Jimmy Chamberlin, Mike Reina, and Anthony Pirog did writers and copy editors a huge favor when they changed the name of their new band from This—because nothing endears a group to a music journalist like fucking around with syntax—to Skysaw.
Though Chamberlin—-or Jimmy C, or whatever Smashing Pumpkins diehards like to call him—-is the draw here, the 47-year-old drummer is the third wheel between D.C.’s Pirog and Reina, who were working on releasing an album with The Jackfields before Chamberlin found them. The Jackfields’ album was supposed to be something wild and psychedelic; with Chamberlin, Skysaw’s debut album Great Civilizations is a tour of prog, arena, and quiet keyboard rock.
And it’s that variation, or “full democracy” of sound as the liner notes read, that keeps Great Civilizations from ever taking off. Consider the album’s name—it reaches for the booming symphonies of Rush’s Fly By Night or Moving Pictures. But only a handful of its 10 songs achieve those heights.
“No One Can Tell” is a brooding rager of an opener (and lead single). Pirog’s guitar hooks are fast and relentless; Chamberlin’s drums are tight and martial. Reina repeats the title, throwing in dashes of isolation, estrangement, and remorse. “No one can tell/no one can tell/no one can tell/that I’ve gone over the edge/but all the next day/you can see it’s taxing my health,” he sings as Pirog tears into the bridge. The second track, “Capsized Jackknifed Crisis” is mellower, but just as broad and reaching—a “Freewill” to the opener’s “Force Ten.”
But the third track, “Tightrope Situation,” arrives with a thud. It’s quiet and dissonant; on another album it’d be lovely. Reina’s voice is sweet and melodic, but Chamberlin is nearly absent. The song meanders for more than five minutes, and when Reina announce he’s “desperate for a new sedation,” he doesn’t have to look too far.
A few middle tracks restore the volume, but don’t come across as anything more than solid practice sessions. The members of Skysaw are accomplished on their own. Janel and Anthony, the cello-and-guitar duo Pirog shares with his girlfriend Janel Leppin, creates wild, haunting dreamscapes. And Chamberlin’s star power isn’t empty—this is the man who put up with Billy Corgan as long as humanly possible. But all of Chamberlin’s ventures since the first demise of the Smashing Pumpkins have been one-and-done outings: Corgan’s uncomfortable vanity project Zwan, Chamberlin’s own Jimmy Chamberlin Complex, the brief reunion of the Pumpkins before he finally quit for good.
Perhaps sonic democracy isn’t the best formula. By the time Great Civilizations reaches its title track, Skysaw is in full-on U2 mode with Pirog borrowing the harmony from any of those generically anthemic tracks on All That You Can’t Leave Behind. At least Chamberlin keeps it alive with finessed, hard-driving stick work. It’s a shame he’s practically absent on the slow, mopey, conspicuously named closer “Sad Reasons.”
Which is not to say that Skysaw couldn’t be worthy of its debut album’s lofty name. After so many downers on the back end of Great Civilizations, one wishes Skysaw had included “Cathedral”, a seven-minute spectacle of shredded fury and ricocheting drum crashes the band has been playing at recent shows and one that could make Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart envious. But sometimes the words of the prophets don’t stick to the studio wall. Concert hall.
Skysaw performs with Cobra Collective and The Chance Friday at 9 p.m. at Black Cat. $13.