The Smashing Pumpkins, ‘Oceania’ – Album Review
The Smashing Pumpkins are back with a new album, ‘Oceania,’ the first full-length effort featuring their current lineup. While it’s certainly no ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,’ the disc showcases a more focused vision than was present with 2007’s ‘Zeitgeist.’ Mostly absent are the moments of ‘Guitar Hero’ bravado Corgan so abundantly supplied on their last album and in their place are more structured, fully realized tunes that deliver mixed results.
The album begins with ‘Quasar,’ a ‘Siamese Dream’-esque rocker with fuzzed out guitars and a stutter-step rhythm. The track serves as a solid opener, bleeding into ‘Panopticon,’ another of the albums more aggressive, and impressive songs. On that song, Corgan brings the guitar-driven gloom and doom, that relents before he revels, “There’s a sun that shines in / There’s a world that stares out at me /And all I refuse to please.” Perhaps that’s a nod to the fans that often challenge his artistic choices.
The real gem among the set comes with the third track, ‘The Celestials.’ Acoustic guitar and orchestral swells dominate the beginning, along with Corgan’s tortured vocals (which actually have a better, more polished sound than on other recent works). Once the full band kicks in, you realize that this is the standout track on the album. ‘The Celestials’ employs all the elements that make a classic Pumpkins song, and is likely the best released under the name in over a decade. Corgan caps of the tune by matching the line “Everything I want is free” with a beautifully reserved lead guitar riff.
‘Violet Rays’ really shows off the chemistry of Corgan’s rhythm section — drummer Mike Byrne and bassist Nicole Fiorentino — who vibe perfectly on this ballad that brings to mind the tender moments from the ‘Mellon Collie’ days. The next three songs are symptomatic of the issue that plagues the less spectacular points of ‘Oceania’– they start out promising but never really take you where you want them to. They’re not with out their moments, but ‘My Love is Winter,’ ‘One Diamond, One Heart’ and ‘Pinwheels’ ultimately fail to deliver.
The title track offers a breath of fresh air with an eerily familiar synth intro. ‘Oceania’ is a sprawling 9-minute epic with multiple twists and turns — at one point all but acoustic guitar drop off for some gentle balladry. The song is an another undeniable high point, although it screams for some of ‘Zeitgeist’ Billy’s lead guitar pyrotechnics, it only gets a small dose towards the end.
The disc continues with ‘Pale Horse,’ which is more akin to a bouncy Coldplay rhythm than what we would expect from the Smashing Pumpkins. The album’s pace picks back up with ‘The Chimera,’ a forward-driving rocker that would’ve fit in nicely with ‘Siamese Dream.’
The guitar wail and moan found on the retrospective rocker ‘Glissandra,’ is followed by yet another that calls to mind their second album, ‘Inkless.’ Corgan hits rewind for the solo, as he shifts into sonic over-drive with an intensity his younger self often employed. “The stars are out tonight,” indeed. The dreamy textures and delicate lyrics of ‘Wildflower’ gently bring the journey to an end, as Corgan repeats ‘Wasted along the way.’
The Smashing Pumpkins showcase incredible chemistry, giving hope that the band, again, has the potential to be a dominating force in the world of alt-rock. Corgan promised an amazing journey with ‘Oceania,’ and while the middle of the voyage leaves the passenger feeling a bit lost as sea, the band comes together for a strong, yet familiar finish.