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PCR #156 (Vol. 4, No. 12). This edition is for the week of March 17--23, 2003.
The Digital Divide
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   by Terence Nuzum, William Moriaty, and Nolan Canova
CDs reviews are rated 1 to 5 LEDs


ZWAN: Mary Star of the Sea
Available at Amazon.com!


Review by Terence Nuzum

As all Smashing Pumpkin fanatics know Billy Corgan & his band were never modest or subtle. The Pumpkins were always about Shakespearean Tragedy and high drama even right up to their demise in 2000. Their sadly misunderstood final albums took it all to the limit by crossing the border from art into reality. On Machina, a rock god lets fame go to his head and ego, thereby destroying his band. By Machina II (the internet-only, fuck you to Virgin Records who refused to release it) Corgan was wearing all white in concert to signify what he was currently saying in interviews: now that the band was ending, they felt reborn and free of constraint and burden. It gave Corgan the idea to give birth to a new Pumpkins, a new band, Zwan. Like it or not, there never was a band called Smashing Pumpkins because in reality we all know Corgan was the band. Hell, he even played all the guitar and bass parts on Siamese Dream. So now Corgan with Zwan has simply changed his lineup to Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle) on bass, David Pajo (Slint, Tortoise) on guitar and Matt Sweeney (Chavez) on 2nd guitar. He's kept Jimmy on drums--so, as far as I'm concerned, The Pumpkins are still around...oops I mean Corgan is still around. And been reborn he has.

Mary Star Of The Sea's sound is unique in the Corgan canon as it sounds so damn happy. The music is that of 70's arena rock and Cars-esque new-wave ballads. "Lyric" starts off the epic album with the line "here comes my faith to carry me on". Predicting that perhaps Corgan hasn't lost all faith in the career that turned its back on him. "Settledown" continues this lyrical trend with Corgan begging us to "never loose that feeling" i.e., never forget The Pumpkins. He also sings "for 7 years, 7 days, and 7 hours/ I took my chances, yeah!" perhaps noting that he took a lot of chances on the Pumpkins seven albums (yes there are seven if you count the b-sides box set The Aeroplane Flies High) . The song ends with Corgan hippy-singing "La-de-da/ La-de-da". The album is full of secret messages that only fans will catch like "my old hollar/spend my dollars". The album's single "Honestly" is Corgan's return to his Siamese Dream roots as it contains a great pop tune covered awash in guitar fuzz and his trademark soaring guitar solos. "Of A Broken Heart" is probably the best song, itself sounding not out of place in the archive of country rock ballad greats like "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac. "Endless Summer" blasts back to the rock glory that we all want and asks "did we go on too long". Perhaps an in-joke to all the critics who said that the Pumpkins should have quit after Mellon Collie. "Baby Let's Rock!" is exactly what it sounds like--balls to the wall fun rock n' roll. Corgan sings "baby, I'm the greatest thing you got in a good way I suppose" and howls "so in my time machine/ I'll adjust the scenes/ turn back the clocks" showing that yes he indeed wants to be king again. He almost succeeds with standout tracks that sound totally different from anything the pumpkins ever played (like "Yeah" with its R n' B-ish vibe), but sadly the album runs too long. Padding like "Ride A Black Swan" and "El Sol" could have been left off. Luckily it ends great with a trilogy of songs. "Desire" with its Pisces Iscariot-like chorus of "desire/ fade away/ desire" leads perfectly into the magnum opus "Jesus I/ Mary Star Of The Sea". The "Jesus I" half is an old folk tune about redemption turned into a buzzing rocker which blasts into the feedback-scarred chorus of "reborn/ reborn/ reborn". "Mary Star Of The Sea" is a mellow dirge with a typical Corgan guitar drone about how "everything just feels like rain". The closer is the calm after the storm, an electric folk gem with a cool harmonica part called "Come With Me," with Corgan asking the listener to "come with me". Corgan takes us through his sermon and asks us to follow him on his new crusade, just as we did back in '91.

It seems the bald one has finally found peace in basically writing great songs with out any pressure to put out the next great rock album and in doing so has created a comeback gem. If he keeps it up he may redeem himself to those fans he lost. For me he has always been great and innovative for those who chose to listen, and after writing at least 300-plus songs from the Pumpkin days he proves that he can still write original rock that doesn't sound like sly remakes. For us of the 90's he was and is our Lou Reed, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, and Bob Dylan all rolled into one so much that he trancends such comparisons. He's simply Billy Corgan. Cobain crashed and burned before he could take the burden of rock god on his shoulders and Corgan picked up the ball, sacrificed himself for it and survived. Now he's back.

ZWAN    review by William Moriaty


"You can bitch, you can cry, you can moan--but let's rock!"

And rock on is exactly what Zwan does in this debut album.

A composite super group consisting of former Smashing Pumpkins fronts man Billy Corgan, New Jersey punk metal band Skunk (and later Chavez) guitarist Matt Sweeney, A Perfect Circle bassist Paz Lenchantin, guitarist/bassist David Pajo (a.k.a. "Papa M" formerly of Slint, Tortoise, Stereolab, Royal Trux, King Kong and Palace), and original Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin.

My only initial fear going into this CD is that too often when an artist as flamboyant and driven as Corgan teams up with just about anyone, the end result is often a monochromatic sound and feel to the end product.

"Lyric" starts out sounding like a mix between the beginning of Head East's "Save My Life" with the late Keith Moon (reincarnated through Chamberlin) banging the drums with abandon and precision. This is a generally innocuous, if not upbeat selection.

The next song, "Settle Down" has a similar cadence to "Lyric". Once the lyrics "Never lose that feeling!" kick in, the song really picks up the tempo with Chamberlin and all three guitarists meshing with great musical resolve and coordination. Excellent guitar work near the end of the song.

"Declarations of Faith" initially sounds like a continuation of the revised ending tempo of "Settle Down" until Chamberlin begins a full frontal percussion attack befitting that of Mitch Mitchell in the Jimi Hendrix Experience song "I Don't Live Today". If in case you haven't figured it out, I love this drummer's work! The bridge is strongly reminiscent of the guitar work in Manfred Mann's "Blinded By The Light"

"Honestly" is the group's current single, which again sounds similar to parts of the preceding song. It is a fast-paced and very uplifting song, nevertheless.

"El Sol" begins a change of tempo and direction over the first four selections (which is good, because I was becoming uneasy that my monochromatic fears were becoming realized) with a wonderfully melodic and laid back feel. "And all I wanted was to hold you close, a little sunshine just to butter my toast!" How sweet!

"Of A Broken Heart" has a melancholy feel and sounds in parts similar to the Beatles song "Norwegian Wood" The bridge of the song is evocative and beautiful in its execution. This is a wonderfully produced number highlighting the versatility of this group. Corgan with his signature nasal twang (similar at times to Mick Jagger and spanning from the Standells of the 60's to Smashmouth of the 90's) is controlled and totally synchronous with this great tune.

Producer Alan Moulder obviously was not content to let the listener by lulled by "Of a Broken Heart" as the next selection, "Ride A Black Swan" moves quickly, though harmoniously. It seems that from this point on the remainder of the CD is no-holds barred and anything goes.

One of my three personal favorites is the dream-like melody "Heartsong" which reminds me of the similarly surrealistic sounding song "Mermaid Smiled" by XTC. Corgan's passive delivery is almost hypnotic. Much kudos to guitarist Sweeney in rifts in the bridge and end of the song.

The second of three of my favorite songs on the CD, and possibly my favorite, is "Baby Let's Rock". Starting out reminiscent of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds", this song goes through the most delightful series of sound variances, chord shifts and tempo changes of almost any song I've ever heard. The background vocals are crisp and wonderfully harmonic, while the bridge is almost an almost chilling example of a team effort in total bloom. Most notable again are Chamberlin's percussion and Sweeney's guitar work. And, oh yes, I really do like Corgan's vocals in this masterpiece.

My third favorite, "Jesus, I/Mary Star of the Sea" starts off in a sizzling sounding, somewhat repetitious and hypnotic. Lyrically, this is the finest song on the album. Corgan's vocals are outstanding; there is no doubt that he is in total command and revolving in and about his element here. Once the lyrics "...and follow thee." are finished, the song quantum leaps into a hard rock masterwork. Never be lulled into complacency by this group! The bridge features the finest guitar work of the entire CD.

After you've emotionally drained by the song mentioned above, Zwan releases us into the light as air Dylanesque/"Love Me Do" closing song "Come with Me".

For the Zwan uninitiated, like I was prior to hearing this, don't let the Peter Maxx-like cover mislead you---this album is anything but monochromatic

"Whatever I can do I will, cause I'm good like that."

ZWAN    review by Nolan B. Canova


When Terence asked me to participate in this multiple review of ZWAN I had to confess I was at somewhat of a disadvantage here. Terence's history as a virtual Billy Corgan/Smashing Pumpkins historian/fan (see any variety of old PCRs about that, particularly the Top Ten Albums challenge issues where Terence basically got his start as a "Tantrum/Tirade" columnist defending his Smashing Pumpkins album choices which led, subsequently, to the running joke in the spray-paint graphic atop this page, based on an off-hand comment made by Mike Smith....deeeeeeep breath; whew), precluded any thought that I could analyze anything Pumpkin-esque without accidentally offending the dark one, especially since my early education on Billy Corgan consisted of MTV videos and that's about it.

It is to Terence's credit that this was his idea alone, to see if he was writing from blind faith, or if Billy Corgan (Pumpkins head-honcho, now ZWAN's) really was that good to more objective ears such as Will Moriaty's and, presumably, mine. The short answer is yes and no, mostly yes. As I've said before, Will and I can't have the same perspective as Terence. But therein lies the challenge! OK, then, that said...

The cheerful jangly guitars of "Lyric" set an upbeat tempo with repeated riffs like "A lyric/a time/a crusade/a line/one minute/a friend/a road without end" (at least that's what I think he's singing). "Settle Down" seems to continue the cheerful jangly-ness of "Lyric", but with a different melody, a nice one, but otherwise not that distinctly different (unless one counts the in-joke Terence mentions about the "7 years, 7 days, and 7 hours/ I took my chances, yeah"). The end guitar riffs sound exactly like one of those front pick-up, treble-off sounds I got in my band days, so naturally, I think those are excellent. And Corgan's playing is very good. (I chuckled when Terence called the "la-de-da" chorus part at the end of this song "hippy-singing". He slays me.) The next three songs, "Declarations of Faith", "Honestly", and "El Sol" are competently composed and executed, quite similar in tone to the first two, and, like "Lyric" and "Settle Down" are probably more arresting live and in person. I can see how The Smashing Pumpkins could be a desirable concert ticket. "El Sol" is a little more laid back, basically a two-chord folk song with swing. Will is right about one thing, even if you don't get off on the music all that much, Corgan's lyrics are definitely a cut above, kind of like you want to hear the end of the story. Even simple lines ("...all I wanted, it's all I wanted") become hummable. That's high praise from me, I'm not a big lyric care-about-er (LOL).

Jarringly different comes "Of A Broken Heart". In tone, Terence was reminded of "Landslide", but to a baby-boomer it may recall atmospheric ballads like "Knights in White Satin" or like Will suggested, "Norweigan Wood". Note that is not just the song doing that, it's the whole production, designed to surround you in its melancholy reverb. You can feel the painful memories.

"Ride a Black Swan" picks up the pace again almost as if to signify his recovery from "Of A Broken Heart": As the world goes round/it's got me thinkin'/that the things I want/just keep me sinkin'. "Heartsong", the next title on the album is notable for a nice, sparse production, basically acoustic guitar and keyboard throughout. Here again, I find myself listening to Corgan's lyrics. If Terence achieved nothing else with this experiment, it succeeded in alerting me to what an engaging lyricist Billy Corgan is.

"Endless Summer" grabs your attention next, with dense guitar layers as the album swings back into higher gear. Let me go waste some time. Amen, that's what summer's all about.

"Baby Let's Rock". I can see where Will heard a similarity to "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds", but to me the whole opening sounds very Beatle-esque, can't really put my finger on it. About half-way through a 3-ton weight of a metal riff slams the comparison, but returns soon to a "All You Need Is Love"-type feel.

Cooling WAY down we move to "Yeah!" more of an electrified folk song with swing. Here again, it's the lyrics that captivate, but there is nice guitar work in the background (and that front-pickup sound I like again). "Desire" fades in talking about desires fading away. The chorus to that is hypnotic. (In fact a lot of Corgan's stuff has that quality--he could probably develop quite a cult follow--...oh wait, he did!)

"Jesus I/Mary Star of The Sea" is indeed this album's magnum opus and I agree with Terence and Will that this is very powerful stuff. If I could describe two things on this album as "beautiful" it would be "Of A Broken Heart" and this song. For different reasons tho. After lulling you in, "Mary Star of the Sea" slams you with a good, old-fashioned extended guitar solo/jam. Good, haven't been to one of those in a while. Ends too soon, but is replaced with a lovely piece of acoustic guitar and keyboard stylings nearer the end. Very beautiful ambient music, I must say, and lasts long enough to hypnotize you (there's that word again). As the song comes back to Corgan, it picks up the pace and "everything just feels like rain", and some darn fine guitar work plays us out.

The folksy final song, "Come With Me", has a harmonica part that does indeed recall "Love Me Do", but the majority of the rest reminded me more of The Byrds. That's a good thing, I liked the Byrds. And an approriate song to end the album---come with me, we're off on a new road.

The production on this album is very good, I especially like the guitar sounds. Not sure who's playing the lion's share of lead guitar (presumably Pajo), but stick with him, he's good (guess I feel more qualified to comment on the guitar-player--Haha). In fact, the musicianship all-'round is excellent and tight. The main draw, of course, is Billy Corgan. While I will likely never be quite the Pumpkins/Corgan fan Terence is (and likely neither can Will), this is an album I/we can recommend to anyone of any age.

(Hey, Mike--does this mean we ALL owe Billy Corgan money now? LOL! ---N)

This issue's Digital Divide concept was created by Terence B. Nuzum, and his review of ZWAN is ©2003. William Moriaty's review of ZWAN is ©2003, and Nolan Canova's review of ZWAN is ©2003. Webpage design and all graphics herein, except where otherwise noted, are creations of Nolan B. Canova.    All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2003 by Nolan B. Canova.