Review By Kevin Liedel
It's a bittersweet time to be a Smashing Pumpkins fan. Yes, the band is back together - if you count "back together" as the simple combination of esoteric frontman Billy Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain (and some other people who are decidedly not guitarist James Iha or bassist D'arcy.) And yes, the band is making records again - if by records you mean the horribly under-produced Zeitgeist, an album that strains to recapture grit in all the wrong ways. Then again, it would be difficult to match that musical zenith the Pumpkins scaled since their origins at Sub-Pop, with sophomore album Siamese Dream and double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness possibly being the greatest one-two punch of 90's alternative art-rock ever produced.
Taking in the shape of the band's new art installation/concert mashup DVD If All Goes Wrong, fans will be immediately whisked back to those aforementioned glory days (even the cover font is similar to that of Siamese Dream's, perhaps a satirical decision on Corgan's part.) But with a wealth of content splayed across two discs, the overwhelming question is one of justification: does the music and makeup of the Smashing Pumpkins (in their current iteration) merit such a project? The answer is neither a resounding "yes" nor an emphatic "no," but something in between - something that produces a few gems and a whole lot of rueful "what ifs." If All Goes Wrong succeeds in some areas while lacking in others, and its overall impact will likely be determined by how fanatical a devotee one is of Corgan's sonic musings.
The DVD is undeniably impressive in regards to packaging and visual quality. Wrapped in a Cirque du Soleil-esque art nouveau chic, If All Goes Wrong provides a veritable treasure trove of Pumpkins content: a documentary on their "experimental" comeback tour, and a full-length concert spliced from Asheville's Orange Peel and the legendary Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco (including a bonus rehearsal session.) Both programs are wonderfully shot and directed, the former portion providing incredible insight into the rather enigmatic workings of Corgan's creative juices. In addition to sobering narration from band members and other important figures, the documentary provides a rather humble, straightforward look at the Pumpkins' left-field comeback. It's surprisingly modest and decidedly unassuming - and as far from the glory-treading intentions of their earlier work as feasible (just reference an early moment in the Pumpkins' Asheville stint, where Corgan is caught eating cauliflower in his pajamas.)
Perhaps the documentary's best offering is a look behind the curtain of songwriting, coupled with Corgan's own neuroses regarding absentee members Iha and D'Arcy and "old" material. If nothing else, it's an incredibly revealing glimpse at the turmoil and sensitivity persistent backstage, and perhaps evidence of what's amiss - sort of like "Intervention" for rock stars. It's the kind of thing that will make viewers wonder why the Pumpkin name is attached at all, considering the heavy emphasis on Corgan's own journey with new faces attached.
All this brings us to the concert itself: as is Corgan's wish, it is rife with new material and little headliners. Corgan's love-it-or-hate-it voice is a little thinner but also more behaved, and the musical quality is pristine. There are some surprising melodies ("Starla," of all things, from Pisces Iscariot) and quite a few nods to the original band's last foray ("Blues Skies Bring Tears," "The Crying Tree of Mercury," and "Heavy Metal Machine," all from Machina.) Yet despite the DVD's rabid defense of such decisions, it's clear there's a big gaping hole where the musical magic once resided, with fans openly admitting that nostalgia is the only thing keeping them from walking out. The result is a live portion that's solid but forgettable - a rueful predicament for ol' Pumpkinheads hoping to recapture some alternative enchantment.
As stated earlier, the larger feeling one comes away with from If All Goes Wrong is a sense of bittersweet regret. Apart from the recently refurbished Vieuphoria, the "old" Smashing Pumpkins never had such extensive coverage, and this current DVD release feels more like Billy Corgan's self-indulgent personal discovery rather than anything related to the band's current plight. Perhaps things would have fared better if the camera was focusing on a differently-titled act (such as the now-defunct Zwan) or Corgan as a single artist. But as it stands now, the well-meaning, content-loaded If All Goes Wrong will probably invoke more sorrow than jubilation.