Following up from 2017’s Ogilala, Billy Corgan, rather William Patrick Corgan has released his latest solo effort Cotillions, an extensive double album made solely with the fans in mind. Available only on digital download, Corgan described Cotillions as a “labor of love” while happily jettisoning the media middleman for a more direct connection with his devoted followers. Given the Smashing Pumpkins frontman’s capacity for eccentricity in recent times, 17 tracks worth of his mind and spirit manifest is nothing if not highly intriguing on the face of it.
Into the maddening abyss: “To Scatter One’s Own” sees Corgan make his entrance woven in winding strings and acoustic strums. He is nothing if not lyrically vivid: “Cast us leaves with bail and bride/His brother by his side/A pathway horse will fly and fly/a forest aged ignites a fire”. “Hard Times” dives more into country thematics, lap-steels and all than its folkier predecessor, while “Jubilee” deepens the Americana angle with a banjo-assisted jig that is both danceworthy and verbose: “Just who alights a melancholic kiss?/ When your upward sounds, a comet called Autumn for me?” While much of “Jubilee” evokes pictures of a mythical world of lore, the comparatively tamer “Fragile, The Spark” serves more realistically as the soundtrack to a lakeside campfire at dusk. All the while Corgan asks the question: “Who loves you more than I love you, lark?/Who loves you more than the spark?”
“Cotillions” brings the keys back into the equation, the ivories having featured heavily on Ogilala two years prior. The bleak ploddings of the title track are quickly uprooted by the ironically bright guitar number “Faithless Darlin’”, where Corgan turns hard to his partial religiosity for inspiration: “For years of sorrow, I’ve turned, and turned, and turned omens/I fear as much, it’s easy/My heart’s aglow with you where our hearts shone through.” The quasi-spiritual introspection continues into the soothing “Colosseum”: “Slip on past creation, cry with all your might/Speak the high spell, appoint a wish well” into the rootsy, intimate ramble of “Martinets”.
Throughout half one of the record Corgan sets up a series of versatile musical themes; culling from them again when appropriate and building them up further. It shows promise for an eclectic second half where many-an-artist loses steam on lengthy records of the likes of this one. Following the vaguely bluesy “Buffalo Boys”, “Dancehall” follows much of the same guitar-and-strings trappings as the album opener, while “Cri De Coeur” moseys forthright again into the fields of folk and fiddling. “Like Lambs” drinks from the well of deep piano once more with an illuminating choral backing to give it a unique tinge, while “Rider” is more of a pleasant hybrid of country, folk and tender Corgan alt-rock. While the record at this stage threatens to become repetitive, Corgan is careful and conscious enough (for the moment) to throw enough discerning flavour into the mix so his established dynamics do not become tiresome.
“Apologia” continues this optimistic trend in another wholesome, glowing burst of sound, driven by solid acoustics and light electric guitardom in a wonderfully and carefully contrasted mix. “Neptulius” brushes with a softer stroke, sounding at first like a Corganized “Tuesday’s Gone” before it flows down the river closer to modern alt-country territory. “6+7” with its dainty keys and perfectly complimentary fretless bass sounds like Journey’s “Faithfully” if the first minute of the song were stuck on a loop; nevertheless it’s a decent listen and fits in well with the rest of what Cotillions has had to offer. “Anon”, featuring Corgan alone on the piano until the strings come surging in closes the album out on a comme ci comme ça type of note: The build-and-rise form of the track is totally suited for the grand finale, nevertheless its instrumentation strikes an identical chord to numerous other tracks on the album. It’s a testament to the pitfalls of working within successful formulas, or simply a reminder as to why 17 tracks on a record unless it’s some sort of progressive concept album is almost universally excessive.
With whatever psychodramas Billy Corgan might be conjuring up this time, from the Smashing Pumpkins reunion to his album reviews to other personal spats, a fair bit of genius did emerge from the madness on Cotillions. Unfortunately, it was delivered in too many doses, and often times in too repetitive a fashion as a consequence despite the diversity of genres explored on this record. Had this record been 12 tracks max, it would have been stellar, but too many pounds got packed on. Thinning the track list would do a lot of good, and will make Corgan’s next solo effort a fine feather in his cap and a gem in his voluminous catalogue; without the individual records needing to be overly voluminous themselves.