Billy Corgan sounds like he's having fun again. On Mary Star of the Sea, the debut album from Corgan's new band Zwan, the former Smashing Pumpkins frontman pushes aside all the baggage that made the last couple of Pumpkins albums so miserable and proceeds without an agenda. And it's a significant move: Sans a gloomy concept or an unyielding determination to rock your ass off, Corgan has made his most joyous album since Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
With members of indie noisemakers Chavez, A Perfect Circle, and Tortoise (as well as Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin) on board, Mary Star of the Sea is much more tuneful than it has any right to be. "Lyric," "Settle Down," and "Honestly" glide along the familiar Corgan formula of riff/hook/riff, yet there's irrefutable freedom -- and glee -- in the grooves ("Settle Down" even offers a "la-di-da" refrain before its closing guitar solo).
Sure, Corgan's still soft on overlong, plodding epics. "Jesus, I/Mary Star of the Sea," which clocks in at a numbing 14 minutes, suggests that he hasn't shaken the habit of trying to make every album work toward some grandiose point. But as Mary Star of the Sea blissfully attests, he no longer needs one.