‘Mary Star of the Sea’ by Zwan (Half-Pint Reviews #3)
Billy Corgan’s second act burned bright and fast
Telling which albums are underrecognized isn’t easy. While everyone knows Smashing Pumpkins, fewer are familiar with Corgan’s follow-up band Zwan. Yet in a time when the new Pumpkins isn’t much like classic Pumpkins, Zwan’s Mary Star of the Sea may be the fix you need.
Zwan formed soon after the original Smashing Pumpkins disbanded in 2000. The members were former Pumpkins Billy Corgan (guitar, vocals) and Jimmy Chamberlin (drums), joined by Paz Lenchantin (bass), David Pajo (guitar) and Matt Sweeney (guitar).
In interviews, Corgan spoke of wanting to reach a new audience with a message that would address real life, in contrast to so much popular music at the time. Against the backdrop of the buildup and launch of the Iraq War in 2003, Zwan brought a spirit of positivity.
The band released Mary Star of the Sea in January. I remember the single “Honestly” getting a fair amount of play on music video channels. Reviews tend to contrast Zwan’s sound to the Pumpkins, but it has much of the classic Pumpkins sound: Corgan’s fuzzy guitar, Chamberlin’s jazzy touch and a dash of female vocals. It struck me as a return to roots for Corgan after the electronic-gothic Adore (1998) and leaden Machina/The Machines of God (2000). Nonetheless, Zwan never took off and the band broke up mere months later.
There’s a reason for that. Pictures of the band show what appears to be a group of tightknit friends. They goof around, squeeze together for photos, and throw arms around each other. In the video for “Honestly,” Corgan and Lenchantin practically rub noses. Smiles abound. This is the band I hear when I listen to Zwan. To me, it always recalls the simpler, happier sound of early Pumpkins releases centered on Siamese Dream (1993). It’s not, however, an accurate representation of the actual mood in the band.
Corgan has been blunt about this, most notably in a 2005 interview with Entertainment Weekly. The interview is no longer on EW’s website, but online publications such as Stereogum and Drowned in Sound quote it. Of his former bandmates, Corgan said, “I detest them. You can put that in capital letters. Bad people.” Luckily for me, I’m able to hear what I want in music, because what I hear is a lot of love.
The members of Zwan have all moved on to further projects. Pajo and Sweeney have discographies too extensive and varied to summarize, while Lenchantin is known to many for her work with A Perfect Circle and more recently Pixies. Corgan has been as prolific as ever, releasing a handful of solo albums and resurrecting the Pumpkins with Chamberlin among the personnel. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind a resurrection of Zwan, but Corgan told Entertainment Weekly that such a return will never happen.
Zwan came and went too fast to show different sides of itself, although some unofficial releases are of acoustic performances. Unless you get ahold of those, Mary Star of the Sea is all there is.
Half-Pint Reviews is a series of short reviews covering albums that strike me as little-known, underappreciated or forgotten. The last installment was about the post-punk band White Rose Movement and may be read in The Riff here.