresome repetition – in the case of the somehow-then-yet-highlight Moss this is a stoically shuffling-thumping beat complete with a heavier roasting riff that just spins in circles until a solo howls as if offering any perspective. But the real eye-catchers are the subtly absurd “Meow, Meow, Meow“-backing chants. Katzenjammer is still different.
Night Waves is an immediately forgotten filler without any relevance and Space Age more ethereal and hymn-like – somehow beautiful, but also so exemplary non-committal and untouching. Every Morning first takes a lot of time to wake up from the unnerving space delirium, then dreams with Uff-Zack into the 80s… and simply runs along with his one-dimensional drum machine/Jimmy without anything happening: a celebrated irrelevance splashes in the inexplicably longest song on the record as a statement of the current state of the “band” that releases their albums under the Pumpkins-Banner sold dearly.
The nicely programmed pop rock To the Grays with its guitar embellishments is just as unspectacularly clear as Beguiled as Rammstein‘esque heavy rocker from the formulaic MO ingredients before the engaging, wistful melody of The Culling almost falls asleep in the corset of aesthetics. But as soon as elegiac solo swathes in a symbiosis with the keyboard swathes of the title track opener by Act I send: good! And if the piecemeal Springtimes finds itself over a warm acoustic guitar with a sad piano, it’s actually quite a forgiving, coherent ending.
Also thanks to this departure one does not have to first make a benevolent peace with Act II close to be able to live with the record – the shoulder-shrugging equality that Corgan and Co. maintain here for long stretches doesn’t have to upset anyone after all.