The curious incident of the bored rock star and his first solo album.
Far be it from me to judge an artist (cough) but when, upon the release of his debut solo effort, Billy Corgan took out an ad in a Chicago based newspaper asking for a reunion of his former band, one could not help but question the man's commitment -- not to mention confidence -- in regards to his most recent endeavors and looming projects. It was as if squeaking out this last stab at relevance finally filled some sort of unspoken quota. Perhaps there are a certain, predetermined, number of failed attempts needed in order to return to the only thing you were ever good at to begin with. In that case, it would appear that as soon as it was filled Billy went looking for the way-back machine.
The Smashing Pumpkins never really resonated with me as much as they did with people in my general age group. That being said, "Disarm" pretty much defined my existence for one summer (don't ask) and, "Cherub Rock" has this odd connotation with an old girlfriend. Corgan has always had that tortured writing style that is poetic enough to be acceptable, and angst-ridden enough to be considered disposable in its particularly awkward teenage personality. If you try hard enough you can usually dismiss his lyrics, but not until after you've related to them on some level.
After the abortion that was Zwan disbanded, Corgan remained relatively quiet for some time. Maybe he was writing, maybe he was pining for his more tangible days as a notable "rockstar". Hell, maybe he was even taking his time and doubling his efforts in order to put just the right elements into a worthwhile solo album. I'm really not sure. I am, however, sure that his collective fan bases comprised mostly of teenagers and aging rockists such as myself (Hi!), were most eagerly awaiting what he would do on his own. What could we expect? Machina? Adore? Or would it be something else entirely?
The most striking feature on Corgan's very first solo album, The Future Embrace is that it is largely a shoegaze record, which is surprising, to say the least. If there are fans out there expecting an electronic feast of cold beats and synth-driven hooks, you need not disillusion yourselves any longer. Corgan, very methodically, makes this a maudlin opus of his own emoting insecurities and yearnings. In kind, he is sure to juxtapose the melodrama with its own impending sense of aesthetic infirmity. The problem is that in all its earnestness, The Future Embrace is far too slight for its own good.
The formula just seems to prove tired and forgettable. It's as if Corgan didn't so much put himself into the record as much as he did the idea of Billy Corgan. There is the impression that he had a definitive idea on the direction he wished to take here, but the actual LP would suggest that it was all paper-thin. If it is an album of personal discovery, why does it remain so static in its mentalities? If it is indie-pop, where are the hooks? My God, where are the hooks? Furthermore, It's no surprise that Corgan's writing has been basically frozen for the last seven years or so, but there are instances on The Future Embrace where he almost seems to be going for self-parody! Surely, I am not insinuating that lyrical content alone will make or break a specific work, but on this album without the lulling atmosphere that its dominating and initial mood seemed to imply, some above-par prose would greatly help in defining this record. Truth be told, it's all very disconcerting to see him so bored with himself.
The biggest tragedy is that there is so very little to take away from The Future Embrace. For an album so quiet and seemingly subtle, it's all very impersonal and even myopic. It's not that any of the songs are horrible; it's just that they are so shamelessly middle-of-the-road that you become sickened by the ambivalence that they instill. It's almost as if this album, along with Corgan's curious newspaper ad, are like some sort of consolidated cry for help, in the most literal of terms. He, obviously, can no longer help himself musically; we need to call in the professionals. Personally, I am not sure what a Smashing Pumpkins reunion might even be worth to me. However, if it can get Corgan past this phase where he seems to be creatively bankrupt (regarding his writing, anyway) then bring on the farewell stadium tour part deaux! Now, excuse me while I shed a tear for my junior high years.