Studying the Smashing Pumpkins 2.0, Part 2: TheFutureEmbrace

Following the sudden demise of Zwan in 2003, Billy Corgan opted to embark on a solo career.  TheFutureEmbrace, Corgan’s solo debut, dives headfirst into the electronic stylings addressed on the Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore.  Never afraid to musically cite his influences in the past, such as Boston and Black Sabbath, TheFutureEmbrace showcases Corgan’s musical kinship to both Depeche Mode and New Order.  An album of gothic romanticism, TheFutureEmbrace is arguably Corgan’s most politically and socially conscious record to date.  The album’s lyrics are evidence of Corgan’s headspace at the time as a paranoid media saturated American living with the threat of terrorism.  This position is reflected in “Mina Loy (M.O.H.),” which expresses his sentiments for his hometown of Chicago (btw, M.O.H. stands for My Old Heart, which was the songs initial working title).

The biggest stylistic departure for Corgan on TheFutureEmbrace is the absence of guitar.  In fact, Corgan limited himself to a single guitar track on each song, thus producing identifiable melodic lines that filter through the rhythmic beds electronics.  For example, check out this performance of “ToLoveSomebody.”

While “ToLoveSomebody” is a Bee Gees cover, the recorded version on TheFutureEmbrace features contributing vocals from Robert Smith (The Cure) and is one of two songs to feature guest contributions.  The second song is “DIA” which features Corgan’s often-cited musical soul mate Jimmy Chamberlin on drums.

Legend has it that the relationship between Corgan and Chamberlin continued to grow strong after the breakup of Zwan, and the pair collaborated not only on “DIA” but on the song “Loki Cat” from the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex’s Life Begins Again.

Other notable performers and contributors to the recording and production of TheFutureEmbrace include co-producers Bon Harris (Nitzer Ebb) and Bjorn Thorsrud who produced Zwan’s Mary Star of the Sea.  As well as programming from Brian Liesegang (Nine Inch Nails/Filter/Ashtar Command) and Matt Walker who famously toured as the Pumpkins drummer after Chamberlin’s departure during the tour for Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.  Both Liesegang and Walker served as Corgan’s backing band on tour for TheFutureEmbrace, along with keyboardist and vocalist Linda Strawberry.

TheFutureEmbrace was overshadowed at the time of its release due to Corgan’s full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune stating his intentions to reform the Smashing Pumpkins, which appeared on the same day as the album’s release.  As a result, TheFutureEmbrace features some of Corgan’s strongest and under examined work.  Songs like “A100” and “Pretty, Pretty Star” sound like blueprints for the future pop gems produced by the likes of MGMT and The Limousines, while “The Cameraeye” ranks alongside songs like “1979” and “Disarm” as Corgan’s most stylistically transcendent compositions.  “Strayz” posits itself at the opposite side of the spectrum of the majority of Corgan’s discography as it features no drums and no guitar.  Hopefully, with Corgan’s plans to reissue the album in the future it will contain the American iTunes bonus/pre-order track “Tilt” (available here: http://www.4shared.com/audio/j_dATfMA/TILT_-_Billy_Corgan.html) which, along with lead single “Walking Shade”, serves as Corgan’s most upbeat music during his solo period.

I’ll leave you with the official video for “Walking Shade.”

 

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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.