Billy Corgan – The Future Embrace (2005)

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by Mark Saleski

I squinted out through the heavy dawn fog at the mysterious figure standing near the edge of the ocean bluff. Slowly moving closer, it became apparent that she was totally nude, except for a black top hat. With her left arm extended toward the sea, she drew a long, curved knife across her forearm, exposing muscle, tendon and bone to the sky…and dripping blood into the foamy surf. While that scene played out, my mind’s DJ spun up the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight.” My favorite band and the perfect song for this surreal encounter.

Then I woke up in a glistening cold sweat.

What a relief! No woman on the edge. No limbs flayed open. No blood. Best of all, I’m not actually a Smashing Pumpkins fan. Phew!!

As I was listening to Billy Corgan’s solo record, The Future Embrace, that loopy scenario popped into my head as the only possible path for me to Pumpkins fandom. Seriously, I never ‘got’ them. Sure, “Cherub Rock” from Siamese Dream was cool — love that blistering guitar. The rest of it all never made a connection with me. Part of it was Corgan’s voice. I can’t put my finger on it, but ‘forced’ is what always came to mind. The thing is, I like Corgan the man. In interviews he’s very sincere, enthusiastic and funny. Plus, he’s a big Cheap Trick fan, which always gets a person extra rock karma points. I want to like Corgan’s music, but somehow I never do.

The Pumpkins had broken up several years back with the usual rock ‘n’ roll gossip swirling around: drugs and sniping (what they usually refer to as “creative differences”). Corgan went on to form Zwan … and then what? I happened to hear about his Smashing Pumpkins reformation announcement on the same day as my first listen to The Future Embrace. It struck me as odd that Embrace would appear in such close proximity to Corgan’s public appeal. But hey, I’ve got no idea what’s going on in his life. It seems that he’s got some musical ideas left in the bag that are best expressed in his old band’s context.

So does that mean that The Future Embrace was tossed aside for better things to come? Dunno. It’s not a bad collection of songs. My only real complaint here is with the sterility of the rhythm section. Too much programming, not enough real drums. In some ways, this record sounds like the Pumpkins’ “Adore.” Just check out “DIA,” on which Jimmy Chamberlain plays drums. The contrast with the rest of the material couldn’t be greater.

Even though I’m still not a fan of Corgan’s voice, there’s no denying that he knows how to put together a tune. The melodies are pretty and winding. The guitar provides lots of atmosphere in an almost Edge-like way. He even went so far as to cover the Bee Gees classic “To Love Somebody” with the Cure’s Robert Smith assisting on vocals. Some fans may object to so many songs revolving around Corgan’s blossoming religious faith (see the liner notes for ‘proof’) but it’s done in a fairly subtle way, with the lyrics staying away from stridency.

Maybe I’ll become a fan. Obviously, stranger thoughts have occurred.

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