Billy Corgan, a slim, gaunt man with vaguely haunting eyes, was my first modern day idea of a deity. He was the 1990s-era's bard of loneliness, rat-in-a-cage isolation and his band, the Smashing Pumpkins, were a function of that era. My worship of them was unique and ripe with urgency, a sensation shared by no more than every other growing-pained teenager dependant on inflated, you-wouldn't-understand feelings.
But as the great Pumpkin sings on his new solo album, TheFutureEmbrace, "All things change." The band split up, and Billy brought together a throng of expert indie-rockers to form Zwan. They recorded a one-off called Mary Star of the Sea, an album greeted by mixed reviews. The band broke up, and fans still respected their 1990s goth-rock Buddha, but the label "has-been" entered their vocabulary, an even easier mistake following Billy's pretentious excuse of a book of poetry, 2004's Blinking Fists.
But while Zwan's catchy Day-Glo guitar-pop was Machiavellian to those expecting another Pumpkins record tagged under a new band name, Embrace is the dangled carrot that abiding Pumpkinheads have longed for: the album that justifies the lemming-like enthusiasm fostered by everything Pumpkins or Billy Corgan, whether we took to Zwan or not.
The first three tracks stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the sound of the Pumpkins' Adore. They build on one another steadily until the fourth track, a cover of the Bee Gees' sorrowful "To Love Somebody," which plants Corgan into an atmospheric, Disintegration-esque glam-rock duet with the Cure's Robert Smith.
The rest of the album's 45 minutes hang together nicely, creating and sustaining a mood of bird-in-space airiness. Corgan divides his efforts between '80s shoegaze-inspired tracks that mimic the Cure's self-absorbed gloom, such as "Now (And Then)" and "Sorrow (In Blue)," and songs with clear hooks and hefty, fuzz-drenched beats more reminiscent of the Pumpkins' last album, Machina. The album's single, a post-punk riff and stomp called "Walking Shade," finds Billy successfully pulling off his closest New Order impression.
Former Pumpkins and Zwan drummer Jimmy Chamberlain guests on "DIA" and his impact is instantly recognizable from the rest of the album's stiff, less affecting drum machine beats. Embrace also misses James and D'Arcy. Nonetheless, the album is skillfully produced and Corgan's consistent, techno orchestrations admittedly grow on the listener.
Embrace won't win Corgan any new fans, but with enough already-fans in the wings, it's another album for them to lock themselves in their rooms, clutch their teddies and rock on their hams to the nostalgic voice of their 1990s goth-rock Buddha as he sings lyrics like, "Deposit change in the camera eye / Who needs pain to survive? / I need pain to change my life." Teens are now in their twenties, and even with all this pain I still need a Billy Corgan fix.
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