Album Review: Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania

Published on 6/12/2012 by Jeff Becker

Oceania – Release date: June 19, 2012 

 

Score:  8/10

 

Billy returns!

Just when you couldn’t take it anymore; the head-scratching blasting of his peers, the fuck-you style responses during interviews, the apparent misuse of the Pumpkins good name with lineup changes, but most importantly, the I-wanna-bang-my-head-against-a-wall-and-pretend-this-isn’t-happening response you had to Zwan, Zeitgeist, and Teargarden by Kaleidyscope.   Just when you couldn’t drop your expectations much lower what happens next? Oceania fucking delivers, more than you ever thought it would.

Finally, for the first time in 12 years there’s a Smashing Pumpkins album that mercifully blends the power of Billy Corgan’s guitar and the hint of pop melody that nearly everything they’ve released since 2000 has lacked.  Finally, there’s a Smashing Pumpkins album that makes you stop banging that head against the wall.  Finally, that day of hope has arrived.  It’s like a new Star Wars movie is here and Yoda just light-sabred both Darth Vadar and Jar-Jar Binks.  How much better can it get??

I, as one of many, have been through the trenches with the Pumpkins catalog.   Their mostly remarkable quintuple set of releases over a 10-year span that included Gish, Siamese Dream, Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Adore and Machina I and II having only sounded better and better as most of the recent Pumpkins music has left us scratching our heads and asking “where did it all go wrong?”   What we have with Oceania is the classic Pumpkins drums, the Corgan guitar – and this time with a flare for the melodic hook along with small breaks from the guitar onslaught. What we have is Billy Corgan’s ability to grab us with a music or lyrical twist, again.   With hooks nearly absent from Zeitgeist (save for ‘That’s the Way My Love Is’) we’d wondered what happened to that eclectic side of Billy Corgan.  The same man who could obliterate our senses with ‘Zero’ and turn around with Beatles-esque melodies in ’33’.   The man we wanted was the man in the back seat of the ‘1979’ video lip-syncing to the fabulous chorus of that remarkable song.   With Zeitgeist we thought we lost that.   With Oceania, we have some of that back.   Tracks such as ‘Glissandra’ and ‘Inkless’ set the stage for a great new sound.

 

P.S.  Before a deeper look at the album, let’s get the drummer comparisons out of the way.   The drum sound on this album is tremendous.  It pumps and it delivers every piece of sound you could ask for.  Mike Byrne’s role may leave us wondering underneath our breath at how much of this is really him, but I think it’s a lot, if not nearly all.  And powerful it is.  Byrne beats down the path of each track and Billy nearly dares fans to roll their eyes and say, “ugh, if we only had Jimmy on this one”.   That won’t happen.   It’s ok to miss Jimmy Chamberlain but it won’t be because of this album.   That’s what a good album does for you – it makes everyone sound better.    Whether the band name is the Smashing Pumkins of the Fuzzy Peaches the drum sound pulsates as we’d hoped.   Byrne is one of many beneficiaries here of a rather splendid new album.

Oceania  –  track by track

1.  Quasar

Opening the album as it did with the recent Smashing Pumpkins tour ‘Quasar’ is very much what we expected.  An in your face power-filled introduction jam from Corgan.  However, the interesting melodic twist that briefly appears at the 2-minute mark sets it apart.  It’s an otherwise blistering guitar and drum orgy that serves itself on a plate for the listener more as an extended intoduction, rather than a song.   Effective, nonetheless.  But if you’re looking for singles on this album this one is near the bottom of that list.

2.  Panopticon

Another tour track.  Picking up where ‘Quasar’ left off, we’ve already reached a point in the new album where our concern begins to set in.  The Corgan voice and guitar are there again and we have more classic Pumpkins bombast, but it’s trying to find its way.  Fortunately, to a larger degree than even what ‘Quasar’ did, another instrumental twist piques our curiosity in an unexpected way.   There is hope.

3.  The Celestials

From out of nowhere an acoustic guitar appears.  For this reviewer this is the Billy we’re looking for.   Strumming to us, singing to us and making us believe that not every amp in the world needs to be cranked up to ’11’.   We all love the classic Pumpkins guitar but sometimes our snorkel needs some fresh air.   With lyrical hooks all over the place and the electric guitar coming in at just the right time this track is an absolute Pumpkins gem.

4.  Violet Rays

By track 4 I’m beginning to realize what I actually miss about the Pumpkins of the 90’s.  It’s the occasional break from Billy’s vocals that we would get from D’arcy and James.   This track, a nice midtempo landscape with pounding guitars and classic Billy vocals taps me on the back of my shoulder and lets me know that 60 minutes of Billy’s voice comes with a price.    This round is a draw.    Good, but not great.

5.  My Love Is Winter

Yes, back on track we get quickly mates.   Nicely multi-layerd Corgan vocals with  a  sweet melody and a beautiful instrumental keyboard melody bobbing in out of the song making it irresistible.     Later in the song Corgan rips into the melody with his guitar and away we go.   Fucking great song to these ears, and at this point this is without question the best option for a single on the album.

6.  One Diamond, One Heart

A catchy synth line gives way to more Pumpkins-esque hooks within Billy’s vocals. “I’m always on your side” Billy exclaims over and over.   I hear the The FutureEmbrace all over this track.   This one digs back to Billy’s affection for New Order and is a fitting and much needed break from the  Pumpkins bombast.

7.  Pinwheels

And the hits just keep coming.   An ethereal keyboard line begins alone and then overlaps a more classic rock sound.  This one rings no doorbells from the Pumpkins past, but instead opens a new door.  “I got you.” Billy repeats behind his acoustic guitar as the song changes directions several times.  The most eclectic track on the album and another thumbs up from the reluctant judges that are in disbelief.   And what was that I heard?  Female backing vocals or am I just dreaming?

8.  Oceania

We’re back to the beginning of the album in the ‘Quasar/Panoptican’ mode, we think – but only briefly.   A multi-tracked chorus with a beautiful sing-a-long hook magnetizes us and we’re bobbing our head as this rock gem leaps from our speaker.   It’s one of the catchier songs on the album and again it benefits from true eclecticism and mood changes.   Perhaps I’m overwhelmed with glee and I’m miscounting but this is the third track to feature a tuneful acoustic guitar.

9.  Pale Horse

Great drums in the background but for me one of the below-average tracks on the album.  Keep in mind that track-by-track reviews aren’t worth an ounce of fresh air.  We all hear things differently.   “Please come back Pale Horse” just doesn’t work for me, or this album.   An eerie melody wraps its arms around the track but once again it misses the mark of what we’re hoping for.

 

10.  The Chimera

This one hits that Siamese Dream blood cell we have in our DNA.  “If I’m wrong I’m right” doesn’t sound odd at all coming from Billy, but a disappointing track that turns and twists with a nice riff.   This one will be fairly polarizing for fans.  Either love it or hate it.

11.  Glissandra

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.   We have another strong contender for the best new song award.   With a turning, twisitng melody line opening the track and leaping in and out at will it’s damn near dance-mix material for future DJ’s that like to fuck up good songs.   Wonderful addition to the album and this is the type of unexpected glory we’ve come to expect (or want and need) from the Pumpkins.  The more eclectic the better and this one is another New Order style track with a Pumpkins edge.  Truly great.

12.  Inkless

WTF is going on here at the end of the album?   Billy is landing knockout punches.   ‘Glissandra’ is a wonderful segue into this very catchy pop gem.      Just when we thought Billy would get tired by track 12 he starts bleeding out these pop, prog-rock gems that smack us in the face.  What a wonderful thing melody is.  There is more melody in ‘Glissandra’ and ‘Inkless’ than all of Zeitgeist.

13.  Wildflower

The beauty of Melon Collie was its ending, with all 4 band members singing together.  Pulling off another shocker that is equally effective is near impossible and Wildflower tries a different approach to bring in that emotional pull, but doesn’t do it for me as I had hoped.  The guitars soar near the end but once again, another polarizing Corgan track on a dramatically positive album that has some stellar Pumpkins tracks which stand up well against the Corgan body of work.

–TWTHS

Related articles:

Click here for the Smashing Pumpkins photos and review from their show in Milwaukee in October, 2011

Click here for the story on the attempted sale of the rare Machina II

 

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