With all the recent hoopla surrounding The Smashing Pumpkins version 2.5, I was going to take a closer look at Adore, the lone Jimmy-Chamberlain-less album of the bands discography. The album was a departure from their previous work, determined not to rely on Chamberlins unparalleled drumming, and focus on a much more electronic sound.
I changed my mind.
Before the most recent Pumpkins album, Zeitgeist (as well as Corgans solo effort, The Future Embrace), Billy Corgan and Chamberlin were key members in another band featuring a female bass guitarist (Paz Lenchantin), an Asian-American guitarist (David Pajo), and Matt Sweeney. The band was Zwan, and their one album was Mary Star of the Sea. Ten years have passed since the albums release in early 2003, and yet it’s still the best album Corgan has released in some 15 odd years.
Really. It is.
Mary Star of the Sea provides a stark contrast to not only the Pumpkins music that came before it, but Corgans ideology. Before Zwans formation, Corgan had developed into a frontman with a penchant for Cenobite fashion, calling out those with a fickle fascination of an everlasting God and proclaiming God is empty just like me. Within the first thirty seconds of Mary, Corgan says Here comes my faith to carry me. Its a new man, who seems to have found something he didnt have before. By the time the gorgeous harmonies kick in with Lenchantin, we are in the midst of a very different band from The Smashing Pumpkins, but its okay.
After wanting us to never lose that feeling in Settle Down, Corgan continues his self-exploration with Declarations of Faith:
This boy you chance, this man you’ll find
Will dry the tears behind your eyes
So stop laughing and play the muse
This heartache rots that which spills
From my heart into your will
So give in to the rivers wind
After declaring himself of faith, he questions whether maybe we were born to love each other and wants the girl to kiss me alone. This is Corgans summer album, and hes not afraid to show it. While this scenario works with the first few songs, it goes into overkill later on. But before we enter the negative aspects of the album, the overwhelming positivism continues with the sunny Honesty. If you desire to compare the musical aspect of the song to a Pumpkins song, its a cousin to Today. Lyrically, Corgan continues to play the role of the excited lover:
‘Cause when I think of you as mine
And allow myself with time
To lead into the life we want
I feel love, honestly
I feel love, yes, honestlyThere’s no place that I could be without you
The heart of a child
Is in your hands now
So let’s see you smile
‘Cause I’m not impressed with your loneliness
And it’s been a while
Since you forgave all your changes made
So let’s count the miles together
Ride a Black Swan is the perfect choice to follow Of a Broken Heart. After the acoustic number ends, an electric guitar is there to greet us, followed by the fade-in of Chamberlins percussion. As the world goes round with our love, Corgan continues his self-discovery:
A white horse picks my dreams up
To take my hopes to God
My prayers have nestled brightly
To dim my sense of awe
I want you to be someone I can’t deny
A house afire
I want you to be something I realize
The album has passed the halfway point, and every songs a winner. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for a sub par second half. Songs become lazy and interchangeable, starting with Heartsong (I use the same words/To say the same things), then Endless Summer (Let me go, wasting time/Let me go waste my time), next Baby Lets Rock! (Baby, let’s rock/Let’s rock/Let’s rock/Let’s rock/Let’s rock), and rounding out the rough patch of the album is the second consecutive song to end with an exclamation point, Yeah! (Yeah/Yeah/Yeah).
Despite this bump in the road, the album finishes strong. Returning to the acoustic composition style of Of a Broken Heart comes the song Desire, not to be confused with this song or this song. Its a decidedly darker song after all that had come before, with some cries for help:
And northern star
The lost prayers of my soul
Of death and titans
We were meant to be free
The somber tone of Desire transitions into the epic track, Jesus, I/Mary Star of the Sea. At a length of fourteen minutes, this is Corgan at his most bombastic (and great). The first half is Corgan reciting a church hymn, with the same notes being repeated over and over again on a distant guitar. In another context, this would be pleasant, but here its ominous and creepy (think the interlude in Pink Floyds Sheep):
Man may trouble to distress me
To drive my heart to the cross
Yeah, man may trouble to distress me
To drive this heart to the crossI’m resolute, reviled, forsaken
All to leave and follow thee
And follow thee
By the conclusion of Jesus, I the full band joins in. Things come crashing down in the affected-vocals of Mary Star of the Sea (And everything just feels like rain/The road we’re on, the things we crave/And everything just feels like rain/If I should sleep, what’s left to dream/When everything feels like rain), and the song explodes. Of all the songs on the album, this could easily be mistaken for a Mellon Collie-era Pumpkins number.
The album concludes in the same upbeat fashion it began with. Come With Me is a simple song. Lyrically its in the same ballpark as the lesser tracks of the album, but feels at home as the final track. The song is simply in the title.
Despite its flaws, Mary Star of the Sea is still better than the Pumpkin albums Adore, MACHINAs’ I and II, Zeitgeist, and Corgans lone (official) solo effort, The Future Embrace (for whatever all those albums are worth). Dont get this writer wrong. I like Adore, but not as much as this one and only album by the band Zwan.
The soap opera surrounding the bands demise is just as dramatic as the initial break-up of The Smashing Pumpkins. If youre into that kind of soap opera, you can get a taste of it at Corgan’s blog from 2004. A lot of people take pleasure in taking shots at Billy Corgan, especially after the latest Pumpkins tour, but the man can write a song. After the dissolving of Zwan, Corgan confessed to being unable to listen to any songs from the band due to the sour taste left in his mouth. But, Billy, if you read this, give it another shot. I think youll enjoy it. Honestly.
Zwan – “Honestly”, Late Show with David Letterman
Zwan – “Mary Star of the Sea”, Live at the 2003 Pinkpop Festival