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Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania

on June 19, 2012, 8:00am
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Where do you start with Billy Corgan? For the past half-decade, the man’s been as polarizing as LeBron James, having to dodge critics and fans with every move and decision. Granted, he’s not posting numbers like #6, and he’s attracted plenty of the attention himself (e.g. “Do I belong in the conversation about the best artists in the world? My answer is yes, I do,” he told Rolling Stone back in 2010), but the obscene scrutiny is almost parody at this point. Face it, the days of putzing around with D’arcy Wretzky, James Iha, and Jimmy Chamberlin are long behind him (hell, the Billy and Jimmy show is a thing of the past, too), yet he’s not exactly a one-man army these days, either. Things felt that way on 2007’s Zeitgeist, the ensuing EPs/singles, and especially the early stuff off of that 44-track whatever-we-should-call-it-now, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope. But with Oceania, what’s being billed as the Pumpkins’ ninth release (really, how do you catalog their maze-like discography?), Corgan sounds like he’s in good company.

Now, because it’s been a sort of revolving door these past few years, here’s the up-to-date roster for the Smashing Pumpkins 2.0 2.7: Corgan (vocals, lead guitar), Jeff Schroeder (guitar), Nicole Fiorentino (bass), and Mike Byrne (drums). With Oceania, there’s an organic vibe to the tracks, as if there’s a band alongside Corgan again–and that’s because there was. “We worked at it together,” Corgan explained to us recently. “Over the two years that we’ve been an intact lineup, they’ve shown an ability and a willingness and a temerity to lead, to take possession of the Pumpkins’ world, to stand up for things, to fight for things internally that are important and help rebuild my confidence and support me when other people are constantly telling me I’m an idiot and ‘go back to playing the old songs’ kind of thing.” That’s a complete 180 from the moody, self-obsessed frontman of yesteryear; if you recall the 2008 reunion tour documentary, If All Goes Wrong, Corgan couldn’t stop searching for the right quote to essentially say, “Well, there’s a reason you don’t see Iha or Wretzky–it’s because I don’t need them. I don’t need anyone. I only need myself.” While it’s still bothersome that Chamberlin isn’t behind the kit, it’s refreshing that Corgan seems to be comfortable once again.

This is the album that needed to surface back in 2007. With Zeitgeist, Corgan lost himself amidst a complicated jigsaw puzzle that was always destined to lay unfinished on the dining room table, namely because he kept looking for the missing pieces in other boxes. It didn’t help that the only support he received was himself and producer Roy Thomas Baker, whose sensationalized, glossy production made everything feel as real as a Hasbro action figure. On Oceania, however, Corgan exerts a different kind of authority, one that’s level-headed enough to go somewhere, and with people behind him. The songs actually feel like songs and not tracks digitally titled “Smashing Pumpkins anthem.” But why?

The answer is that there’s a soul to them. On “The Celestials”, Corgan manages to deliver a cheesy lyric like, “I’m gonna love you 101 percent,” without coming across like David St. Hubbins. He’s speaking with depth, triggering the same emotional chords that once hooked a generation on a multitude of angst-y lines, the likes of which would otherwise be found on crumpled up pieces of college-ruled notebook paper (“Despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage,” anyone?). But it’s that depth that’s always made up the Smashing Pumpkins; simply put, hooks, distortion, and lyrics can only take you so far. If there’s no one behind it all, or no feelings present, then what’s the point?

“Please come back, please come back,” Corgan cries again and again on “Pale Horse”, the emerald-glazed ballad that recalls the instrumentally rich tracks off 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It’s a hungry, desperate moment, yet one fully realized, as if he’s had some crackling epiphany. Vocally, he pierces the heart over crashing cymbals, Cure-like piano melodies, and wired harmonies by Fiorentino, an oozing chemistry that hasn’t been heard since, admittedly, the days of Zwan. Speaking of which, its follow-up, “The Chimera”, leaps on Zwan-flavored bubbles, aching with an uber-friendly cadence, making it one of the more poppy tracks in the Pumpkins’ catalog since Siamese Dream‘s “Today”.

Elsewhere, Corgan cleans up the garage with the Gish-gazing “Quasar”, which Byrne uses as an opportunity to rival Chamberlin, and the jostling riffage of “Inkless”, something of an amped-up version of Hum’s “Stars”. Things get spacey (“Violet Rays”), gushy (“One Diamond, One Heart”), sprawling (“Pinwheels”), and heroic (“Panopticon”), all without pushing the boundaries too far. Instead, they maintain a happy medium, which is something that can’t be said for the band’s previous output, specifically tracks like “Owata” or “Lightning Strikes”. Even during the album’s weakest moments–for example, the proggy-yet-all-too-forgettable “My Love Is Winter”–the focus is never fractured, which is something that could have easily happened on, say, the nine-minute title track. Instead, “Oceania” adds up to an unassuming, alternative orchestral suite, melding Corgan’s recent bouts with psychedelia alongside his inherent drive to be an arena rock star.

Similar to LeBron James, Corgan will never shake the media spotlight–even if the media made its own attempt. He’s far too involved with himself to ever dissuade those around him to plead ignorance. Even now, he’s been calling Oceania his “do or die” effort, boldly stating that all his best intentions lie in this one hour-long record. Artists make asinine statements like that all the time, but with Corgan, one senses that he actually believes this to be true. If that’s the case, he can step away from the ledge and retreat to his Fender. He’s carved out an agreeable adventure with Oceania, and one that any casual or die-hard fan can embrace with true vigor. Christ, what more do you want from the guy?

Essential Tracks: “Pale Horse”, “Quasar”, “The Chimera”, and “Violet Rays”

Feature artwork by Cap Blackard.

17 comments

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ralphie jones
April 23, 2014 at 4:32 am

strangely, i found pale horse to be my least favorite track on the album and was surprised you talked about it so highly. i think tracks like my love is winter, the title track, the celestials, violet rays. those are the very good ones.

hemlock_n_ichor
November 25, 2012 at 12:14 am

Finally, a review that does this album some justice. Way better than the Rolling Stone review.

This album is perfect. It even made it into my DREAMS. The imagery, the sounds, the vibe… it’s absolutely stunning. Corgan has never sounded better. A lot of care went into this album, you see it in the cd sleeve too. The juxtaposition of humanity’s inner and outer majesty (mystical symbols versus real life wonders). I give it a solid 5stars. Props to Corgan for creating something fresh, and for succeeding lyrically. Although the word ‘love’ is featured in pretty much every song, his take on love is never boring. I always loved his vision and his penchant for grandiosity. It really paid off for me to stick with him over the years. WELCOME BACK BILLY.

Thirsty
September 28, 2012 at 7:44 pm

This is a sleepy record that sounds like one long slow song. I love the Smashing Pumpkins, but this album is not hitting me. One thing all of you seem to be overlooking/forgetting is all of the killer hard rock guitar and catchy guitar hooks that Corgan can play so well. There is none of that anywhere in this album. Any “loud” guitar that is in this album has a synthy effect to it and just drones on.

pizzmoe
June 30, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Best Pumpkins album in a long time.

Bryan Bibey
June 20, 2012 at 8:33 pm

After partaking in multiple listenings….
Oahhh Billy where’s the aching romanticism / burnt-out cries / rebel yells / crafty cynicism / poetic justice? Pale Horse is the only real track that has any kind of potential
( still needs more depth of feel & less ‘word’ repetition ) Unfortunately, Billy is no longer taking the listener on an emotional rollercoaster ride of mind-blowing highs & gut wrenching lows :(

Neonlike
June 19, 2012 at 11:01 pm

On first listen, i was completely underwhelmed as a long time pumpkinhead. You really have to commit yourself to this album and listen to it a few times. This is the point. If you aren’t willing to listen to it a few times before judging it, then don’t bother getting it. You start to notice alot of subtleties that you didn’t notice before the more you listen to it. It is like slowly unwrapping a very nice gift. I’m loving this album.

Adrian Stiegler
June 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Agreed, i didn’t like it the first time around – 5-6 times now, I can’t stop. This is solid.

This happened to me with RHCP – I’m with You, it’s one of my favourite records now

Nicholas DeClario
July 9, 2012 at 11:05 am

This is _exactly_ how I feel about it. First time through the album I was let down. I’ve now had the CD in my car, the MP3s on my phone and computer and I can’t put it down. It’s an absolutely fantastic album.

Can’ttakecriticism
June 19, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Horrible review, horrible album

Corgan1
June 19, 2012 at 7:07 pm

It’s ironic that the reviewer says how Corgan’s found himself again and has once again found his ‘mojo'; Corgan states that he doesn’t want to play the old stuff and wants to move beyond. The reviewer praises him for moving into new territory yet compares the entire album to his past. The album sounds like one track with out any defining hooks or melodies. If you are going to quote him, try: “my boredom has outshone the sun,” much like his ambition and drive has exceeded his creativity and talent, moving in to fill the void once filled with the dysfunctional synergy that was the Pumpkins. Now on to sportsdesk.

Nicholas
June 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm

I meant to say i “dig” the review.

Nicholas
June 19, 2012 at 5:49 pm

This record has taken a couple listens. But it’s a great “record”. It plays as a great suite from start to finish. I really like a few songs, but this isn’t a “singles and filler” record, like most rock records are today. I also think it sounds like Billy really let Jeff off the leash, and this is especially apparent in “Glissandra”. This doesn’t sound like Zietgeist, which just sounded like a choir of Billys and 100 guitar tracks of Billy playing the same thing with different guitars. This sounds like a band.

I did the review, Mike.

pistolrock
June 19, 2012 at 12:44 pm

This is not a horrible record but its missing the rawness, grit and energy that their earlier releases possessed. Its the “down and dirty” feel that made the earlier releases sound emotionally authentic and actually made you feel something. The last two records are just missing that powerful element that drew people into the musical journey that the Smashing Pumpkins perfectly piloted. Its that “happy medium” that you so aptly describe that makes this record underwhelming.

foocow
June 19, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I dig the review, Michael. it really is an accomplishing record, despite most casual fans’ initial shunning of a “new” “Smashing Pumpkins” “record”. hopefully said fan gives it a few rotations (or play counts?) and realizes that it’s actually quite an effort put forth by Corgan & Co.

DoctorNeanderth
June 19, 2012 at 10:44 am

I don’t know if we are listening to the same record – it’s pretty terrible.

Leoninepiper
June 19, 2012 at 9:34 am

Great review.

TheNarmstrong
June 19, 2012 at 8:18 am

This doesn’t feel so much like an Album review as it does a criticism of Corgan’s character.

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