As the snarling front man for alt-rock titans Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Corgan once wrote the best lyric of the 90s.

"Despite all my rage, I'm still just a rat in a cage," he spat over the Pumpkins' heaviest riff, channelling the discontent of an entire generation.

When TimeOut calls him, 22 years shy of Bullet With Butterfly Wings' apocalyptic coalface, Corgan's not angry at all.

He's enjoying a cup of tea in the sun.

Advertisement

"I'm drinking a lemon berry meritage," he chirps from the back porch of his Illinois tea shop, Madame Zuzu's. "No caffeine."

No caffeine, zero attitude. Corgan recently turned 50, and the bile and bite he's known for is, at least today, nowhere in sight.

"It's a beautiful day, it's about 27 degrees, the sun is shining," he says. "I feel good."

There's a reason for that. Corgan's about to release his second solo album, the mostly acoustic Rick Rubin-produced Ogilala. Released under his birth name, William Patrick Corgan, it's upbeat, intensely personal, and really rather good.

It's also the follow-up to 2005's TheFutureEmbrace, with songs like Aeronaut and The Spaniards stripped back to leave Corgan's voice front and centre.

It initially sounds sombre and melancholy. But after a few spins, the vibe lifts, and Ogilala becomes much more euphoric - like a whole album of Disarms dosed up on happy pills.

After shelving a new Pumpkins record that wasn't going where he wanted it to, Corgan says that was his exact frame of mind during recording sessions at Rubin's Malibu studio, Shangri-La.

"I found that I just needed to write some songs to reconnect with whatever I was missing," he says.

"It didn't feel dour to me. It felt really hopeful and pretty. There are a lot of contrasting moods, but overall I don't think my album's sad at all."

Using mostly guitars and strings, it was Corgan's first time working with Rubin - a partnership that came as a surprise.

"I said to him, 'I need to find a producer ... can you recommend someone?' He said, 'Actually, I would be interested,' which completely shocked me.

"I didn't at all expect to be doing this type of album [and] I certainly didn't expect to be doing it with Rick."

More tellingly, Corgan reconnected with estranged Pumpkins guitarist James Iha on one of the album's best tracks, Processional. It was their first time working together in more than 10 years.

Their reunion, along with speculation about the return of bassist D'arcy Wretzky and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, has led to claims the original Pumpkins line-up could soon reunite.

With the Pumpkins album canned, it sounds unlikely - especially when Corgan offers this in response to TimeOut's query about touring.

"I want to travel overseas and play more shows and there hasn't been a lot of interest - and that's in the Pumpkins," he says.

"If there's not a lot of interest in the Pumpkins touring, then I can't imagine there's a lot of interest in me as a solo artist."

But Corgan doesn't sound upset about it. He's quietly confident about Ogilala, and sitting on his porch in the sun sipping tea, he sounds - dare we say it - content.

At one point, he even finds time to crack a joke about his reputation.

"I know I get painted as the rat-in-the-cage guy," he says, before catching himself, and cracking up.

"I say that with a smile."

LOWDOWN
Who: Billy Corgan
What: New album Ogilala
When: Out tomorrow