Studying the Smashing Pumpkins 2.0, Part 1: Zwan

The following will be the first in a series of installments reflecting on the work of Billy Corgan following the initial breakup of the Smashing Pumpkins.

With Corgan’s recent announcement that he will be reissuing his discography, including Zwan’s Mary Star of the Sea, it is time for his fans to reevaluate their initial impressions his work post Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.  In the 2000s, as supergroups whose talent far outweighed their longevity dominated the rock world, there is no better example a group who was judged by what they were not rather than what they were than Zwan.  It is time for them to be recognized in hindsight for what they were.

When the Smashing Pumpkins finished its 4-hour farewell concert at the Cabaret Metro in 2000, the future of its members was uncertain.

After shedding a tear, Corgan stated that he would continue to make music.  The first stage in his post Pumpkins period came in the form of alt rock supergroup Zwan, whose debut Mary Star of the Sea showcased a band distinctly different than those of its predecessors.

Along with Corgan was drummer Jimmy Chamberlin whose presence was somewhat surprising given his past with the Pumpkins.  However, it became clear that the relationship between Corgan and Chamberlin was obviously not a factor in the Pumpkins’ disbanding.

Rounding out the group were guitarists Matt Sweeney (Skunk and Chavez) and David Pajo (Slint).  With Zwan’s triple guitar approach, they averted the wall of sound style that the pumpkins were most known for on Gish, Siamese Dream and Machina: The Machines of God.  Instead, its guitarists’ weaving of intricate melodic patterns characterizes Zwan’s guitar approach that Corgan felt was reminiscent of the Byrds.

Maximizing the sonic textures afforded by three guitars, each guitarist oscillated between rhythm and leads, often trading off roles multiple times within one song.  The dynamic is evident in the group’s first single “Honestly.”

Bassist Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle) served to continue Corgan’s tradition of having a feminine presence on bass.  Her lush vocal harmonies served to push the melodies in front of the textures put forth by the guitar trio and the rhythms of Chamberlin’s superb drumming.  Lenchantin’s contributions are best exemplified here with “Settle Down,” a song she cowrote with Corgan.

Not enough has been said about Chamberlin’s role in the band.  At this point in his life and career, he had reclaimed his status as one of the most innovative and standout drummers of his generation along with the likes of Dave Grohl (Nirvana/Foo Fighters/Queens of the Stone Age/Probot) and Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers/Chickenfoot/Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats).  He often shows his strength and finesse when restraining his playing, as is evident throughout this performance of “Mary Star of the Sea.”

The music of Zwan serves to illustrate Corgan’s abilities as a songwriter.  Having proven to be the most prolific artist of his generation with the massive output of recorded songs with the Pumpkins in the 1990s, Corgan’s songwriting showed no signs of slowing down with Zwan.  Mary Star Of The Sea showcases some of his most emotionally direct songs in years such as “Of A Broken Heart” and “Desire.”

Zwan’s potential is evident not only in their debut, but the vast amount of songs that have yet to be officially released released.  The short-lived group had two simultaneous incarnations, The True Poets of Zwan (credited in the album liner notes) and the acoustic bootlegged Djali Zwan.  The most official release of the Djali Zwan is their cover of Iron Maiden’s “Number Of The Beast” which is available as the b-side of the “Honestly” single.

Hopefully the reissue of Mary Star of the Sea will contain much of the forgotten material that can be traced online.  I’ll leave you with “A New Poetry,” a great track taken from on the Mary Star Of The Sea deluxe DVD.

One Response to Studying the Smashing Pumpkins 2.0, Part 1: Zwan

  1. James Hrivnak says:

    Nice work. I was one of the many that wrote Zwan off for what they were not in 2003. Though, in time the album has aged quite gracefully, and has emerged as one of Corgan’s best works.

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