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"Try, try, try," Billy Corgan moaned shortly before his Smashing Pumpkins turned to mush. If history is any indication, he was most likely imploring the Little Mermaid's dad to turn him into a dolphin, but he might well have been talking to his future self: "Billy, when the Pumpkins break up and you form Zwan with your unlikely indie-rock pals, you must try to maintain the bombast kids everywhere love you for while killing some of the mad-scientist bloat that almost undid all that Machina music. A'ight?" Believe it or not, Mary Star of the Sea, Zwan's studio debut after a year of sporadic touring, actually makes good on that resolve -- it's an hour of wide-screen guitar rock that distills Corgan's talent down to its essence, junking the concept-album rigmarole to leave more room for that patented vertiginous guitar buzz. The help Corgan has hired helps: Former Chavez front man Matt Sweeney and Slint/Tortoise/Papa M alum David Pajo have spent years figuring out ways to make their guitars sizzle without self-immolating, and inside Corgan's tunes, especially "Ride a Black Swan" and lead single "Honestly," they find plenty of architecture to hang pretty little countermelodies and sheets of tactile noise upon.

The same ideas are still propelling Corgan: Spirituality looms large on the 14-minute title track, and his eternal dedication to rock's redemptive might charges the giddy "Baby Let's Rock!," which Shania Twain will never forgive him for writing first. But the bandleader sounds reinvigorated in a way he hasn't since Siamese Dream helped blow alt-rock wide open in 1993. No telling where Zwan will go in that amount of time, if it'll balloon to the same distended proportions the Pumpkins did; hopefully, Corgan will pen another memo to himself to consult when that day comes.

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Mikael Wood

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