If it seems odd to think of a 70-minute, 16-song album as economical and restrained, just remember that "Adore's" predecessor, 1995's "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness," was a two-CD, two-hours-plus, 28-song outpouring. For all its excesses, that sprawling, demanding and compelling collection resonated at the emotional pitch of the Pumpkins' peers and became a benchmark of '90s rock.
With all that out of his system, Billy Corgan turns from a sweeping survey of his generation's musical and emotional journeys to an interior excavation. "Adore" is meant to be his revealing, soul-searching opus, and if he can't scale the album in a way that serves that goal, well, that's Billy--ambitious, undisciplined and indulgent (whoever can teach Corgan how to use a wastebasket should be automatically named producer of the year). Luckily, he's also pretty inspired.
As a Chicago-based band, Corgan, guitarist James Iha and bassist D'Arcy are equidistant from the dark beauty of New York's Velvet Underground and the sunbathed melancholy of California's Brian Wilson. Those models hover above this predominantly mid-tempo, elegiac work, whose basic guitar-rock and piano ballads accommodate everything from light-industrial synthetic sonics to folksy banjo.
In these reflective settings, Corgan sifts through relationships broken by alienation, death and other mysteries, searching for strength and purpose to help make sense of a disordered but essentially appealing world.
As personal as all this is, "Adore" is rarely intimate. Corgan seems helplessly drawn to the grandiose, regularly turning to imagery of stars and oceans instead of mining the more difficult details of the soul. When Corgan heaves a sigh, he wants it to be a sigh that can shake the world, and with "Adore" he makes a strong case for his epic brand of introspection.
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* Excerpts from the Smashing Pumpkins' "Adore" and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/soundclips