It took a lot of nerve for Billy Corgan to book a solo gig at L. A.'s Viper Room earlier this year, and then to show up and perform a set of nearly all brand-new songs, with only his acoustic guitar for acompaniment.
A wall of guitars such as the one that has characterized the Pumpkins' sound in the past can hide a lot. But when you strip everything away to just the singer and the song, that's when you know if you've really got something.
Those who witnessed the Viper Room show, or who have listened to the bootleg recording of that show circulating on the Internet, already know that Corgan's new songs deliver the goods.
And now we have those songs, fleshed out by soaring arrangements and -- new for the Pumpkins -- DJ culture/techno-inspired sound.
Adore, which nearly maxes out the capacity of a CD at over 72 minutes in length, is a radical, wildly adventurous work. Corgan has set timeless
melodies to music that, for the most part, sounds like the work of soulful
aliens. With the exception of the acoustic guitar that opens the first
track, "To Sheila," and the piano that dominates a few tracks, there is
hardly a conventional sound on the album. Instead, drum machines, samples,
treated drums, treated samples, synths and all manners of odd noise have
been used to create an intensely intimate, powerfully revealing work.
Guitars, a mainstay of the group's old sound, are practically
But just as impressive as the fresh, technofied sound are the sentiments
Corgan expresses in the lyrics. This time out, he's dealing in heavy
themes such as love and loss, faith and grace. This is not kid stuff, and Corgan
knows it. "I'm not talking to teenagers anymore," he told me when we spoke recently. "I'm talking to everybody now. The whole world."
Adore is modern rock as art -- art that will play well on the radio, in concert, or through headphones.
"To Sheila," the album's opener, is set to gentle, mostly acoustic music -- there's even a banjo that comes in mid-song. "Twilight fades/ Through blistered avalon/ The sky's cruel touch/ On aching autobahn/ Into the uncertain divine/ We scream into the last divide." Here Corgan sings about giving up faith in an"uncertain divine." Is he singing about God when he hits the chorus of "You make me real/ You make me real/ Strong as I feel/ You make me real"?
Throughout the album Corgan and his two sidekicks, bassist D'Arcy Wretzky and guitarist James Iha, make innovative use of techno rhythms (the debut single, "Ava Adore," is a perfect example, with its relentless, mechanical bottom end).
Traditional solos have, for the most part, been tossed out the window. Strange sonic shards take their place. A chunk of feedback here, an arc of white noise there. Yet against this sometimes cold and alien backdrop, Corgan has set classic pop melodies and humanistic lyrics. "Love is good and love is kind/ Love is good and love is blind/ Love is good and love is mine/ Love is good all the time," Corgan sings in "Shame."
Though much of the album is, as Corgan described it, "arcane night music," quiet and introspective and perfect for late night listening, there are some awesome rockers here. "Ava Adore" is perfect rocktronica, a fast, loud rocker that nonetheless utilizes electronic rhythms and textures. With the feel of an exotic Led Zeppelin number like "Kashmir," Tear is a dramatic rock ballad with heavy orchestration and an intensely dramatic reading from Corgan. "Daphne Descends" is an ominous mid-tempo rocker with a hint of guitars in the mix and a machine-line rhythm track. It contains this awesome couplet from Corgan: "It's the perfect hassle/ For the perfect kiss." And you really just have to hear him deliver the line,"This boy is here and gone."
Taken one at a time, each of the songs stands on its own. But Adore is a real album, a cohesive work, a song-cycle that explores big themes.
Like the Pumpkins' past glories -- Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinate Sadness -- Adore is an epic work, and an album for the ages. Enjoy.