This album was released back in June, and I originally wrote the review then. However, I am reposting it here because I’m importing some blogs from my other WordPress page. Why? Because I am doing away with that other page. In fact, this is the last article to be transferred from that one.
In my life there have been several times where I would become heavily obsessed with certain bands, to the point where I filtered all others out and spend months listening to just that artist. After a while my interest would wane, and I’d move on. However, in 1991 a band came along that was the exception to this rule. Naturally, I am speaking of the Smashing Pumpkins.
For some reason Billy Corgan’s music resonated with me in a way that had never happened with any other band before or since. Even now, I could spend all day listening to their albums and never get bored…unless, of course, that album was ZEITGEIST. Even a die-hard fan like myself couldn’t maintain excitement over that album. When it first came out, I was really into it because my favorite band was back together. As time went on though, I felt like only three or four of the songs had any real staying power.
Then Billy announced the TEARGARDEN BY KALEIDYSCOPE project, a massive 44-song concept album that would be released one song at a time on their website. Lots of fans debated the quality of these songs, but I thought they were all impressive with the exception of “Astral Planes.” (It’s kind of hard to be impressed by a song where my favorite songwriter of all time sings the word “everyone” over and over again.)
The downfall of the “release one song per month” approach was that one month turned into five or six weeks, sometimes longer, and that is a LONG time to ask people to maintain interest in one tune. Having realized this, Billy decided that the band would start recording albums again. I had no idea what to expect. The last album had been wildly uneven, but the song quality of the singles had been pretty good. Being such a fanboy, I would buy it either way, but I hoped it would at least be better than ZEITGEIST.
I had no idea it would be THIS good.
OCEANIA charges out of the gates with “Quasar.” It is typical for the Pumpkins to open albums with a rocker, but this particular one has an edge because it has something to prove. The band is out to show the world that this collection of musicians qualifies to bear the SP moniker just as much as the original four members. This song acquits them admirably. In fact, during this tune I thought Jimmy Chamberlain was still behind the drum kit instead of Mike Byrne. That’s not to say Mike rips off Jimmy’s style; he just understands the kind of propulsive, kinetic drumming that compliments Billy’s heavy guitar riffs.
“Panopticon” comes up next. The first time I heard this song, I got a little nervous because I thought to myself, “Oh no, it’s ZEITGEIST all over again.” That’s because the opening riff bears some resemblance to the beginning of “Quasar.” (By a show of hands, how many people who heard ZEITGEIST were unable to tell when the opening track “Doomsday Clock” ended and the second track “7 Shades of Black” began?) However, it doesn’t take long before the song goes off in another direction.
The next two tracks shift away from out and out rock, but the transition doesn’t feel disjointed. “The Celestials” starts off as an acoustic ballad and switches effortlessly into rock mode. “Violet Rays” begins with New Wave-y keyboards and is full of Corgan’s soaring, emotive vocals.
As the album progresses, it just keeps on getting better. “My Love is Winter” has to be their most melodic hard rocker since “Stand Inside Your Love” from MACHINA. More New Wave sounds creep in with “One Diamond, One Heart” and “Pinwheels.” Then there is the par-for-the-course epic song,” which in this case is the title track, whose three-part, suite-like structure recalls “Glass and the Ghost Children” (again, from MACHINA).
“Pale Horse” provides the album’s only weak moment. While the opening riff is pleasant enough, the lyrics are on the trite side. The tune just doesn’t live up to what has come before it. However, the good news is the band bounces back right away with some monstrous guitar work on the next three tracks: “The Chimera” recalls an unreleased SIAMESE DREAM-era rocker called “Moleasskiss,” while the opening of “Glissandra” echoes LOVELESS-era My Bloody Valentine. This is followed by the slow, sludgy crawl of “Inkless.” The closest comparison to the past I can find for this one would probably be “Plume” from the compilation album PISCES ISCARIOT.
If rockers are the standard openers, quiet tunes are reserved to close the set. (Examples are “Daydream” from GISH, “Luna” from SIAMESE DREAM, and “Farewell and Goodnight” from MELLON COLLIE.) OCEANIA is no exception, ending with the gentle “Wildflower.”
For a moment I want to go back and say that if there is one tune on the album that truly showcases the cleverness of Billy’s songwriting, it’s “Pinwheels.” Why? Because it’s the one song where Billy has planted the most references to his influences: (1) the UNFORGETTABLE FIRE-like guitar work that enters at 1:26, (2) female backing vocals that remind one of Bilinda Butcher’s work on ISN’T ANYTHING, (3) an ABBEY ROAD-esque guitar fill at 4:16, and even (4) Billy mentioning a “May queen” in the lyrics. (Several classic rock bands have influences Corgan’s music, and Led Zeppelin is definitely one of them.)
Previous album ZEITGEIST had some good songs on it, but you had to hit the “skip” button a lot. On OCEANIA, my hand doesn’t move toward the stereo even once after I hit “play.” Make no mistake: regardless of the band members listed in the liner notes, this IS the Smashing Pumpkins. OCEANIA is the grand return to form that fans have waited for Corgan to reach, and it deserves to be ranked among their best work.