The last fifteen years have been hard on Smashing Pumpkins fans. After the original band dissolved, Corgan eventually rejoined with drummer Jimmy Chamberlin in 2007 for the poorly received Zeitgeist, a collection of decent riffs and ideas that ultimately suffered due to muddy production and a lack of truly strong songs.
Five years (and few terrible tracks) later, Corgan remains the sole original Pumpkin. It’s certainly been a long time coming, but with Oceania, Corgan and his new Smashing Pumpkins have finally created a collection of songs worth listening to.
Quasar is a hell of a way to open a record, starting with a drumroll that instantly brings Cherub Rock to mind before the track evolves into something else entirely. Brutal drums and a frenzied, hypnotic bass line fill out the back end of the track while the guitar work sizzles in the forefront, giving the album it’s first major high point.
The Celestials opens with just an acoustic guitar, Billy’s voice and some synth orchestral lines, offering a nice change of pace from the first few tracks. Eventually the song becomes pretty power ballad-esque, filled with heavy, double-tracked guitar riffs and backing vocals by bassist Nicole Fiorentino before finally coming to a close in a sea of feedback.
The album has its share of imperfections, particularly the synth-driven One Diamond, One Heart which almost pushes the band into synthpop territory. Album closer Wildflower is another sore point, drenched with sticky orchestral strings and too closely resembling the track Pomp And Circumstances from 2007’s Zeitgeist. Luckily, these two tracks are really the only places the album’s quality really seems to suffer.
The 9-minute epic Oceania is one of the album’s best moments, a sort-of journey through most of the musical styles present on the record. The track opens with a spacey synth line and shimmering guitars before the song transitions into an short acoustic section. Mike Byrne’s drums take over seguing into a long string of floaty synth work and some gorgeous guitar solos by both Corgan and Jeff Schroeder. For some reason the band decided to fade out at the end instead of letting the song reach a real conclusion which becomes somewhat frustrating considering how strong the track is.
The irresistible Pale Horse is another definite highlight of the record, mixing together an undeniably catchy, simple riff and a truly expansive-sounding musical atmosphere. The song, one of the softest on the album, is also perhaps the biggest indication of evolution in the Pumpkins’ sound. It’s unlike anything the band has ever done, but sounds like a true natural progression of what could (and possibly should) have come after Adore.
Everything about The Chimera hints at the ill-fated Zwan project from a decade ago, but here on Oceania it sounds just fine. It’s also one of the “happiest” sounding Pumpkins tracks that Corgan has ever released, and it does a good job of picking the energy up after the slower Pale Horse.
The spiraling guitar riffs of Glissandra and the straightforward rock of Inkless make for two of the most radio-friendly tracks on the record and might just get the Pumpkins some airplay. The former in particular seems specifically designed to worm its way into the brain of any rock fan, and would be a good jumping off point to get people back into the Pumpkins after so many missteps over the last few years.
Oceania is not the best thing the Smashing Pumpkins (in any form) have put out, but it’s a great statement by the new band. It’s officially time to drop the pitchforks and stop complaining about Corgan keeping the band name – Oceania has made it clear that he still possesses the ability to write a Pumpkins’ album, and the new band is more than capable of joining him for the ride.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.