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Music lovers missed the boat when they ignored Zwan's "Mary, Star of the Sea" album.

Confessions of a Fanboy 009: I Had a Friday Morning Listen, Too

Sir Saleski has, for three years and counting now, written the excellent Friday Morning Listen column on his own site and Blogcritics. Beginning this year, he brought that column to TheMondoProject. The idea behind the column, according to him, really is as simple as the title. The columns are rarely pre-ordained. They are about whatever it is he was in the mood to listen to on his way to work on a Friday morning as he looked forward to the weekend.

I had one of those moments today – not too dissimilar from an experience I wrote about some weeks ago. I woke up with a song in my head and just had to listen to it. I have now listened to that song a couple of times and I am now listening to its parent album.

I was awakened this morning by the sounds of "Ride a Black Swan" by Zwan reverberating through my head. I do not remember when I listened to this song or this album last. For some reason, the music library in my head dialed this up this morning and I am glad it did.

America, you blew it on this one. Mary, Star of the Sea should have sold 2 million copies. There should have been hit singles on the modern rock charts. This is a seriously great record and practically no one heard it. It's a damn shame, too.

One of the things I planned on doing with this Confessions series of mine was writing about albums that slipped through the cracks in one way or another, for one reason or another. I liked this album the first time I listened to it. Love came a little later but not much. The more I tore into Mary, the more I found myself loving these songs.

I heard this album dismissed by some as being PumpkinsLite (Zwan was ex-Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan's first post-Pumpkins project). It is difficult for me to imagine somebody missing the point more. It is only PumpkinsLite if you picked up Mary expecting another Smashing Pumpkins record. Maybe I am able to separate Zwan from Pumpkins so easily because I was only a casual fan of Smashing Pumpkins. I liked them, I didn't love them.  There is so much to love on this record if you listen to it on its own merits. It is not a perfect record but is a very good one that deserved a kinder fate.

"Ride a Black Swan" might be the best anthem Billy Corgan has ever written. Note — I did not say best song.  Although now that I mention it, I would place it next to anything Corgan has ever written and recorded and not feel the least bit embarrassed about it. It is nowhere near as excessive as "Jesus, I/Mary Star of the Sea," but there are distinct movements throughout the song.  Those movements and the song's message are bathed in some amazing layers of guitars and driven by the powerhouse work of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin.  Guitars ring, chime, and soar. Chamberlin's drumming is impossibly propulsive. Corgan's vocals are not only not grating – they are sometimes pretty and powerful.

Not long after Mary was released, Corgan told Rolling Stone, "Faith is the great energy — as long as one has faith, you're willing to try, to take another chance." Many of the songs on Mary explore the idea of faith – hell, one song is actually called "Declarations of Faith."

Musically, Mary is more interesting to me than Corgan's latter day goth/electronica experiments. These songs are not experimental- they're just good. The churning, thundering guitar noise of Corgan's past are replaced with shiny layers of bright guitar. One has to wonder if his stint touring with New Order might have rubbed off on him as he wrote and recorded these songs. Where Smashing Pumpkins could be described as a hard rock band, Zwan is simply rock.

Mary, Star of the Sea will likely be the last we hear from Zwan. Corgan carries huge amounts of hatred for the other band members (with the exception of longtime collaborator Chamberlin) and he is now re-forming the Pumpkins. Corgan said there are still boxes of tapes from these sessions. I might be the only man in America who hopes these see the light of day, but I do. The new Pumpkins record may be great. I will certainly want to hear it. I just wish Zwan did not have to die for the Pumpkins to be re-born.

Some of my favorite tracks:

  • "Lyric" – This is an ideal opening song for the album.  Mary is not a concept album, per se, but the theme of faith comes up time and time again.  "Lyric" introduces that theme beautifully.
  • "Honestly" – This was the first single from the album.  I cannot believe it did not catch on with more people. 
  • "Ride a Black Swan" – Epic without being overblown, this is the masterpiece of the album.
  • "Heartsong" – One of the softer moments on the album, I have never  been a fan of Corgan as balladeer but this is a good song.
  • "Endless Summer" – I was never a New Order fan, but this one always sounded to me like one where Billy indulged his new wave leanings.
  • "Yeah!" – I can see why most people would listen to this and think it is stupid, but I really like it.  I like that Corgan sings a lot of this in his lower register.  I like the chime-y guitars.
  • "Come With Me" – This simple, spare, pop song is the perfect palette cleanser fter the sprawl of "Jesus, I."  This was a clever choice to end the album.

About Josh Hathaway

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