Billy Corgan sounded happy, relaxed, and refreshed on Mary Star of the Sea, the 2003 debut from his first post-Smashing Pumpkins project, Zwan, which just goes to show that art doesn't always reflect the mindset of the artist. Zwan imploded in a matter of months after the release of Mary, and ever since then Corgan was on mission to let the world know that his time in the band was the worst time of his life, telling the world how perfectly awful and nasty the rest of the group was every time he spoke to reporters. Not only ...
Billy Corgan sounded happy, relaxed, and refreshed on Mary Star of the Sea, the 2003 debut from his first post-Smashing Pumpkins project, Zwan, which just goes to show that art doesn't always reflect the mindset of the artist. Zwan imploded in a matter of months after the release of Mary, and ever since then Corgan was on mission to let the world know that his time in the band was the worst time of his life, telling the world how perfectly awful and nasty the rest of the group was every time he spoke to reporters. Not only did he purge himself of the band in the press, but he bared his soul in a starkly confessional blog on Myspace, where he revealed more than most needed to know about everything from his childhood to the heyday of the Pumpkins. It was all part of a spiritual and creative rebirth that continued with 2005's The Future Embrace, his first solo album. Abandoning the bright, fuzzy guitars of Zwan and never returning to the dense, heavy neo-psychedelia of the Pumpkins at their peak, Corgan constructs The Future Embrace with drum machines, synthesizers, and brittle, heavily treated guitars that echo into infinity on each track. Musically, it's closest to Adore, yet it's a distant cousin: if that album hinted at '80s synth rock and goth, this re-creates the spirit and sound of 1986, right down to the robotic pulse of the rhythms, the cold, slick surface of the production, and the brooding, self-absorbed atmosphere. It's not so much a progression as it an attempt to hit the restart button and begin all over again. Corgan not only returns to the music of his teenage years here, but his dramatic, emotive lyrics, which articulate his feelings far more directly than they have in the past, are terminally adolescent (and seem even more so when printed in the liner notes, where certain phrases are grandly emphasized via all capital letters). While the music mirrors the roiling emotions of his lyrics quite well -- "The Cameraeye" is tense and restless, "Pretty, Pretty Star" is a gentle sigh -- Corgan is more interested in texture than craft here, sacrificing hooks for mood music. Which is a roundabout way of saying that there aren't too many memorable songs here (and it's the reason why his cover of the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody" works: it's the only song here that not only has a strong melody, but the only one that has forward momentum; all the other cuts sustain one mood from beginning to end). But, to criticize The Future Embrace for not being chock-full of hits and hooks, the way Siamese Dream or Mellon Collie were, is to miss the point: like his confessional blogs, this album is a way for Corgan to sort things out and start again. Consequently, it's for those fans who want to follow his journey, either out of empathy, curiosity, sympathy, or perhaps because they can also relate. Such a small-scale record seems a little odd coming from a rocker who was intent on conquering the world in the early '90s -- and surely there will be many who liked Smashing Pumpkins yet will never warm to this, either because of its electro-goth sound or because, like Trent Reznor on With Teeth, Corgan doesn't quite seem able to break out of an angst-ridden lyrical rut -- but he's no longer concerned with being the biggest or the best. Corgan's exploring his own little world, one that may have a more selective appeal than either Smashing Pumpkins or Zwan, but will nevertheless resonate to those who bother to regularly check in on his Myspace page. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi