ZWAN Mary Star of the Sea (Reprise)

“Here comes my faith to carry me on, a faith, not a grave, a fight to stay strong” are the opening words that Billy Corgan sings on Zwan’s debut album, Corgan’s first recorded work since disbanding the hugely successful Smashing Pumpkins.

These upbeat sentiments, uncommon during the Pumpkin years, are freely explored in this new vehicle, where together with cohorts Jimmy Chamberlin (drums), Matt Sweeney (guitar), Paz Lenchantin (bass) and David Pajo (guitar), Corgan tears down the walls of angst that plagued the Pumpkins so to discover a fresh approach with heart and soul.

The music echoes this change of direction as bright guitars, bouncy rhythms, sunshine tunes and Lenchantin’s charming backing vocals combine seamlessly. Corgan’s own nasal vocals remains intact but he actually sounds um content!

On “Declarations of Faith,” Corgan even states “I declare myself, declare myself of faith,” to a guitar sound closer to britpop than grunge where Corgan gives full and free rein to the pop sensibilities that have always been evident in hisowrk, if only previously sporadically. On “Honestly,” Corgan lays himself bare with such fragility that it almost comes as a shock – “Cause there's no place that I could be without you, it's too far to discard the life I once knew. Honestly, all the weather and storms I bring are just a picture of my needs, 'cause when I think of you as mine and allow myself with time to lead into the life we want I feel love, honestly I feel love, yes, honestly.” Has the boy really become a man?

This maturity also comes with insight as the pleasing “Endless Summer” indicates – “Now you can disagree with how I choose to live but freedom isn't free unless you learn how to give” as well as the folky “Of A Broken Heart” – “The heart of a child is in your hands now so let's see you smile 'cause I’m not impressed with your loneliness.”

Musically, Corgan remains defiantly eclectic with elements of soft jazz (“Yeah!”), power pop (“El Sol”), mainstream balladry (“Desire”), folk (“Of A Broken Heart”) and breezy pop (“Heartsong”) sprinkled all over this excellent album.

And with the 18 minute-plus epic “Jesus, I/Mary Star of the Sea” Corgan adds progressive psychedelic glam rock to the list. Adapting the lyrics of a hymn written by Henry Francis Lyte and segueing into the poetic title track where Corgan questions the meaning of life and perhaps suggests that there must be more than what can be seen and touched.

A veritable tour de force, perhaps the perfect way to describe Mary Star of the Sea is that it is probably one of the finest art-rock records of recent times. A+