- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 26, 2005

A few days before Billy Corgan played the 9:30 Club on Friday, he took out a full-page newspaper ad in his hometown of Chicago. He said he was walking around with “a secret, a secret I chose to keep.” (Is there another kind?) “I want my dreams back,” he said.

He has plans, in short, to re-form the Smashing Pumpkins, the 1990s alt-rock group he disbanded in 2000 after various rows, personnel changes and one death by drug overdose.

Mr. Corgan has made a part-time career out of alienating band mates and collaborators such as Courtney Love — or, depending on whom you believe, being alienated by them. His post-Pumpkins band Zwan lasted two years and seemed like a productive outfit, but tanked in 2003 after which the singer-guitarist publicly, and frequently, vented about how miserable the experience was. He took to the blog pages of myspace.com and spilled his guts to any and all.

So, it was somewhat of a surprise to hear Mr. Corgan optimistically singing lines such as “We can change the world” and “I’m ready for love” on his just-released solo debut, “The FutureEmbrace.” He’s even been accused of “finding Jesus.”

“The FutureEmbrace” is a personal sort of album whose vulnerabilities are buried beneath a wall of synth-pop atmospherics and mechanized club rhythms. It’s a slog of a listening experience at home, even with a cover of the Bee Gees heartbreak classic “To Love Somebody.” In concert Friday night — Mr. Corgan devoted nearly all of his 90 minutes to the new album, eschewing the Pumpkins catalog altogether — it was a dead-on-arrival slog.

Inside the wall of noise produced by a band of “Matrix” extras, including a stand-up drummer thrashing at an electronic kit, Mr. Corgan’s clothespin-on-nose twang was barely audible for most of the night. The shiny-pated shoegazer seemed to care far more about tending to the tonal effects of his guitar than singing. Mr. Corgan and Co. compensated for the lack of familiar material with a swirling, super-chill light-show backdrop that looked like an industrial utility grid in miniature.

Some of the new material, including the serpentine “The Cameraeye” and the pop-hooky “I’m Ready,” stood out from the pack, but the remainder was either too abrasive or too sedate to find a consistent groove.

Mr. Corgan introduced a cover version of a song by a “great man.” I think it was “Sittin’ on Top of the World” by Howlin’ Wolf — of whom Mr. Corgan is a fan — but a goopy arrangement made it impossible to tell for sure.

There’s no denying it: The man needs his dreams back.

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