catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 3 :: 2003.01.31 — 2003.02.13


Zwan shine on debut

With the release of their final albums in 2000, Machina/the machines of God (on Virgin) and Machina II: Friends and Enemies of Modern Music (available exclusively online), The Smashing Pumpkins had painted themselves into a sort of dark, brooding corner. Not that it wasn't a fascinating corner. Following the mega-hit albums Siamese Dream and the two-disc Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Billy Corgan and friends delivered their most personal album, Adore, and the operatic, maximalist Machinas. Albums with enough mystical, cryptic, and iconographic lyrics and liner-note imagery to keep a rock-obsessed teen or twenty-something interpreting and enthralled for months. Within the last two records, Corgan, in the tradition of David Bowie and his Ziggy Stardust, invented a meta-narrative involving a character named Glass and his band, The Machines of God. The concept, along with its sweeping and grandiose rock soundtrack, was embraced by SP's large fan base, but ignored by the larger record-buying public. After a final emotional concert at Chicago's Metro, there was nowhere for the Pumpkins to go but their separate ways. That was two years ago.

Since then, Corgan has been busy with his new band. They're called Zwan and they just released their first album, Mary Star of the Sea. And it rocks. Not only does it rock, it's one of the most complex, thoughtful, joyful, optimistic, spiritual albums of Corgan's career.

Wait. Optimistic? Spiritual? Yes and yes. Straight from the man who brought you, "The world is a vampire…".

But that's not completely fair. Though in the past Billy has been characterized as the king of gloom (which likely inspired the tragic character of Glass), his music has always had its blissful moments and an overall spirit of hope, if usually in the guise of longing. And it doesn't take too long searching through the old songs to know that he's very interested in all things spiritual. But never has that theme been more evident than it is now. Corgan's cast off the dark mask of rock and roll excess and is through playing Zero. As he recently stated in an interview, "I'm just gonna be myself again."

That said, Mary Star of the Sea seems to be less Billy's reaction to his critics and his past than the fruits of an entirely new vision. The gorgeous "Lyric" opens the album with the line, "Here comes my faith to carry me on," and the three guitars along side backing vocals from bassist Paz Lenchantin and guitarist Matt Sweeney careen through the track creating impossible harmonies. What follows is an uplifting, heartbreaking, rocking collection of love songs, confessions, prayers, and poetry. If you've heard the first single, "Honestly," which has been getting heavy airplay as of late, you've got the idea. Billy Corgan believes in rock and roll and you can tell. Highlights include the soaring "Declarations of Faith," the poppy "El Sol," "Baby Let's Rock!," a bluesy anthem celebrating the fact that we rock because we can (to be shouted at future stadium concerts), and the closing track, "Come With Me," an upbeat romance, complete with harmonica. Even "Heartsong," which borders on sappiness, rings as true as anything else on the album, reminding us of all that's good about romance and love.

At the heart of the album is the fourteen-minute "Jesus, I/Mary Star of the Sea," two songs joined by a meandering and beautiful guitar bridge. The first half is an arrangement of the hymn "Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken" and the lyrics don't deviate from the original much: "Jesus, I've taken my cross/ All to leave and follow thee/ I'm destitute, despised, forsaken/ Man may trouble to distress me/ To drive my heart to the cross…God and heaven are all my own". Zwan, rather than doing an ironic take, seem to be letting the hymn be what it is, and that?s fine with me. Hearing it morph into the heavy rock of "Mary…" opens up new worlds of meaning in the traditional lyrics.

So what's Billy up to with this album and it's explicit optimism? Besides making fine rock music, I can't say for sure. You'll have to listen yourself. One thing is certain, though. It?s good to have him back.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus