On December 2, 2000, Smashing Pumpkins completed their circle by playing one final, gigantic show at Chicago's Metro, the same venue where they performed for the very first time in 1988.
Inside the Metro-among hometown fans rapturous with hero worship-the event was monumental. Across the larger musical landscape, however, it was with a whimper and a sigh of relief that the once-mighty Pumpkins receded into alt-history.
Comments like "They're still around?" were heard from people who "liked that "rat in a cage' and "1979' song." The overdriven guitars and megalomaniac lead singer had never recovered from the acoustic goth of Adore (1996), the shuffling of band personnel (lowlighted by the 1995 tour when their keyboardist fatally overdosed on the heroin known as "Red Rum") or Billy Corgan's own prickly personae.
Fast forward to the present and Corgan-everyone's favorite Addams Family look-alike-has hung up his Blade Runner kimonos, ditched the powdered/PVC goth look and given us Zwan, his new five-piece band and bid at reclaiming the success he enjoyed in the early '90s.
It's a time for reinvention. A time to see what Corgan's reputed genius-when freed from old confines-could create.
And, well, it appears Corgan's genius flies as the dodo bird: in concentric circles around itself until it finally flies up its own ass.
Zwan's bass drum kicks and odd time fills are played by former Pumpkins' drummer, Jimmy Chamberlin. And is that another female playing bass? Sure "nuff, Paz Lenchantin, formerly of A Perfect Circle, fills the estrogen demographic that so enamors Corgan. She's also the only person who can double Billy's nasal croak during choruses.
Musically, the only legitimate difference is the addition of two guitarists to Corgan's fret board pyrotechnics. On record, The Pumpkins sounded like 200 guitars wailing away at once. Corgan continues this wall of sound in Zwan, and the newbies are no slouches: Slint's Dave Pajo and Matt Sweeney of Chavez bring big time cred and ability.
The end result? Zwan sounds like 200 guitars wailing away at once with the drummer and the singer from Smashing Pumpkins pretending they are still driving around the desert in an ice cream truck.
"Honestly," the first single, is only truthful to the fact that Corgan wants his old alt-rock crown back, and isn't above raiding the Pumpkins' spice rack for the winning ingredients. Lenchantin, Pajo and Sweeney are already regulated to James Iha and D'arcy status, meaning "contributions" will be directed by General Corgan.
Corgan has also gone off the Richter scale with religious imagery (this time mainly from the Vatican gift shop) but that's a minor detour on this Marshall stack recycler tour.
Fans of '91-'94-era Pumpkins and Corgan disciples will not be disappointed with Zwan, but music people hoping for an evolution in Corgan's patented sound will be left wondering zwhat happened and zwhy. It seems like Billy just wanted new friends who sound a lot like the old friends.
The press release and pre-album hype said the Zwan album would be a love-in compared to the doom and gloom that marred the final few Pumpkin's releases. But while Zwan has the sunny production and guitar bombast of classic Pumpkins, the songs have no backbone or soul to create something unique and magical.
Even the 14-minute dirge "Jesus I/Mary Star of the Sea" fails to recapture the beauty and heaviness of classic tracks like "Silverfuck" and "Ode to No One." Others, like "Lyric" and "Declaration of Faith," sound like Modern Rock 101 with Corgan's nasally rasp preaching Anthony Robbins-esque positivity.
Really, no one believes Billy is this happy.
To quote American Idol and Old Navy spokesmodel Simon Cowell, "the hooks just aren't there." Following the '93-era success formula, loud dirges are followed by quiet songs that sound just like "Spaceboy" and "Disarm," only with Aerosmith playing them backed by a Glenn Ballard orchestra of soft-rock clichés.
So is Zwan's a bad album-a waste of tremendous musical talent? No, but it is extremely disappointing and a shell of what could have been. Mary Star of the Sea has the look of a band album but the feel of a Corgan solo album with high profile names attached.
The world may indeed be a vampire, but Zwan can't suck enough alt-rock blood to save its own soul.