Smashing Pumpkins: Songs for a Sailor

[Rocket Science Records]

The long and almost ridiculously documented journey of the Smashing Pumpkins has gotten stranger and more convoluted in recent years, if such a state is even possible. Two years ago, Pumpkins frontman/creative sparkplug Billy Corgan announced that the band would no longer record full-length albums, concentrating instead on singles.

Since then, Corgan and whoever passes for a band member these days (longtime drummer Jimmy Chamberlin split amicably early last year, replaced by 19-year-old Mike Byrne, and there have been four bassists since then, including current pick Nichole Fiorentino) have been releasing songs over the Internet in intervals toward an eventual massive 44-track collection titled Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, a song cycle based on the Tarot and a ‘60s interpretation called "The Fool’s Journey."

Every fourth song will result in the release of a limited edition physical CD. Songs for a Sailor is the first of 11 of these EPs, which will culminate in an elaborate box set with unique graphics and exclusive content.

If 2007’s Zeitgeist was a return to the Pumpkins’ more elemental creative output, Teargarden is clearly the pendulum swinging wildly in the opposite direction, as Corgan appears ready to unleash his most ambitious and conceptually complex work to date. Perhaps these first four songs — “A Song for a Son,” “Astral Planes,” “Widow Wakes My Mind” and “A Stitch in Time” — will require the context of the music to follow in order to make sense, but as stand-alone tracks the quartet that comprises Songs for a Sailor are almost maddeningly redundant, as Corgan tends to revisit lyrical bits over and over across all four songs.

The good news is that the music underpinning Corgan’s somewhat circuitous wordplay is among the best he’s ever written: majestic, delicate, epic and intimate, as if he was tapping into a vein of the best Prog ever imagined and translating it beautifully in the most contemporary fashion.

Teargarden by Kaleidyscope could well turn out to be Corgan’s crowning achievement, but experiencing it four songs at a time over the next three or more years might not be the best venue for its presentation.

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