Archive for the ‘Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania’ Category

The Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania – review

In 1994 I was a sophomore in high school and my favorite band on the face of the earth was The Smashing Pumpkins. I had spun Siamese Dream endlessly in my bedroom the summer prior, and it continues to be one of my favorite albums of all time. I had just started understanding what it meant and felt like to see a band live, something that has captured my imagination and soul to this day, and I was going to get the chance to see my band up on stage.  That year I lied to my parents and ended up sneaking off to Lollapalooza at Blossom Music Center in my home town of Cuyahoga Falls, OH, and I found myself face to face with The Smashing Pumpkins. They were playing on the very stage that I would walk across 3 years later as I graduated from high school, and I was starstruck.

There was something about The Smashing Pumpkins during that time period that captured everything about youth and rock n’ roll.  They would grow to become one of the biggest bands in the world when Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was released that following year.  They would then go on to turmoil, break-ups, drug overdoses, and eventually completely alienate the entire fan-base that they worked so hard to build.  Corgan was demonized for being a controlling malcontent in the world of rock n’ roll.  I got to see the Pumpkins four years ago, and it was evident, even to a fan boy like me, how far they had fallen.  People walked out of those Chicago shows as Corgan yelled at the crowd for leaving.  One of my friends, a big Pumpkins fan, refused to ever see them or listen to them ever again…Chris give em another shot my friend!

A strange thing has happened in those four years though.  Corgan who is, has, and will always be the driving force of the Pumpkins began working with the entirely new cast of characters surrounding him, and he began to write some of the best music of his career with the beginnings of Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, a 44 song free internet release.  It’s a project that will continue for the next few years.  Oceania, their first full album of new material since 2007’s Zeitgeist, is an album within the Teargarden concept.

Oceania is The Smashing Pumpkins most original album since Mellon Collie, and has a much more dreamy, atmospheric, synth-pop feel and sound to it.  One listen to Violet Rays and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, a song that I could put on infinite repeat.  Quasar, and Panoptican are as rocking as the Pumpkins have been in a long time, and it’s that blend of over-driven guitars along with synth loops that tell you right away this is not the same Smashing Pumpkins that you wrote off 10 years ago.  Because a lot of people did that, and for good reason.

Pinwheels and My Love is Winter are probably the most uplifiting songs in Corgan’s catalog, or at least since his days in the short-lived Zwan project.  My favorite track on the album Violet Rays epitomizes this feeling.  Up-lifting is not a term I would have paired with the Pumpkins since they released the single 1979 almost 20 years ago.  And of course what Pumpkins album would be complete without a 9+ minute long track like the title track Oceania, a bizarre Pink Floyd-esque space jam unlike any Pumpkins song before it, and probably the only worthwhile extended track since Silverfuck.  Chimera is plucked straight from early Pumpkins super-riffs and drummer Mike Byrne shows he can do more than just put on Chamberlains shoes.  These songs are the most experimental the Pumpkins may ever have been, and are much more reminiscent of Gish era recordings with a more modern sound to them, but I still think they are scratching the surface of what they could become again.

The album does have some flat moments to it in songs like One Diamond, One Heart which relies too heavily on that 80’s synth drive that dominates a lot of the album, and comes off sounding a little too bubble gum.  It’s one of the few misses on the album as a whole.  The only other large issue I have is that it does run a little long, pushing past the 60 minute mark.  Leaving a track like Inkless or Glissandra off the album would make it even tighter and push this in to my top 10 most likely.

Depression and anger have driven the Pumpkins/Corgan for the majority of the past two decades, but with Oceania they are learning to re-direct that pain into something that you really haven’t heard from them before.  It’s the absence of agression, and the feeling of them having fun writing music again that makes Oceania a success.  No this is not The Smashing Pumpkins that I saw on that stage almost 20 years ago as a teenager, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because they’re also not The Smashing Pumpkins that I saw on that stage four years ago either.  Every band must evolve, and while a lot of  us just want what’s familiar and safe to us, bands cannot exist in that bubble. If that’s what you want then listen to Gish and stop reading.

What Oceania is, is the most cohesive sounding album the Pumpkins have released in 17 years.  It’s the sound of an actual BAND working together, not the sound of Corgan working with himself, and if you actually listen to the album with that in mind you can here shades of Siamese Dream re-invented.  It’s a great thing.   Oceania is worth giving the Pumpkins another try for.  You may end being very surprised, because I know I am.

Grade:  B

Further thoughts 6/14/2012

I’ve gotten quite some time to listen to the new album now and a few quick thoughts come to mind.

#1 – This is easily the Pumpkins best album since 1995’s Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.  It’s not even a question.

#2 – The first half of this album is just as good as the first half of any Pumpkins album ever…but in its own unique way.

#3 – This is the sound of the new ‘Pumpkins’ firmly at work.

#4 – I miss judged One Diamond, One Heart.  It sits perfectly in the context of the rest of the album, and is a fantastic song.

#5 – I think it still runs a little long and either Glissandra or Inkless should have been left off the album and would have made great B-sides.

#6 – I think of myself as a super fan of the Pumpkins, and even find myself scrutinizing their every move.  How can’t you after the mediocre work they’ve produced over the years, but I think I hit this one too hard.

New Grade: A-