For years, Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan has been equally obsessed with God and himself, which is why when he whined “God is empty, just like me!” all those years ago, many believed he was the rock deity Kurt Cobain never allowed himself to become. But like Jim Morrison’s Dionysian mythos, Corgan’s mythology became bloated over time. Almost a decade later, Corgan begins his first post-Pumpkins venture, Mary Star of the Sea, with the uplifting “Lyric,” in which the singer declares in his distinctive wail: “Here comes my faith to carry me on!” And that faith indeed carries him and his new band, Zwan, which includes fellow Pumpkin Jimmy Chamberlin, to soaring new heights. The album is crammed with more hooks than the last three Pumpkins releases combined, and songs like “Settle Down” feature the kind of unabashed guitar solos you’d never find on a Pumpkins record. Left in tact, though, are the brawny guitars—three of them—and lush harmonies that made the Pumpkins famous. Zwan’s debut single, the Smiths-inspired “Honestly,” is a glorious paean to love while the ballad “Of a Broken Heart” is pure acoustic splendor. New Wave influences abound, from Chamberlin and Paz Lenchantin’s rollicking rhythm section to the airy keyboards of the lovely and restrained “Heartsong” and “Yeah!” With the exception of the title track, a new-prog rendition of “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken,” Corgan has seemingly given up the sonic grandeur expected of him since the days of Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness. In its place is the beautiful message of a resurrected false prophet (he even credits himself as “Billy Burke,” the name of a Pastor/Evangelist who, according to an official website, “has been used by God to bring healing to thousands”). In a landfill filled with [insert Next Big Trend here], Mary Star of the Sea may do just that.
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