NYCD: The Blog

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


In the spring of 1998, Smashing Pumpkin JAMES IHA pissed off a lot of people when he released his first and, to date, only solo album. Let It Come Down was about the last thing that anyone expected from a member of one of the biggest alt-rock bands of the decade -- eleven low-key love songs that sounded like a mid '70s singer-songwriter pop album. In other words, think Al Stewart instead of Billy Corgan.

People couldn't figure the album out. Was it an ironic sendup of mellow rock? Or was Iha revealing that behind his super-cool facade lay a genuine wuss? One listen makes it clear that the wussiness is for real. Iha's got love on his mind, and it's all he sings about -- "love," "lover," "dearest," "darling," "beauty," all make their way into just about every song. But what would come off as sappy on other albums comes off here as... well, still sappy. But Iha's so sincere about it, from the delicate but hook-laden melodies to his earnest, occasionally quavering vocals, that it becomes charming. Not every song is a winner, but about half the album is pretty brilliant -- intricate little gems that are set just right, without a wasted note or an embellishment that shouldn't be there.

Let It Come Down sank without a trace. Pumpkins fans hated it, and in the last days of the alt-rock boom and the beginning of the boy bands' ascendancy, there wasn't much of a market for it anywhere else. I'm not a fan of Smashing Pumpkins, nor do I like very many mellow singer-songwriters, but I think Let It Come Down is more than just a great listen -- it took a lot of balls for James Iha to put it out, and ironically, it may be the most punk-rock career move he's ever made. Eight years on, I'm still eagerly awaiting the sequel.


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