The Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania
More likely to be in the news for continuing an age-old (and pretty one-sided) feud with Pavement or going off on any number of angry rants than his actual music, Billy Corgan isn’t the easiest person to root for these days. He is, however, responsible for some of the most enduring rock music of the ’90s, so even if expectations for a new Smashing Pumpkins album aren’t as high as they once were, there’s always the hope that Corgan will get his act together and strike oil once again. Well, after alienating fans with the widely panned comeback record Zeitgeist, the Pumpkins return once more with another new lineup (though it hardly matters with Corgan in the captain’s seat) and a new album, Oceania. Ostensibly the next installment in the band’s ongoing 44-song series/concept album Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, Corgan intended Oceania to be very much its own thing, and analyzing where it fits into the larger picture is besides the point. What’s imperative to understand is that this album is the best Pumpkins record since 1998’s Adore or perhaps even 1995’s Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness.
Its sound harkens back to the dreamy, metallic prog of Siamese Dream, but even if this is nowhere near that masterwork, Oceania gets the band back to doing what they do best: making grandiose, melodic guitar music that rocks hard as hell too. The moment “Quasar” kicks in with its high-impact beats and trippy guitar riffs, it’s clear that Corgan is reinvigorated, and there’s an energy here that was sorely lacking from much of his recent work, which helps to push this album along when decent but otherwise unmemorable songs like “My Love Is Winter” threaten its momentum. Though there aren’t anthems on the level of “Cherub Rock,” “Today,” or “1979”—this is mostly due to a dip in songwriting quality—it’s harder to complain when we get something like “Panopticon” or the glorious rush of “The Chimera,” a sunny, glistening gem where Corgan and Jeff Schroeder trade off rousing guitar solos. Yet Oceania largely avoids tracing over the Pumpkins’ past glories by cultivating its own personality, expanding its sound with synth arpeggios and string arrangements, while the production shades the music in cooler colors, lending the songs a slight air of mystery. Nowhere can this be seen better than the gorgeous, shape-shifting ballad “Pinwheels,” a sweeping, spacey epic that showcases Corgan at his most ambitious and exciting. Like most Smashing Pumpkins albums, this one runs about 15 minutes and 4 tracks too long, but Oceania suggests that if Corgan keeps his head in the game, greatness may one day again be within his grasp.