It is often said of Billy Corgan, that he was the greatest song writer of the 90’s. Debatable, granted, but should we assume that this is a fact, and that Billy was the best the 90’s had to offer, where does the new material that Smashing Pumpkins have released stand?
Upon ‘reforming’ the band in 2007, there is initially shock, followed by disappointment as it became made known that only two of the previous pumpkins would be returning to the band. Was it the Smashing Pumpkins? Or is this a similar situation to the Cure, where in reality, the band is the project of the frontman. Zeitgeist was released to mixed reviews. There was confusion from Pumpkins fans who were expecting something as deep and as epic as Siamese Dream or Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. They got what was, in essence, half a Smashing Pumpkins record and half mess. The emotional power and force demonstrated in early pumpkins records was missing and it was noticed. The songs were plain, old, rock songs, with none of the drive nor the complexity, as demonstrated in their back catalogue.
Thankfully, Oceania changes this.
Oceania is an emotional blister of an album that explodes from beginning to end. Whilst Corgan doesn’t conform to his older style with the band, he takes elements of the riff based grunge that the Smashing Pumpkins were adored for, and explores it with little fear of striking new territory.
From the opening, rolling bass line and drum crescendo of “Quasar” to the closing strings and piano trills of “Wildflower” it feels as though we are on an emotional journey of discovery with Billy and his band. Through “Quasar” we hear of a man struggling with religion and suffering from a lack of direction in his life. In moving into the next track “Panopticon” we’re greeted with the grungy, layered guitars often associated with the Pumpkins sound. Corgan’s love for octave guitar lines hasn’t changed at all and they remain a steadfast part of his repertoire. The sprawling and swirling guitar lines of “My Love is Winter” are accompanied by the classic Corgan vocal that, whilst not a classic rock voice, has a certain allure about it that makes it hard to resist.
10 minute centre-piece to the album, title track “Oceania” is a highlight of the album. The track is a journey through many moods, all of which are defined clearly and, most importantly, believably. This record feels like it’s the one that should have reintroduced the Smashing Pumpkins in place of Zeitgeist, it doesn’t feel as forced as its predecessor and maintains a better connection with its audience for longer. The change of pace in the piano driven “Pale Horse” reminds a lot of classic Pumpkins tune, “Tonight, Tonight” in raw emotion and musical prowess.
In the final two tracks of the record, we hear the old and the new clash. “Inkless” takes the strings and grunge ofMelon Collie… and pits it against the subtle closer “Wildflower” with its classical tinge juxtaposed by Corgan’s vocals and screeching guitar. It feels as though the album draws to a close the way it was meant to; in an unlikely coupling of screech and beauty.
Corgan maintained that when the Smashing Pumpkins visit Australia, they’ll be touring the new album and that fans shouldn’t expect too many hits. Honestly, if I was going to see them I wouldn’t be too worried about that. I love classics like “Disarm“, “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and “Today“, but this new collection of tracks hold their own against an already powerful back catalogue. Today is the greatest day that the Smashing Pumpkins have ever known.