Silversun Pickups Losing Luster

Courtesy of Dangerbird Records

Courtesy of Dangerbird Records
Silversun Pickups shows a knack for hooks on “Swoon,” but the band runs the risk of becoming labeled as a Smashing Pumpkins imitation.

It’s hard enough for a band to evolve from a sound when it’s associated with a specific scene, but what’s worse is when your band’s sound isn’t just a product of a scene, but a product of a band that came before you. Any person that is cognizant of ’90s music can hear the Smashing Pumpkins in the Silversun Pickups. From the raspy, angsty delivery of frontman Brian Aubert to the subtle, complimentary boy/girl vocals and the extremely familiar tone of the guitars, you can’t help the urge to listen to the Smashing Pumpkins’ classic record “Siamese Dream” before finishing a song by Silversun Pickups.

Worst of all, the Pumpkins, lead by the unforgettable Billy Corgan, were an incredible band all throughout the ’90s, so what’s the point in bothering with another band that just proves to be an imitation?

The point is: They’re a rather good imitation. Yes, Aubert definitely lacks Corgan’s guitar chops, but he’s got a great knack for hooks that Corgan could definitely have used since the turn of the century. Silversun Pickups’ debut “Carnavas” was powered by its infectious single “Lazy Eye.” The catchy throwback record was critically acclaimed. Most fans of that ’90s sound will find it happily nostalgic to listen to “Carnavas,” but the album has no staying power. The tunes soon grew old and there was little point in going back. That’s all fine and dandy with your debut, but if you’re going to rip off a band, you better get a little more interesting the second time around. The band’s sophomore effort “Swoon” looked to answer a lot of questions that critics had been waiting for it.

Aubert’s hooks and the band’s nostalgic effect go a long way in keeping this album afloat. The gorgeous bridge in the middle of “The Royal We” is reminiscent of guitarist James Iha’s finer work with the Smashing Pumpkins. “It’s Nice to Know You Work Alone” has a sultry, thumping pace to go along with cryptic lyrics that’ll be enough to grab most people.

The band utilizes the quiet/loud dynamic well in “Growing Old is Getting Old,” biding their time before flailing octaves introduce Aubert’s screeching voice. The band also brings orchestral strings on board on this record, most notably used in the dramatic “Catch & Release.” The strings are very complimentary in this mellow track, particularly with its graceful coda.

“Substitution” is another track on the album that uses its momentum decently, mainly because of the upbeat feel of the song. Aubert’s quaint but predictable solo in the second half of the song works out, like Muse’s Matt Bellamy on downers. But even on its better tracks, the band’s shortcomings are found quickly.

Aubert’s issue isn’t writing primary hooks, but writing the rest of the songs around them. The album’s opener “There’s No Secrets This Year” has no real change over its agonizing five and a half minutes. Included is a boring octave riff in the middle of the song where a solo is desperately needed. Aubert’s never shown that he’s capable of the solos to make these repetitive songs work. The album’s lead single “Panic Switch” is dragged through more of Aubert’s unnecessary guitar twiddling, taking away from a pleasant chorus.

Even if the solos are lacking, these long songs need something other than a dying hook to keep them appealing. “Draining” might have worked if it clocked in around two minutes, but the song is hauled out for about five minutes and loses all its momentum by its underwhelming end. “Surrounded” ends the album with a mundane wave of distortion that is only interrupted by an awkward bridge.

It’s tough to have the shadow of a great band creeping over you, but it’s inevitable with all these glaring similarities. Even with those similarities, these Silversun Pickups albums lack the lasting influence that the earlier Pumpkin records had. These albums contain a wistful charm about them that’ll hold notice through a couple of listens, but that charm quickly wears thin when the actual substance proves disappointing. If these guys don’t find a way to hold their fans’ attention, then they might have to be grateful to be compared to a great band that did.