So the whole non-reunion thing didn’t work out for Billy Corgan. The band failed to explode again; the bombastic, Sabbath-inspired major-label release bombed; Corgan got nasty when fans asked for the hits at the band’s comeback shows. Some might have hung it up, but Corgan—who’s recently been writing music for Courtney Love and Jessica Simpson—has grandiose designs of staging a music-industry- and self-saving, Internet-released concept album. Needless to say, it’s a little far-fetched. The 44-song project is set to be released in four-song EPs that will be made available free on the Smashing Pumpkins website, or in physical form; eventually, the gigantic package will hit stores.
But what about the music? Either Corgan has been listening to what the kids like (Death Cab for Cutie, the Mars Volta, some of that faux glam-revival stuff) or he’s just fallen back on the classic-rock section of his vinyl collection, because Songs for a Sailor rocks—but with great restraint. Corgan breaks out the solos but without the searing distortion, as if grunge never happened. Album opener “Song for a Son” sounds like a keyboard-dominated “Stairway to Heaven,” but Corgan’s vocals kill the song: He’s reaching for a pomp he can’t seem to find. “Widow Wake My Mind” combines pop melodies with understated prog riffs; it’s one of Corgan’s better pieces in the last decade, though not particularly gripping. These four songs recall the opening to the Pumpkins’ semi-legendary double-disc Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. This could be the warmup to an epic, or it could be Corgan grasping at relevance through classic sounds. Only time will tell.