It's way too easy to psychoanalyze musicians through their records. Still, rarely have two albums sounded so reflective of their creators' souls as The Future Embrace by Billy Corgan and Pajo by David Pajo. Both songwriters have illustrious resumes: Corgan, of course, as the Smashing Pumpkins' front man, and Pajo as a member of Slint, Tortoise and Palace, not to mention a prolific solo performer under such names as the Thirteenth Letter and Papa M.
But the pair's paths didn't converge until 2003, when Zwan, Corgan's post-Pumpkins project, released its only disc, Mary, Star of the Sea -- for which Corgan bafflingly enlisted Pajo as guitarist. After all, the two couldn't be more different. Corgan is still the whining poster child for emo-glam flamboyance, while Pajo has always played the roles of journeyman experimentalist and whispery auteur.
Now the erstwhile collaborators have released solo records within a week of each other. And while both traffic in minimalist, ethereal rock, only Pajo's manages to convey some semblance of vitality. But a semblance is all it is. Across ten tracks of laptop-produced inconsequence, Pajo strikes his best Elliott Smith pose, futilely attempting to yawn his way out of droopy, acoustic folk-pop tunes. And although a certain sweet sincerity adds substance, it can't prevent his voice from dissipating into vapor.
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Corgan's histrionic caterwaul surely has never suffered the same problem, and on Embrace, his screech is as irksome as ever, with nothing to back it up. After hiring the washed-up Nitzer Ebb to press the demo buttons on their Casios, Corgan lays down the limpest and most watery riffs of his career. His duet with Robert Smith on the Bee Gee's "To Love Somebody" doesn't even work as a joke. Between Corgan's vanity and Pajo's navel-gazing, it's no wonder Zwan was a flop. If there's any insight to be gleaned from these albums, it's this: Left to their own devices, neither of them can pull their heads out of their asses long enough to write a decent song.