Smashing Pumpkins frontman William Patrick Corgan demonstrated a while ago that there is more to his identity as a musician than playing routine gigs, touring and fronting an alt-rock band.
The musician spent about three weeks travelling around Middle America. The idea behind the journey was that, through music, he wanted to immerse himself and reconnect with the people and culture of the places he went to.
Being accustomed to playing indoor venues, and nearly always finding himself in confined spaces, the chosen exploratory approach seems to have been liberating, productive and fulfilling. ‘Cottilions’ represents the ambitious fruits of his travel adventures. It’s an album of substance, an authentic account of his experiences. It all comes from an honest, sincere place, but counting 17 tracks in total - a healthy number of songs - irrespective of quality, it could be said that there is too much material on this record.
Having said that, it’s a fascinating concoction. The songs are believable, showing moments of genre-bendiness, eclecticism, curiosity, there’s a genuine interest in things. Incorporating Americana, bluegrass, country and folk, plenty of musical ground is covered, and it is done so with precision and care.
Album opener ‘To Scatter One’s Own’ marks an impressive intro before launching into ‘Hard Times’, a Country-inspired song that tackles different types of fear while a track such as Jubilee’ changes the pace entirely with its vibrant rhythms and dancing violin sounds. The intimate ‘Fragile, The Spark’ signifies a stand-alone moment where Corgan seems to, at least, vocally honour his day job. It’s the most Smashing Pumpkins-like moment on the project, and it’s more than possible to imagine it appearing on one of the band’s albums.
Elsewhere, chirpy Americana bubbles up on tracks such as ‘Faithless Darlin’ - it’s a bright and vibrant moment, and then a track like ‘Colosseum’ occurs. Creating an enormous contrast, the song is heavily led by introspection and reflection. There is a lot of instrumental versatility on this record, and the Country audibles of ‘Buffalo Boys’ with its steel guitars, it really celebrates, and brings that idea home. ‘Like Lambs’ is a mesmeric piano-driven moment where subtle guitar playing supports melancholy atmospherics. Ticking all the folk-rock boxes ‘Apologia’ resembles Jeff Buckley’s album ‘Grace’ album in spirit, sound and dimension.
The concept of ‘Cottilions’ definitely deserves some applause. It’s a big, brave project for anyone to take on, and rather than disappoint or fail, it impresses, and in some places, it shines.
Words: Susan Hansen
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