Zwan

Mary Star of the Sea

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It was generally acknowledged that Billy Corgan wasn't just the heart of Smashing Pumpkins, he was their architect, their musical director, and dictator, responsible for every sonic detail of their records and sometimes creating it all on his own. So, when he ended the band in 2000, it seemed a little baffling because he could have carried on with the group forever, since it was his band, and he was responsible for not just their densely layered sound, but also for how the Pumpkins painted themselves into a dark, murky corner with their final album, MACHINA. Remarkably, by breaking up the band, Corgan revitalized himself with Zwan, a supergroup conglomerate that functions more like a band than Smashing Pumpkins, as their superb debut, Mary Star of the Sea, illustrates. Usually, a supergroup winds up as a lumbering, ad-hoc creation that never sounds as good as it reads on paper, but Zwan clicks, partially because Corgan lets his bandmates function as equal partners. As well they should -- by cherry-picking guitarist David Pajo from Slint, guitarist Matt Sweeney from Chavez, and bassist Paz Lenchantin from A Perfect Circle, while retaining Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, he's assembled a nimble, muscular, adventurous group who don't flash their virtuosity, but can take his musical ideas further than his past group. And, yes, Zwan does recall Smashing Pumpkins, primarily because Corgan's voice and his favored method of layering guitars is so distinctive, but he has never sounded this bright, colorful, or free; he has never sounded like he's having so much fun making music. This joyful spirit surges throughout Mary Star of the Sea, even during its many intricate instrumental sections, and it's hard not to get swept up in the momentum, especially since it's married to his best set of songs since Siamese Dream. More than any album since that, it suggests the expansiveness of Corgan's musical vision (Mellon Collie sometimes sagged in its messiness), but there's a generosity here never heard in the Pumpkins, something that comes both from Corgan's writing and his interaction with his new band, which makes Mary Star of the Sea a delight to hear.

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