Nine years ago, Vice published a piece titled “10 ‘Irrelevant’ Bands,” listing artists that “the music press frowns upon but everyone listens the shit out of.” Number 5 was not Smashing Pumpkins but James Iha, their one-time guitarist and occasional songwriter who co-penned “Mayonaise,” “Plume” and “I Am One,” and single-handedly wrote that band’s best B-side, “The Boy.”
Iha’s inclusion on such a list was for his criminally overlooked debut solo album from 1998, Let It Come Down, in which he wrote a dozen gorgeous country-tinged pop songs. Pumpkins fans generally ignored it and it fell into obscurity as a cult fave.
Now 44, Iha has returned to solo work after playing in A Perfect Circle, forming a shitty supergroup with a Hanson bro and the Fountains of Wayne guy, and doing minimal work on a ton of other people’s records.
Look to the Sky might not come with much anticipation, but for anyone who loved his debut, it arrives better late than never. Despite taking 14 years, Iha still writes West Coast pop tunes longing for something missing in his life. There is a common thread between the two albums, but he does branch out a little, incorporating new wave synths on “Waves” and “Summer Days,” dreamy shoegaze noise on “To Who Knows Where,” and a simulated music box on the twinkling “Dark Star.”
Compared to the in-your-face prog rock nonsense Billy Corgan is spewing in 2012, James Iha is a breath of fresh air for anyone still hoping the original Pumpkins will reunite. Without the use of his old band’s name, Look to the Sky is bound to fall by the wayside, but something tells me Iha is fine with his cult status.