James Iha - Look To The Sky

James Iha - Look To The Sky

‘Look To The Sky’ is a markedly different album from his solo debut.


It’s been 15 years since James Iha’s last solo album, 1998’s ‘Let It Come Down’. Back then, he was still a part of the Smashing Pumpkins, arguably the biggest alternative rock band in the world at that point. Following the Pumpkins’ split in 2000, Iha has embarked on a rather more low-key career, content to contribute to several extra curricular projects, namely joining post-rock band A Perfect Circle. ‘Look To The Sky’ sees him returning to the spotlight with an album that only fleetingly hints at his past glories.

‘Look To The Sky’ is a markedly different album from his solo debut. ‘Let It Come Down’ was very much an understated affair with acoustic guitars and a languid country theme prevailing. Here, Iha veers toward a slightly more muscular sound. By far the highlights are the tracks that hark back to 90s alt-rock: ‘To Who Knows Where’ and ‘Gemini’ are both pleasingly dreamy guitar led tracks; the reverb laden guitars complement Iha’s stargazing voice well. Despite the very pretty nature of them, however, there is an unavoidably nagging feeling that this is very self-reverential stuff and sounds ever so slightly dated.

Iha is obviously extremely well connected, and ‘Look To The Sky’ features a long list of guests - Tom Verlaine, Nick Zinner, Karen O and Nina Persson are probably the best well known. The frustrating thing is that you can never quite make out where any of them feature; their parts are so low down in the mix and indistinguishable from the rest of what’s going on. A case in point is the lilting ‘Dream Tonight’, a gentle, pastoral tinged folk track that features Nick Zinner contributing some easygoing finger picked guitar. There is none of his usual invention present. This lack of imagination is symptomatic of the main problem afflicting the record.

A lot here is stuck in a pattern of pretty, albeit forgettable melodies. The best moment is the melancholic sigh of ‘Summer Days’, it is one of few tracks to make a lasting impression.

There is an inescapable sense throughout ‘Look To The Sky’ that it is something of a missed opportunity. Unlike his former band mate Billy Corgan, Iha retains a great deal of goodwill and this album could have reconnected him with a whole new audience. Instead, it’s a largely uninspiring record that preaches very much to the converted.