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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Avril Lavigne was just four years old when the Smashing Pumpkins formed in 1988.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: The Smashing Pumpkins went on to become one of the biggest alternative rock success stories of the 1990s. Now Billy Corgan, the lead singer, is back with one of his original band mates. Today they're releasing the first new Pumpkins album in seven years. The disc is called "Zeitgeist".

Here is music writer Christian Bordal.

CHRISTIAN BORDAL: The Smashing Pumpkins broke up in 2000, but in June 2005 lead singer Billy Corgan took out a full page ad in the Chicago Tribune that said I have made plans to renew and revive the Smashing Pumpkins. I want my band back and my songs, and my dreams.

Well, only drummer Jimmy Chamberlain actually joined in on the new album being released, and the ensuing tour. But as the ad suggests, the Pumpkins were always mostly about Corgan, the band's lead singer, songwriter and guitarist. It's his nasal, keening voice and his clouds of overdubbed distorted guitars that most identify the band's sound. And on the new record, those elements are back in spades.

(Soundbite of song, "Doomsday Clock")

Mr. BILLY CORGAN (Vocalist, The Smashing Pumpkins): (Singing) Please don't stop. It's lonely at the top. These lonely days will they ever stop? This doomsday clock tickin' in my heart, not broken.

BORDAL: Heavy, distorted guitars helped classify the Smashing Pumpkins as alt-rock band at the right time in the early '90s. But in fact the precision and bombast of the Pumpkins always borrowed a good deal from progressive rock and heavy metal, along with nods to goth rock, and '80s synth rock and shoegazers.

(Soundbite of song, "7 Shades of Black")

Mr. CORGAN: (Singing) Cause you don't want me no more. But just you worry...

BORDAL: The Pumpkins never had the indie-rock cred that alt-rock rivals Nirvana and Pearl Jam. And to underscore that point, three slightly different versions of the new album "Zeitgeist" are being mass-marketed through Best Buy, Target and iTunes. So if you want all the band's new songs, you'll have to hit two big-boxes and the Web, but you can skip you're old local indie record store.

(Soundbite of song, "7 Shades of Black")

Mr. CORGAN: (Singing) 'Cause I want you bad, fall in hate with me with one trick, you will want it all. The yeah-yeah tears. The now and here. The without anyone at all. I'm torn without. I'm crying out for doom...

BORDAL: Zeitgeist. It's a German term that refers to encapsulating the important qualities of the time. The blood-red album cover, depicting a slowly drowning Statue of Liberty, shows, as I suppose, how Corgan would define the current zeitgeist. Well, a few lyrics you'll be able to make out above the guitar drone include vague references to the apocalypse and doomsday and revolution and the need for love.

Then again, Corgan's songs have always been grandiose but unspecific, like the wash of distorted guitars that powers them.

(Soundbite of music)

BORDAL: Don't get me wrong, there's definitely still commercial pop power in some of these big-arena rock choruses, and Corgan's low-key vocal delivery plays nicely off the hard rock arrangements.

So while this latest incarnation of the band may not include all the original members, if you were a Smashing Pumpkins fan 10-plus years ago and it still holds a place in your heart, this new album should definitely be added to your collection. But if they never did much for you in the first place, or you feel like you've moved on, there's nothing much new here to change your mind.

(Soundbite of song, "That's The Way (My Love Is)")

Mr. CORGAN: (Singing) They'll say that nothing matters, not even your will to survive.

BRAND: The new Smashing Pumpkins CD is called "Zeitgeist". It's out today. You can hear full-length cuts from the album at npr.org. Independent music journalist Christian Bordal is based in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of song)

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