Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania

It seems to be fashionable to dislike Billy Corgan and his Smashing Pumpkins. Music writers/bloggers wear their contrived Corgan hatred like a badge of indie-cred on their Urban Outfitters’ Cardigan sweater sleeve. I refuse to take part in this anti-Smashing Pumpkins witch-hunt.

Oceania–a reference to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four?– is the middle section of Corgan’s ambitious epic concept Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, a forty-four song artistic statement that certainly guarantees more Pumpkins music in the near future. Love him or not, you have to appreciate Corgan’s desire and artistic ability to take on such a dubious task.

Though there are hints of the old Smashing Pumpkins in a few of the tracks, Oceania sounds as though Corgan has finally developed a new approach to his songwriting craft and created something unique that reflects his evolving sound. “Quasar,” the album’s opening song, is a rocking affair that utilizes Corgan’s trademarked multi-layered guitar and vocal tracks, but there is a different feel, a different texture to the song. It feels as though the band has come together as a whole, rather than Corgan dominating and playing over everyone else.

“Panopticon” continues to rock with a Peter Hookish bass line holding the song together. Corgan sings, “There’s a sun that shines in / There’s a world that stares out at me / And all I refuse to please.” Not sure if Corgan’s lyrics are an attempt to show off his knowledge of Michel Foucault or if he is commenting on the expectations on him to release another Siamese Dream, but there is an insightful and philosophical depth in this new group of Pumpkins that wasn’t present in the previous incarnations of the band.

There are some sweet moments on Oceania. “Violet Rays” has Corgan singsong over a love that has left. Corgan pleads, “Babe, don’t leave me, please believe me / ‘Cause I’m so easy to know.” Corgan did a beautiful acoustic version of “Violet Rays” on Howard Stern. “Pinwheels” is an eclectic track that carries the listener through a dark maze of classic rock sounds that even includes backing vocals from ex-Veruca Salt bassist, Nicole Florentino. It’s good to hear another voice on the album, even if it’s fairly brief.

At the same time, there are some moments of poetic cheese that infects a couple of tracks. “My Love is Winter” sounds like an Interpol tune that falls in the trap of Poetry 101 and fails to inspire. “One Diamond, One Heart” finds Corgan rhyming “light,” “fright,” and “night” over an 80s inspired synth track that eats away at your ears until it is interrupted by a Coldplay-like guitar riff that is more sappy than sensational.

The album’s title track is a beautifully layered, nine-minute exercise in prog rock that once again showcases the Pumpkins’ push to rise above and move beyond the expectations placed on them by the music media and many of their fans. It feels like an indication of what the band’s future releases may sound like.

Fans of early 90s Pumpkins will rejoice in “The Chimera,” a track that embodies the trademark rock Corgan fed us earlier in his career, but with weak and thin drums. It’s a song like this that makes us miss Jimmy Chamberlin. But that’s neither here nor there.

Oceania is an honest effort that keeps on giving. There are many aspects of this newest release that will seemingly unfold after multiple listens. Needless to say, it has me waiting impatiently for the Teargarden bookend albums, which will probably change the way one listens to Oceania. It’s a shame that people have such a disdain for Corgan and his refusal to permanently move past the Smashing Pumpkins name. Dare I say that Corgan is just beginning to write some of the best songs of his career?

July 14, 2012. Albums. Leave a comment.