Release Date: Jun 19, 2012
Record label: EMI
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Billy Corgan has never been one to make things easy, on himself or others. Oceania is an "album within an album," the next 13 songs in the Pumpkins' ongoing 44-song art-rock odyssey Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, which began in 2009. Luckily, it's also a good stand-alone record, a bong-prog take on the alt-rock grandeur of Gish and Siamese Dream: "One Diamond, One Heart" sounds like Yes hanging in a German disco circa 1977, and "Pinwheels" is folky moon worship with laser-show guitar streaks.
There’s a long-running joke about seeing a beloved band, maybe one you’ve followed since your childhood, and hearing the worst phrase that the frontman could utter: “We’re going to play a few songs from our new album. ” The feeling is familiar, whether you were hoping to hear a choice cut from The Beach Boys’ SMiLE during the band’s current tour and instead got their new single, “That’s Why God Made the Radio. ” Maybe you walked away relieved when Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum didn’t pull out any new cuts in recent live appearances.
Following up on, and in many ways amending, much of the bombastic overcompensation of 2007's Zeitgeist, Smashing Pumpkins 2012 release Oceania is an exuberant, gloriously melodic, fluid return to form for Billy Corgan. While Zeitgeist certainly contained many of the elements that make for a classic Smashing Pumpkins release -- including slabs of distorted guitars, passionate vocals, and poetic lyrics, not to mention drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who was the sole remaining original member besides Corgan and who subsequently left the band -- there was something cold and perhaps a bit too calculated about the production. Ultimately, Zeitgeist didn't do much to dissuade audiences that Corgan, undeniably the mastermind behind the best Pumpkins work, was now overvaluing his abilities in an attempt to recapture fans disillusioned by his various side projects.
Review Summary: Smashing stuffWhat’s in a name? Depends who you ask. Since Corgan revived the Smashing Pumpkins in 2006 a lot of words have gone back and forth between fans over whether or not this qualifies as the real SP. It’s certainly been no secret that even with James Iha, Darcy Wretsky and Jimmy Chamberlain filling the roles in the ‘classic’ line-up SP has been Corgan’s baby.
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.
The Smashing PumpkinsOceania[EMI / Caroline Distribution / Martha's Music; 2012]By John Ulmer; July 5, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetThe title of 2007’s Zeitgeist served as something of a sad irony, as the album failed to connect with listeners and was widely derided by critics. It came and went, and since then Billy Corgan – now the sole remaining Smashing Pumpkin from the band's original line-up – has been rather unpredictable and contradictory. After announcing a 44-track concept album/project called Teargarden by Kaleidoscope (whose details seem to change quite often – initially, Corgan claimed he would never release a traditional album again…), the band’s de facto leader has released a handful of new tracks, only a couple of them being particularly good.
Holding a winning streak for being steadily contentious, intrepid provocateur Billy Corgan has spent the majority of the last decade trying to recapture every fleeting listener who's lost faith in his talent. He interprets it as a failure in statistical terms, holding himself accountable for the fact that only a fraction of the 4 and a half million purchasers of Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness followed with selfless affection. Releasing a follow-up like Adore wasn’t mainly the issue – an emotionally distressing album so intricate and challenging on first listen that it was positively guaranteed to fail on a commercial scale - but it began to divulge the conflicted insecurity that Corgan had as the leader of a rock n’ roll band.
Billy Corgan has always boasted a songwriting style full of big, flowery conceits: Before the band self-destructed, Zwan’s Mary Star of the Sea delivered a spiritually tinged, decidedly non-angsty brand of sunny alterna-pop, while Corgan’s 2005 solo effort, The Future Embrace, effectively pursued a quiet and intimate but ultimately dystopian strain of bedroom electronica. It’s a wonder, then, why Corgan has consistently struggled to recapture his muse with the Smashing Pumpkins, either on the original group’s final album, Machina: The Machines of God, or subsequent releases by the band’s various incarnations (the deplorable Zeitgeist and the overly conceptual meta-album Teargarden by Kaleidyscope). The pseudo-Pumpkins’ latest release, Oceania, isn’t billed as the reboot Zeitgeist failed as, but rather, according to Corgan, “an album within an album”—a sort of digression from the persistent sprawl of Teargarden.
Once a band makes it big, they can no longer shuffle around players and still call themselves by the same name. The feel, symbiosis and general authenticity of the band loses something the minute more than half of the founding members jump ship. The Smashing Pumpkins is no exception. When they “reunited” (read: Billy Corgan decided to call himself Smashing Pumpkins because his side project Zwan, and solo career, tanked, huge), there seemed to be an immediate amnesiac attack on Corgan’s part as to precisely what made the Pumpkins so great.
You will not tell Billy Corgan what to do. The Smashing Pumpkins leader's two-decade career has been wildly erratic, full of potholes and detours, but this ironclad rule has remained. "I was into Black Sabbath and it just wasn't cool, but I didn't give a shit: My band was going to sound like Black Sabbath because I fucking wanted it to and I didn't give a shit what some idiot fuck thought," he spat at Julianne Shepherd 2005, apropos of nothing, around the release of his solo album The Future Embrace.
Calling Oceania a Smashing Pumpkins album requires you to redefine Smashing Pumpkins as either a glorified solo project or a loose, ever-changing band whose only constants are Billy Corgan at the helm and some pretty-looking female playing bass. Close your eyes and ignore the fact that Corgan’s new drummer is a baby-faced 22 year old, though, and Oceania sounds louder, better, and altogether more revelatory than any Pumpkins album in years. The psychedelic rock overtones that filled Gish and Siamese Dream are back, and Oceania rides a mighty wave of guitarmonies and heavy riffage for 50 minutes, matching every instrumental freakout with an equally compelling melody.
Billy Corgan is not an easy guy to root for. Between firing his entire band but keeping up the Smashing Pumpkins name, pompously mouthing off about everything and everyone and "abandoning" the album format only to return with Oceania, Corgan seems to be actively destroying any goodwill he might still have had since the band's run of seminal classics in the early to mid-90s. So I was fully expecting to hate Oceania (billed as an album "within" the incrementally released 44-song epic Teargarden By Kaleidyscope), but I just can't.
Oceania bodes well initially for fans of Pumpkins' extravagant, mid-90s gloom. The band's first record since 2007's comeback Zeitgeist forms part of a sprawling 44-song project entitled Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, and the collision of sludgy guitars, thunderous drums and Billy Corgan's frantic yelp on opener Quasar makes for a bracing reacquaintance with overwrought stadium grunge. But it loses its way when Corgan shows signs of mellowing.
There were many, many things amiss with The Smashing Pumpkins’ 2007 ‘comeback’ album Zeitgeist - notably the music. But the thing that bugged me the most was the manner in which Billy Corgan seemed to totally renege on the intimation – famously published at length in full page ads in two Chicago newspapers in 2005 – that he’d reconstituted the Pumpkins for romantic reasons, or as he put it, ‘I want my band back, and my songs, and my dreams. ’ Zeitgeist seemed like a l'esprit d'escalier of a record, a lumbering simplification of the band’s ‘classic’ sound that felt expressly designed to compete with the idiotic nu metal bands that had outsold the Pumpkins’ dense, difficult MACHINA/The Machines of God back in 2000.
There’s something comforting about Billy Corgan’s stubborn refusal to let the whole Smashing Pumpkins thing go. The civilised music industry can crumble, the News Of The World can close, Big Brother can avoid the axe, Brian May can work with Dappy, and yet, oblivious to change, Billy will plough ahead making nasally ethereal alternative rock music with two interchangeable yes men and a hot lady bass player. For those of us who have never quite come to terms with the ’90s ending, there’s a weird sense of solidarity to that.
Fresh from announcing that he would "piss on" Radiohead to show up their pomposity, Billy Corgan and his Smashing Pumpkins interrupt their 44-song concept release about the tarot for Oceania, an "album-within-an-album". Continuing to make this principled stand against pretentiousness, Corgan staggers around a number of meandering rock songs in search of hokey mysticism. "God right on! Krishna right on! Mark right on! … Let's ride on!" he urges on opener Quasar, like a beefy, post-grunge Kula Shaker.
Billy Corgan was once a man blessed. Gifted with great ideas and a band who could bear him just about enough to help him to put them into practice, the Smashing Pumpkins made a very special brew out of heavy metal sludge and dreamy pop. Not only did they serve up that sludge in a gloomy goth glass, they had the shameless audacity to take more from Black Sabbath than they did from Black Flag—to top off their sound with technical ability instead of punky DIY spirit.
Rock music's great outsider hero sounds positively reinvigorated on Oceania, an epic 13-song album that comprises part of a larger ongoing 44-song cycle entitled Teargarden by Kaleidyscope. This collection of song-focused, progressive rock bombast is the strongest complete album statement from the indomitable Billy Corgan and company since mid-'90s masterpiece Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Corgan has written plenty of excellent songs since reforming one of the greatest rock bands of all time, but on Oceania, there's a renewed sense of confidence and ambition colouring even the most saccharine offering: the synth-driven "One Diamond, One Heart.
Chicagoan enigmas return with dazzling and complex ninth studio album. Ian Winwood 2012 There are few groups in modern music that testify to the power that is the name of a band to quite the degree of The Smashing Pumpkins. The group’s legion of devoted and attentive fans know that Oceania is really the work of one man: they know that Billy Corgan writes all the songs, they know that in the studio he plays many of the instruments, they know that he’s responsible for the hiring and the firing of those with whom he chooses to share a stage.
Forget the cluttered cultural context that surrounds this once-monumental band. Oceania is a well-thought-out album with respectable execution. Varied yet familiar, it hits marks on three key Pumpkin elements: sandpaper guitar, dynamic drumming, and compelling emotion with a grandeur that shows Billy Corgan still wants to be a hero. Forget that it's probably the middle part of some overblown epic song set and enjoy it for what it is: 13 songs that try to break new ground, and generally succeed, while managing to sound like the Pumpkins we know rather than plastic studio production (Zeitgeist).
For any Smashing Pumpkins enthusiasts not alive or still suckling on their mother's teat during the 90s, now is not a bad time to be a fan. Having re-released Gish and Siamese Dream late last year, the group will also be reissuing Pisces Iscariot later this month in a corybantic campaign that offers no apologies. Part of the justification for this frenzy must lie in the fact that Oceania isn't crap.