True, Machina, the final Pumpkins album, was a commercial and critical disappointment. A far cry from the multi-platinum Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Siamese Dream, Machina seemed to bring The Pumpkins role in popular music to a close. For all intents and purposes, expecting another quality album out of Corgan was like waiting for a new Beatles album.
Fortunately for Smashing Pumpkins fans everywhere, Corgan has not completely quit on the music industry. In Zwan, his new project with former Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlain as well as an all star supporting cast, Corgan sounds more liberated and melodic than ever. True, Zwan certainly carries some of the Smashing Pumpkins feel, but this time anger and angst have been replaced with an almost palpable ease and grace, creating Corgan's most melodic and upbeat music since the mid-ninties. Mary Star of the Sea carries itself like a conquering hero, reminding us that it was Corgan who picked grunge up out of its gutter and carried it to the stars.
"Here comes my faith, to carry me on," croons an almost reborn Corgan on the albums opener "Lyric." The vocals throughout Mary are infinitely better than anything on any Smashing Pumpkins album. Gone is the nasal, rat-in-a-cage rage, replaced with brilliant and earnest vocals that glide along with Corgan's hypnotic arrangements. The melodies are as tight and pop-savvy as ever, and Mary has its share of sure-fire alternative hits. "Honestly" is the best Pumpkins song ever released and "Settle Down" finds Corgans improved voice harmonizing with a soaring guitar. "El Sol" feels like warm sun on your shoulders, a drifting and easy summer blues, where Corgan creates a bittersweet love song of lost opportunity.
Corgan doesn't forget to make a truly epic, progressive song to please all his older fans. "Jesus, I" is a fourteen-minute anthem that trumps its entire album for sheer enjoyment, musical skill, and goose-pimple inducing lyricism. Beginning with a slow crescendo, Corgan toys with faith and resurrection, all the while chugging along to a positively dirty base line. Chamberlains percussive drumming soon breaks the slow march in its introduction, allowing Corgan's voice to spiral up and up, screaming, "God and Heaven, all my own." Personal catharsis or not, its one of Corgan's finest songs to date.
From the pop fun of "Yeah!" to the Smashing Pumpkins wail of "Ride a Black Swan," Mary Star of the Sea is simply the best material Corgan has produced in years. Zwan carries with it an edge and newness that is greatly missed in todays prepackaged alt-rock-rap world. While it still won't outsell the Britneys of the world, Mary Star of the Sea is an almost nostalgic alternative album, filled with emotion, lyricism, and hope.