Billy Corgan Billy Corgan
The Future Embrace

Billy Corgan and his Smashing Pumpkins became one of Chicago's most celebrated and successful bands ever in the '90s, before self-destructing after only a handful of albums.

Corgan's first post-Smashing Pumpkins effort, a band called Zwan, lasted only a single album before disbanding. Now he's back with his first official "solo" album, and one wonders if all the push and pull and dramatic disagreements of a band environment is necessary to squeeze the best out of Billy.

While the blistering guitars of the Pumpkins pushed Corgan to transcendant vocal performances, The Future Embrace finds Corgan droning on without much audible passion or, at least, not much angst.

He explores all the colors of melancholy and tentative hope on The Future Embrace, and while individual songs are solid listens, the lack of variety in the musical attack makes them all start to sound somewhat homogenous by the end of the disc there are no real rockers or changeups to vary the mood.

Corgan has publicly stated that his goal was to make an album that captures a single mood or sound and consistently mines it, and in that, The Future Embrace is successful.

Picking up where the Pumpkins' Adore left off, this disc mines an '80s meld of drum machines, sonorous keyboard basslines and fuzzy synthesizer-enhanced guitars to make a soundscape that is more comforting than challenging.

More hypnotic than heart-wrenching. Alan Moulder, who's worked with the Pumpkins as well as Nine Inch Nails and Erasure, mixed the album, so it boasts a dense bed of synthesized sound. For Corgan's distinctive, nasal vocal style, that's not necessarily a good thing. While he can certainly pull off a ballad (witness "Tonight, Tonight"), his tight, thin snarls are best suited to rock anthems, not quiet interludes that ask "can I give my old heart to you?"

Rather than a call to action, The Future Embrace is a call to the couch.

Filled with introspective moments such as "The Camera Eye" (where he notes that "I need pain to change my life"), and a drone-y cover of The Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody," (which finds The Cure's Robert Smith contributing some background vocals and guitar) this album is like peering into a late night rock star confessional. Corgan sounds honest, lovelorn and contemplative. Sometimes, that makes for soul-churning music. More often, it makes for background music. If that's not the Corgan you want to hear, well he answers that complaint in the lead-off track "All Things Change."

And as all things change, they also stay the same. When this CD was released last month, Corgan posted on his Web site that he already has begun writing songs for another solo album. But he also announced that he plans to bring the Smashing Pumpkins together again. Here's what his Web site states:

"When I played the final Smashing Pumpkins show on the night of December 2, 2000, I walked off the Metro stage believing that I was forever leaving a piece of my life behind. I naively tried to start a new band, but found that my heart wasn't in it.

I moved away to pursue a love that I once had but got lost. So I moved back home to heal what was broken in me, and to my surprise I found what I was looking for. I found that my heart is in Chicago, and that my heart is in The Smashing Pumpkins.

"For a year now, I have walked around with a secret, a secret I chose to keep. But now I want you to be among the first to know that I have made plans to renew and revive The Smashing Pumpkins. I want my band back, and my songs, and my dreams. In this desire, I feel I have come home again.

"'TheFutureEmbrace' represents a new beginning, not an ending. It picks up the thread of the as-yet-unfinished work and charter of The Smashing Pumpkins. I know this city gave me the gift of my music, and it is my honor to share this love that I have with you from the bottom of my heart. There is still so much work to do and, as always, so little time!"

So if "The Future Embrace is a quieter effort from Corgan, if the artist has it his way, it's also just an interlude. A private but publicly shared moment before the fire of the Smashing Pumpkins is rekindled.

That, frankly, is a more enervating thought than any words that grace the elastic throb of the too-sterile rhythm beds that clothe the heart of The Future Embrace.