Thursday, February 5, 2009

Why We Love Zwan

Poor Billy Corgan: in the course of just over ten years (okay, fifteen), he's gone from the darling of critics and fans alike, to being one of the most ridiculed figures in the alternative rock scene. Few would argue against Corgan's innate talent: the man is notoriously prolific, a magnificent guitar player, and has released material ranging from the hardest of hard rock to borderline country. In fact, it's likely that Corgan's musicianship has little to do with his popular demise. Rather, it's the fact that he can't seem to manage his own personality. Whether it be questionable comments to the press, overly self indulgent promotion, or the continued drama of Smashing Pumpkins' perpetual breakup/reunion cycle, Corgan simply can't seem to stay on task long enough to get a new project off the ground. The thing is, back in 2003 he almost did have a successful second coming, and no one seemed to notice. Yes, we are indeed talking about Zwan.

While there are many that love to voice skepticism over Zwan's legacy, or think of it as a footnote in Corgan's gradual musical descent, we here at HAD feel quite the opposite. The band's lone record Mary Star Of The Sea managed to escape the shadow of Corgan's Pumpkins, and come out with its own striking personality and attributes. It's probably the most "up" thing that Corgan ever released. Forget Adore: this record is the very obvious and perfect musical successor to the radio goodness of "1979".

The album's tracks range from perfect alternative rock ("Honestly"), to mellow rock jams ("Yeah"), to borderline country ballads ("Come With Me"). The music is easy, accessible, fun, and generally positive. What's more, Corgan's notoriously screechy vocals are completely in check, and there are moments when his typically recognizable voice is anything but. Granted, the album has some moments that seem to drag out, or are perhaps a bit self indulgent. In particular, the fourteen minute "Jesus, I / Mary Star Of The Sea" is something of a groaner.

Admittedly, had we been in charge of this record, we would have pared it down a bit. The album's fourteen tracks tend clock in a bit too long, and cutting three tracks would have made it a much more concise and straight forward album. What's more, it would have avoided the band's occasional tendency to delve a bit too far into the slower, more mellow tracks. Specifically, "Jesus, I / Mary Star Of The Sea", "Ride A Black Swan", and "Desire" seem to be blips in an otherwise perfect track listing. Without them, the record is virtually bulletproof.

Unfortunately, much like Corgan's many other projects, Zwan got weighed down in misdirection and controversy. It started with the questionable redirection to Djali Zwan, which was apparently the acoustic arm of the Zwan project. Tip number one: if you've just started a new band, don't suppose that you can switch gears before anyone's even heard your record. Then the band (depending who you believe) starting self destructing on the road, and Corgan started running his mouth off to the press. At the end of the day, it seems that the band had little in the way of unity, and far more in the way of personnel issues. Unfortunately, that meant that no more Zwan studio projects, no more Zwan touring, and bad blood all around.

Despite all this, we can't help but continue to love us some Zwan. The songs are fantastic, the record is great, and for Corgan's fans it's a very real testament to the fact that he was not fueled by the Smashing Pumpkins alone. It's a shame that Zwan had to die such a premature death, but at least we'll always have Mary Star Of The Sea, and that's something.