In keeping with the title (a ‘cotillion’ being an 18th-century social event with dancing and music) Billy digs into the sounds of rootsy Americana, bluegrass and folk to tell stories and observations of his home country, partly previously captured as part of his Thirty Days documentary and music project. Armed with only acoustic instruments and presented in a manner that makes the term ‘stripped back’ seem palatial, the vibe here is one of the album’s most charming strengths.
The opening pairing of To Scatter One’s Own and Hard Times set the tone beautifully, with piano and violin adding layers of sepia-toned nostalgia to the edges. It continues like this through Faithless Darlin’ and Buffalo Boys, with the high concepts and often complex building blocks of Smashing Pumpkins widely avoided in favour of keeping the heart of these songs pure. Brilliantly, it doesn’t come across as the listens-to-country-music-once diversion of an artist having a go at something that seems easy but that they don’t truly understand. The sound of American folk is present and correct, right down to the occasional slide guitar motif, but equally, so are its traditions of observing the world around you and telling the stories of what you see.
As a creative idea, Cotillions is a good one. In practice, as an artistic endeavour, it’s also an enjoyable one. The man’s innate, undeniable songwriting skill lends itself just as comfortably to the breezy, smokey, acoustic-guitar-on-a-front-porch songs here as they do to the high-idea futurism of Pumpkins at their most flamboyant. Best of all, these songs feel like they exist because Billy Corgan simply felt like picking up a guitar and doing it. No pressure, no massive plan, just music for its own sake. While it’s not a classic of the Corgan canon, it does feel like he’s enjoying himself immensely doing it. And we’re happy enough to hear that.